Mohalim, not Missionaries: Outsider and Insider Bodies in Southern Religious History

Shari Rabin

Shari Rabin is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Acting Director of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture at the College of Charleston.

Cite this Article

Shari Rabin, "Mohalim, not Missionaries: Outsider and Insider Bodies in Southern Religious History," Journal of Southern Religion (18) (2016):

Open-access license

This work is licensed CC-BY. You are encouraged to make free use of this publication.
Creative Commons License

In the nineteenth century, a cadre of men boldly traveled through the South to bring new people into religious fellowship. These men were not the famed missionaries whose travels spread Protestant denominations like wildfire, although their paths might have crossed on the road. Armed with knives instead of the Gospel, and aimed at a more delicate body part than the heart, these were mohalim, Jewish ritual circumcisors. These officiants of an earthy, bloody task may seem far off from Francis Asbury and his successors and the small number of southerners who used his services no competition for the huge numbers of evangelical Protestants in the region. And yet the humble mohel is also worth taking up as a stock character in southern religious history. Circumcision was a distinctive Jewish practice, but it was far from the only means by which identity was marked upon southern bodies, in the nineteenth century or today.Looking to circumcision is in part a corrective aimed at diversifying the field of southern religions, of reconstructing forgotten histories and contesting claims of Christian hegemony.[1] Southern religious history has long focused on traveling Methodists and Baptists, the communities they visited, disrupted, and founded, and the theological debates that animated them.[2] While there have been Jews in what became the southern United States almost since the beginnings of European settlement, then, there have not been many Jews in southern religious history.[3] This journal has only published one article on Jews—Karla Goldman’s “Jewish Lenses on Katrina”—although it has done an admirable job reviewing the small but growing literature on southern Jews, most of which follows the well-trodden ground of the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, and local history.[4] Interestingly, at least two reviews of books on Jewish topics in this journal have apologized for a lack of material about religion (Debra Schultz’s Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement and Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark Greenberg’s Jewish Roots in Southern Soil). Indeed, southern Jewish history, nurtured in the Southern Jewish Historical Society and other Jewish studies circles, has most often been cast as ethnic, immigration, or local history, far more than as religious history. Those studies that do attend to Jewish religion in the South tend to hew close to the synagogue and to questions of religious Reform.[5]

It is high time that these fields be brought together, and not only for the sake of a surface diversity. Rather than seeing Jews—and other minorities—as objects of Christian attitudes or as copycats of Christian behaviors, distinctive figures like the mohel can help us see, in relief, new stories and dynamics. In particular the case of Jewish circumcision brings attention to the body as a problem and a key site in southern religions. Recent scholarship in religious studies has sought to upend the enlightenment hierarchy of text and belief over body and practice.[6] In American religions, scholars like Marie Griffith, Lynne Gerber, and Heather Curtis argue that religion is expressed through the body and has indeed helped create American bodily expectations. While these scholars do not undertake a regional analysis, however, it is surely not coincidental that Christian fitness culture, sexual reorientation programs, and faith healing have all flourished in the South.[7]

This is a region that, as a massive historiography attests, was built upon plantation slavery and the dramatically binary systems of race and gender that it produced and required. The “one drop rule” ensured that anyone with African blood was constantly surveilled if not enslaved, while women’s activities were limited to domestic space and moral influence. White manhood was premised upon the honorable and the competent management of these dependents. These understandings of race and gender, scholars have shown, were informed by religious institutions and ideas, even as they led to distinctive forms of religious life.[8] And yet, race and gender are neither a priori facts nor isolated behaviors. Rather, they intersect with diverse bodily disciplines, are embedded within broader evaluations of health and fitness, and are inseparable from religious practices.[9]

The most evocative accounts of bodies in southern religious history are those of lynched African American men, ritualistically sacrificed, as Donald Mathews has shown, for the specter of sexual contact with their bodily opposites—white women.[10] It is perhaps not surprising, then, that arguably the most famous Jew in southern religious history is Leo Frank, himself lynched in 1915 because of his alleged actions on the body of a white Christian girl.[11] Such horrific acts are not the only means of shaping southern bodies, although they point to the context and stakes of such enterprises. The lynching mob, the Christian fitness instructor, the faith healer, the missionary, and the mohel have more in common than meets the eye. All have tried to act upon and shape individual bodies, all deploy particular forms of authority and expertise, and all operate within larger economic, legal, and scientific regimes. These politics of the body can be seen particularly clearly in the case of Jews, who complicated southern classificatory regimes and deployed distinctive understandings of human difference. Seen from the perspective of the mohel, southern religion becomes a story of human bodies, variously interpreted, molded, and contested. This process happens not only through denominations, congregations, and theologies, but on scales simultaneously more and less intimate.

