Ketubah, Jerusalem, 1926
A ketubah (wedding contract) from 1926 (dated 24 Tevet, 5686). The groom is named on the ketubah as Ephraim Ben Nachman Sonnenschein and the bride Rivka Bat-Zion Bat Chaim Aryeh Zuta.
The main traditional text of the ketubah is written in Aramaic and describes the responsibilities of the groom towards his wife. Reading the ketubah aloud is an integral part of a traditional Jewish wedding. Surrounding this Aramaic text are illustrations and Hebrew verses from the Bible.
The ketubah is decorated with watercolor paintings, and the text is written in ink. In the top-centre is a picture of a young couple embracing at the entrance to a tent. The tent overlooks the city of Jerusalem.
Around this picture and at the bottom of the ketubah are biblical verses relating to themes of love and marriage.
The verse on the left in a shield-like frame forms the beginning of the blessing over children which is traditionally recited by parents on Friday evenings: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” The blessing is based on Jacob’s words to his grandsons, the sons of Joseph, when he meets them in Egypt for the first time (Genesis 48:20).
The verse on the right is taken from the Book of Jeremiah (31:20) “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him," declares the LORD.”
The verse emphasizes God’s love for the people of Israel, referred to here as “Ephraim.”
The verse that encircles the picture is taken from the consolation prophecy of Isaiah (33:20):
"Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken."
The verse at the bottom of the ketubah is taken from Song of Songs (8:7): “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”
The floral watercolor decorations around the verses are typical of the art nouveau style of the early twentieth century.
It is interesting to note the names of the witnesses who signed the ketubah: Menachem Ussishkin and David Yellin, two leading figures in the Jewish community in the Land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century.
What is Aramaic?
Aramaic dates back to around 900 BCE. It was first used by the Aramaeans, Semitic semi-nomadic people who lived in upper Mesopotamia and Syria. Among Jews, for whom Hebrew was both the language of daily discourse and the holy language of ritual and prayer, Aramaic began to replace Hebrew in daily life during the Second Temple period (530 BCE to 70 CE). It became so prevalent that the Bible itself had to be translated into Aramaic so that it could be understood.
To this day, Aramaic remains an integral part of Jewish history and religious tradition. The Talmud, the essential Jewish legal text, is written in Aramaic. Most of the Book of Daniel, parts of the Book of Ezra, and the Jewish mystical work the Zohar are all in Aramaic as are sections of the Passover Haggadah and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Likewise, Aramaic still plays a part in modern Jewish daily life: religiously observant people and scholars must know Aramaic in order to study the Talmud. The Kaddish (the mourner's prayer) is recited in Aramaic, and ketubot are still written in Aramaic and recited aloud during the wedding ceremony.
The ketubah could be presented in Bible Studies classes when studying the verses that appear in the document in order to illustrate their meaning. Teachers of Jewish Culture and Heritage could use the ketubah to illustrate the theme of modernity versus tradition, to discuss personal milestone events such as weddings and the Jewish lifecycle, or to teach about the traditional blessing over children. Teachers could compare this ketubah with other ketubot from different times and places. When studying Jewish Philosophy, the ketubah could be used in discussions of love and marriage. It could also be used in Foreign Language classes to discuss the evolution of languages and the dynamic between culture and language. Art teachers could use this ketubah as an example of art nouveau and inspiration for students to create their own ketubot.
What is your first overall impression of the ketubah?
What are the names of the bride and groom?
What is the date?
Where was the wedding ceremony held?
Who are the witnesses whose signatures appear on the ketubah?
What was their connection to the couple?
In what language is the ketubah written?
Have you ever seen a ketubah before?
What similarities and differences can you see between this ketubah and the others you have seen?
Search the NLI Ketubot Collection and find some additional ketubot.
Identify the similarities and differences between the different ketubot.
Look up the biblical verses that are used to illustrate the ketubah.
Find out their context, and suggest their connection to the occasion of a wedding.
Find some examples of verses quoted in the ketubah that have been set to music. Play them to the class.
Links to additional information