The library of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City holds one of the best collections of ketubot - Jewish marriage certificates. Thirty of the finest will be featured in the exhibit, which dates from a 12th century piece to later examples.
Jewish family history researchers can discover much information on these documents (ketubah, plural ketubot), which exist for all communities around the world, and provide family details on the families, communities and customs
The JTS ketubah collection numbers more than 600 works of every type. The majority are from Italy, with others from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran/Persia, Morocco, Syria and Turkey. Other examples represent Croatia, France, Greece, Israel, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the United States. They represent the diversity of Jewish communities throughout history, with information on the couples, marriage customs and artistic styles.
Before a wedding, families negotiate a marriage contract (ketubah), which includes the husband's duties to his wife and monies due her in case of a divorce or her death.
- The earliest in the exhibit is a rare 12th century Egyptian fragment.
- 1764 earliest known decorated ketubah from Baghdad, drawn on paper from Augsburg, Germany, and indicating Jewish commercial ties.
- 1885 Damascus contract shows vivid colors and lush floral imagery echoing the blessing bestowed on a couple as they stand under the bridal canopy: “Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, just as You made your creations joyful in the Garden of Eden.”
- 1749 Venetian ketubah features the 12 Zodiac signs and an intricate love knot borrowed from Italian folk culture. The wording says that the bride and groom “agree to conduct their mutual life with love and affection, without hiding or concealing anything from each other; furthermore, they will control their possessions equally.“
- A 1999 Archie Granot muti-layeredpapercut.
- 1961 ketubah by artist Ben Shahn, showing his fascination with Hebrew calligraphy.
- Monday, March 14: Dr. David Kraemer, Abbell Librarian and Professor of Talmud and Rabbincs at the JTS, will discuss the history of Jewish marriage contracts.
- Monday, March 21: Exhibition curator Sharon Liberman Mintz will speak about the art of the decorated marriage contract.
Museum hours: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: 11am-5:45pm; Thursday, 11am-8pm; and Friday, 11am-4pm. Admission: Adults, $12; seniors, $10; students, $7.50; no charge for Jewish Museum members and children under 12. Admission is free on Saturdays.
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The Museum is at 1109 Fifth Avenue (at 92nd Street), Manhattan.