In his memoir, Bavarian Jewish migrant David Steinheimer remembered an occasion, from his earliest days as a peddler in rural Georgia in the 1850s, when a local farmer and his family had welcomed him into their home. Despite his poor English, they entered into a conversation: “they wanted to know all about me and my country as well as my religion. When I told them I was a Jew, they were astonished - they thought a Jew had horns.”[12] Jews were different, this farmer understood, and therefore should look different, and yet they were surprisingly difficult to identify on sight alone.[13] There were Jews like Steinheimer throughout the South, bringing consumer products to rural places without other commercial enterprises. The goal was to acquire sufficient capital to settle down as a small town merchant, hence the prevalence and notoriety of so-called “Jew Stores.”[14] And yet, as Steinheimer’s encounter indicates, Jews occupied a strange position in a region that was starkly divided by phenotypic binary but also dominated by various forms of Protestantism.

While Jews did not have horns, male Jews were distinguished from other southerners by their circumcised penises, a fact that was anything but obvious upon first encounter.[15] Jewish circumcision is an old practice, based on the commandment in Genesis chapter 17, “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days.”[16] The biblical character Abraham was the first mohel, circumcising himself and his son Isaac, and while any pious and knowledgeable Jew can perform this ceremony, mohalim have most often been men who were certified by a rabbi. The ceremony they perform, milah, involves using a knife to remove the child’s foreskin, tearing the exposed mucous membrane, and finally suctioning off the blood with their mouth or a swab.[17] This is followed by the recitation of a blessing over wine—common in Jewish rituals—and a specific benediction for the occasion.[18] In the European places where migrants came from, especially Russia and the German-speaking lands, circumcision was the state means of registering the birth of a Jewish boy, and the mohel was a paid agent of the government. Problems in fact arose when the procedure had not been properly recorded or when, as Jews came under the influence of Enlightenment thought, some refused the rite for their sons.[19] In the United States, however, birth registration fell under the purview of individual states and there was no formal connection to or government funding of religious ritual. In southern states, there were few efficient systems of birth registration at all until the twentieth century.[20]

Circumcision was no longer a state service, then, and in the South, where a small number of Jews were scattered across vast distances, procuring a circumcision—especially by the eighth day of life—could be challenging. As one correspondent to a Jewish newspaper wrote of Texas in 1852, “There are not many Jews in the state; but still you will find a sprinkling of them in every village.” In Galveston, he reported, Mr. E. Cohen, a recent arrival from England, “concluded with a praiseworthy courage to perform the circumcision [of his son] himself, on the eighth day, as we have no Mohel nearer than New Orleans,” a distance of almost 400 miles.[21] Not long after, Rev. M.N. Nathan came to town from New Orleans to speak at the consecration of the Jewish burial ground. Aware that he was the only rabbi they would see for a while, he invoked the example of Abraham, asking “Did he fear to undergo the painful rite of circumcision at ninety-nine years of age, and perform it on his only child and household, because he feared the consequences?…Can you not, also, stamp your offspring with the seal of the covenant of circumcision?”[22] Male Jewish identity required physical proof, and although Nathan’s comments indicate that there was some fear of discrimination from Christian neighbors, many southern Jews went to great lengths to obtain it.

Trained mohalim soon found their way to the region to supply this religious service. In 1855 Samuel Laski of Columbia, South Carolina, announced that he “would be happy to render the necessary services for the initiation of children into the covenant of Abraham whenever required…in South Carolina and vicinity.”[23] Mohalim were accessed through word of mouth or through nascent Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish press. The Rev. Simon Gerstmann, upon taking up a position at Meridian, Mississippi’s congregation, “inform[ed] his brethren that he is an experienced Mohel, and will practice the rite of circumcision in the vicinity and country, whenever called upon.”[24] Moses Spertner practiced in Charleston before moving on to Wilmington, North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia. In 1878 he advertised himself as a “practical Mohel in the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.”[25] Oftentimes these men were difficult to reach, and there were many cases of circumcisions taking place well after the eighth day of life. Sometimes a set of brothers would all be circumcised at the same time. For instance, in July of 1851 a Nashville father named Eliezer had the ritual performed on all three of his sons, aged six, three, and fourteen months.[26]

Mohalim received payment for their services, which for some was a supplement to their work as a religious functionary in a congregation, or hazan. For instance, in 1861, L. Sternheimer served as the hazan of Macon, Georgia’s Congregation Beth Israel, but also as a mohel-for-hire. He had extensive experience performing the rite, and advertised in a national Jewish newspaper that,

[He] could be safely recommended to our fellow Israelites residing in his vicinity in Alabama and Georgia, as a competent mohel. He had officiated in that capacity in Memphis [Tennessee], Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas and could bring satisfactory references to those who might require it.[27]

Presumably this was a lucrative enterprise, because he demanded that his contract grant him “leave of absence for at least two days when called upon to act as mohel,” much to the chagrin of his disgruntled congregants.[28]

Other mohalim traveled even more extensively and made it a more central part of their business. F. Backman, who had been a mohel in Europe, was remarkably productive, performing over twelve hundred circumcisions in the sixteen years following his 1848 arrival in America, an average of seventy-six per year. Based in Philadelphia, he circumcised throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, periodically traveling to places further afield, from Maine and Delaware to Chicago and Georgia.[29] M.S. Polack, based in Baltimore, performed 910 circumcision between 1836 and 1862, throughout Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and the District of Columbia, going as far south as Marion Courthouse, South Carolina.[30] Traveling mohalim not only offered their services to far-flung coreligionists, but created informal circuits that linked them to one another as Jews, as southerners, and as Americans, a project not unlike that of Methodist circuit riders. Henry Loewenthal, who had been Macon’s hazan and mohel before Sternheimer, even wrote to a Jewish newspaper in December of 1860 describing the Jews of Tallahassee and Quincy, Florida, where he had recently performed circumcisions and recounting, “Israelites are to be found in the following places of that State, viz: At Apalachicola, St. Augustine…and in several other small places, too many for me, at present to mention.”[31]

Mohalim kept detailed records of the circumcisions they performed, noting the date and location of the circumcision, the name and age of the son and the name of the father, either in Hebrew, Yiddish, German, or English. For instance, Polack recorded

In the Holy Congregation of Baltimore, I circumcised the boy Menahem Mendel son of Meyer Hexter on the first day (Sunday), the 24th of Adar, in the year 5599, June 5, 1839.

Birth information was thus embedded in larger systems of Jewish time and identity. Polack used the Hebrew and English dates, but he also noted when a birth happened on a festival and included the weekly Torah portion when it occurred on a Sabbath. He also recorded when the family involved were Levi’im or Cohanim, descendants of the priestly classes who had an enhanced role in Jewish ritual. Mother’s names, however, were only mentioned on rare occasions when the circumcision took place in the “Poorhouse” and presumably there was no recognized father. [32] Although Jewish identity was matrilineal, circumcision established religious identity through patrilineage. It thus conformed to southern modes of paternalistic family identity, even as the mechanics differed considerably.[33]

These records had obvious utility within the Jewish community, but they could also function as a kind of birth registration. In many places in the South, a child's existence might have become a matter of government record only in the decennial census. Despite the separation of church and state, family bibles and baptismal records were accepted - though not mandated - as evidence of age and identity; the mohel book may have been used or at least viewed, in a similar way.[34] The mohel, in shaping and recording bodies, could blur the lines between religion and the state, but also between religion and medicine. One account of a circumcision read, “Mr. Spertner was very skillful, eliciting the encomiums of all present, among whom were two eminent surgeons.”[35] The aforementioned Galveston father, E. Cohen, performed his circumcision “in the presence of a surgeon; and the child is doing well.”[36] They were not the only ones to question the difference between a mohel and a doctor. In 1869, Isaac Mayer Wise reported, “We have been repeatedly asked the question, whether in places where no Mohel can be had, an operation might not be performed by any physician who understands it.”[37] In a period of multiple medical authorities, the mohel was an additional practitioner alongside female domestic healers, slave doctors, professional doctors, and “irregulars” advocating treatments like homeopathy and water cure.[38]

Mohalim transformed male bodies, making them simultaneously visible and invisible, linking Jews throughout the region and country, and blurring the lines between the religious and the secular. They fulfilled these functions in other regions too, and yet circumcision had particular meanings in the South, as can be seen in a controversy from New Orleans in late 1864. At a time when the city was occupied by the Union army and had recently freed its slaves, Rev. Bernard Illowy demanded that the city’s three mohalim cease practicing circumcision on the sons of Jewish men and non-Jewish women, who, according to Jewish law, were not Jewish. Two of the three acceded to his request, but the third, a Mr. Goldenberg, did not, leading to a publicized conflict. Illowy blamed Goldenberg’s stubbornness “on his circumcision fees” and insisted in a letter, reprinted, per his request, in a national Jewish newspaper, that families sought out such circumcisions,

to please the Jewish grandparents or their Jewish husbands, (who themselves have no other motive than that the children be entitled, in case of death, to a piece of ground on the Jewish burial place).

Circumcision was not an outcome of a straightforward theological belief, or even of a traditional Jewish identity. Rather, it was linked to embodied values of genealogy, family, and death. This might have been of special concern in New Orleans, where burial was complicated by a high water table, but it was not limited to that city.[39]

While they could not be circumcised as halakhic Jews, Illowy noted, these boys could be circumcised as part of a conversion process, which would also require immersion in a Jewish ritual bath, or mikveh. Christian mothers – whether they were Protestant or part of the city’s large Catholic population went unremarked upon, significantly – refused because “they do not want to have their children baptised (sic) as Jews.” And yet, he argued, “They will pass as Jews, because they are circumcised, and marry daughters of Israel, though circumcision never made them Israelites.”[40] At a time when the specter of interracial sex loomed large, Christian women had no qualms about marrying and bearing children with Jewish men, and in a majority Protestant culture, they deemed momentary immersion a more significant bodily transformation than circumcision, a bloody and painful operation. At the same time, most Jews would take physical appearance at its word, without asking too many questions about lineage or process. Thus these boys would “pass” as Jewish in much the same way light-skinned blacks were able to “pass” as white. The very same bodies were interpreted differently, making it unclear whether they were Jewish or not, and by what measure. Was it by virtue of paternal or maternal identity? A function of circumcision, immersion, or both? Notably missing was any discussion of theological belief or congregational affiliation.

In Europe, this situation would have been impossible—Jews had to convert to marry Christian women, and only those deemed Jewish by the local authority would have access to milah.[41] In the United States, however, one could procure religious services directly through payment, and technical expertise was accepted apart from religious authority.[42] Religion was enacted on bodies within families and using a hired expert, in tension with the congregational authorities attempting to police them. This had special meaning in the South, where bodily interpretations had profound social repercussions and public meanings.

This brief account of circumcision and the body has several lessons that invite further questions for scholars and students of southern religions.

  1. Mohalim—and the bodies they created—were never neatly separated from the state, from medicine, or from labor systems. How then, have religious bodies been created outside of congregations and denominations? How has religious expertise intersected, overlapped, and competed with other kinds of bodily knowledge? What role have these processes played in creating the region and its religious movements? And how have they formed children, especially, as religious subjects?
  2. At a time when skin, blood, and heritage were deeply important to the social structure of the South, circumcision—the bloody removal of foreskin—was largely ignored because it was invisible at first sight (unlike the mythic Jewish horns.) At the same time, it was deeply significant to Jewish families and communities, who went to great lengths to have it performed. On the other hand, Jews seemed uninterested in the sectarian identities of non-Jewish women, describing them as broadly “Christian.” How, then, has religion been visible—and invisible—on southern bodies, both to religious insiders and outsiders? How has this changed over time and how has it intersected with the region’s histories of race and gender?
  3. The dynamics of visibility and invisibility are not limited to our historical subjects, but also extend to scholarly work. What other bodies—like those of nineteenth-century Jews—have been invisible to us thus far? What new insights can they teach us? And what else is there to learn about those we think we see clearly? When Francis Asbury was traversing the South, it was not only to transform theological beliefs but to shape bodies through baptism and proper behavior. Were there those in his day—and since—who “passed” as Methodist? And what might that teach us about southern evangelicalism?

Attending to the body raises crucial questions about religious identity and authenticity, shedding light on longstanding conversations about domestic religion, church discipline, and the rituals, practices, and performances of both religious and southern identities.[43] Southern religion history from this angle is no longer one of denominational allegiances and theological fights, but of people adorning, immersing, inscribing, carrying, comporting, augmenting, diminishing, and cutting their bodies. Claims about insiderhood and outsiderhood, along with forms of critique and dissent, are not limited to the realm of ideas, but are determined and enacted—especially but not only in the South—on the flesh, bones, and muscles of the human body.

[1] The tension between grand narrative and inclusive diversity in American religious history was outlined in the landmark edited volume edited by Thomas A. Tweed, Retelling U.S. Religious History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997). The methodology of this article, which starts with a decidedly particular religious practice and then builds outward, is inspired by Peter R. D’Agostino, Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

[2] Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997); Donald G. Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979); C. C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the American Civil War (Atlanta: Mercer University Press, 1985).

[3] Jews were among the early residents of Savannah, Charleston, Richmond, and Baltimore. Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).

[4]  Karla Goldman, "Jewish Lenses on Katrina,” Journal of Southern Religion, After the Storm: A Special Issue on Hurricane Katrina (2009) <> (accessed July 5, 2016).

[5] On Schultz: “this book is not part of the growing conversation about the Southern religious reaction—pro or con—to the Civil Rights Movement,” Eric Michael Mazur, JSR 5 (2002); Leonard Dinnerstein, JSR 11 (2009). Recent studies in the field include Caroline E. Light, That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South (New York: New York University Press, 2014); Anton Hieke, Jewish Identity in the Reconstruction South: Ambivalence and Adaptation (Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2013); Marcie Cohen Ferris, Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South (, 2009); Leonard Rogoff, Homelands: Southern Jewish Identity in Durham-Chapel Hill and North Carolina (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007); Deborah R. Weiner, Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Emily Bingham, Mordecai: An Early American Family (New York: Macmillan, 2004). For studies centered on religious leaders, see Mark K. Bauman and Berkley Kalin, The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1990s (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007); Gary Phillip Zola, Isaac Harby of Charleston, 1788–1828: Jewish Reformer and Intellectual (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002); Ibid., “Southern Rabbis and the Founding of The First National Association of Rabbis,” American Jewish History 85, no. 4 (1997): 353–372;  Hollace Ava Weiner, Jewish Stars in Texas: Rabbis and Their Works (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999).

[6] There is a huge body of literature on the body, emerging from work in social theory, cultural studies, and gender studies. On religion and the body, Sarah Coakley, ed. Religion and the Body (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Lawrence E. Sullivan, “Body Works: Knowledge of the Body in the Study of Religion,” History of Religions 30, no. 1 (1990): 86–99; Constance M. Furey, “Body, Society, and Subjectivity in Religious Studies,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80, no. 1 (2012): 7–33. Related is the new work on religion and its intersections with dress, food, and material culture. For instance Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). In Jewish studies, see Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body: Jews and Judaism from an Embodied Perspective (SUNY Press, 1992); Sander L. Gilman, The Jew’s Body (Psychology Press, 1991).

[7] R. Marie Griffith, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004); Lynne Gerber, Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Heather D. Curtis, Faith in the Great Physician: Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860–1900 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). Martha L. Finch, Dissenting Bodies: Corporealities in Early New England (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012); Robert C. Fuller, The Body of Faith: A Biological History of Religion in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013). See also important work in American Catholic history by Robert Orsi. Robert A. Orsi, Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998); Robert A. Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

[8]Robert Elder, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016); David T. Moon Jr, “Southern Baptists and Southern Men: Evangelical Perceptions of Manhood in Nineteenth-Century Georgia,” The Journal of Southern History 81, no. 3 (2015): 563–606; Scott Stephan, Redeeming the Southern Family: Evangelical Women and Domestic Devotion in the Antebellum South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011); Charity R. Carney, Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011); Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009); Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865–1898 (Lafayette: Louisiana State University Press, 2005); Regina D. Sullivan and Monte Harrell Hampton, Varieties of Southern Religious History: Essays in Honor of Donald G. Mathews (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2015); John Michael Giggie, After Redemption: Jim Crow and the Transformation of African American Religion in the Delta, 1875–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Sharla M. Fett, Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[9] Here I am drawing on critical theory on the social construction of race and gender: Amy Robinson, “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest,” Critical Inquiry 20, no. 4 (Summer 1994): 715–736; Gayle Wald, Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 2011 [1990]).

[10] Donald G. Mathews, “The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice,” Journal of Southern Religion 3 (2000) <>.

[11] Eugene Levy, “‘Is the Jew a White Man?’: Press Reaction to the Leo Frank Case, 1913–1915,” Phylon (1960–) 35, no. 2 (1974): 212–222; Nancy MacLean, “The Leo Frank Case Reconsidered: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Making of Reactionary Populism,” The Journal of American History 78, no. 3 (1991): 917–948.

[12] Sketch of David Steinheimer, Atlanta, Ga.” David Steinheimer Papers, Mss 26, Cuba Archives, Atlanta, Georgia.

[13] On cultural conceptions of Jewish physicality, including the idea of Jewish horns, see Gilman, The Jew’s Body; Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Debra Higgs Strickland, Saracens, Demons, & Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003). On Jews and race, see Eric L. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006).

[14] Hasia Diner, Roads Taken: The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015); Stella Suberman, The Jew Store (New York: Algonquin Books, 2001).

[15] Circumcision did not become a widespread medical procedure until the twentieth century. David L. Gollaher, “From Ritual to Science: The Medical Transformation of Circumcision in America,” Journal of Social History 28, no. 1 (1994): 5–36.

[16] JPS Version, verses 11 and 12. Interesting, the next verses note that slaves should also be circumcised.

[17] The practice of suctioning with the mouth has come under considerable scrutiny for public health concerns in recent years. See Sharon Otterman, “Board Votes to Regulate Circumcision, Citing Risks,” New York Times, September 13, 2012. For a contemporary post-orthodox critique of circumcision, see Shalom Auslander, Foreskin’s Lament (New York: Penguin, 2007).

[18] Jonathan Seidel, Judith R. Baskin, and Leonard V. Snowman, “Circumcision,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. Vol. 4, eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed April 19, 2016), 730–735. On meanings of circumcision and gender in Jewish law and history, see Shaye JD Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005).

[19] Robin Judd, Contested Rituals: Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and Jewish Political Life in Germany, 1843–1933 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). ChaeRan Y. Freeze and Jay M. Harris, Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia: Select Documents, 1772–1914 (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2013).

[20] Shane Landrum, “From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates: Young People, Proof of Age, and American Political Cultures, 1820–1915,” Age in America: From the Colonial Era to the Present, eds. Corinne T. Field and Nicholas Syrett, (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 124–147.

[21] Occident 10 (1852), 59.

[22] “Ceremonial at Galveston,” Occident 10 (1852), 382–383.

[23] Jeremiah J. Berman, The Trend in Jewish Religious Observance in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Press of the Jewish Publication Society, 1947), 40–44.

[24] Ads, Israelite, March 6, 1874, 7.

[25] Hieke, Jewish Identity in the Reconstruction South, 236.

[26] Backman Mohel Records, 1845–1864, SC-622, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio (AJA).

[27] Ibid., 237.

[28] July 10, 1861; February 3 and July 10, 1861, Temple Beth Israel Minutes Book, Cuba Family Archives.

[29] Records, 1845–1864, SC-622, AJA.

[30] M.S. Polack Collection; P-72; Box 1; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.

[31] Macon Ga., Israelite, December 21, 1860, p. 198.

[32] August 23, 1853, M.S. Polack Collection; P-72; Folder 3; Box 1; AJHS.

[33] Carol Bleser, In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South, 1830–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[34] Shane Landrum, “From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates.”

[35] Jewish Messenger, March 24, 1871, 2.

[36] Occident 10 (1852), 44–61.

[37] He declared that it was fine as long as the prayer was recited by a Jew. “Concerning the Mohel,” Israelite, August 20, 1869, 11.

[38] Sharla M. Fett, Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 4.

[39] Louisiana, Jewish Messenger, February 3, 1865. Letter, Jacobsohn to Isaac Leeser, October 24, 1864, Gershwind-Bennett Isaac Leeser Digital Repository (accessed July 14, 2016). This case caused considerable controversy in European rabbinic circles. David Ellenson, “A Jewish Legal Decision by Rabbi Bernard Illowy of New Orleans and Its Discussion in Nineteenth Century Europe in Orthodox Judaism in America,” American Jewish History 69, no. 2 (1979), 174–195. On New Orleans, race, and performance, see Joseph R. Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996). On race and religion in New Orleans, see Emily Suzanne Clark, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016). On the Jews of New Orleans, see B. Malone, “New Orleans Uptown Jewish Immigrants: The Community of Congregation Gates of Prayer, 1850–1860,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 32, no. 3 (1991): 239–278.

[40] Louisiana, Jewish Messenger, February 3, 1865.

[41] ChaeRan Y. Freeze, Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2002); Todd Endelman, Leaving the Jewish Fold: Conversion and Radical Assimilation in Modern Jewish History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015); Marion A. Kaplan, Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[42] Contemporaries recognized this. David Ellenson, “A Jewish Legal Decision by Rabbi Bernard Illowy of New Orleans and Its Discussion in Nineteenth Century Europe in Orthodox Judaism in America.,” American Jewish History Vol. 69, No. 2 (1979), 174-95.

[43] Stephan, Redeeming the Southern Family; Monica Najar, Evangelizing the South: A Social History of Church and State in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Chad E. Seales, The Secular Spectacle: Performing Religion in a Southern Town (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).