Ketubah, Lugo, Italy, 1821
This is the ketubah of the marriage of Joseph Mazliah, son of Gedaliah Haim Sinigaglia (or Senigallia) and Malkah, daughter of Daniel Haim Castelli. The wedding took place in 1821 in Lugo, Italy. The ketubah is illustrated in water colours with themes from the Temple in Jerusalem. At the top are pictures of some of the sacred vessels: the Menorah (the seven-branched candelabra), the copper sink, and the altar.
It is possible that the concept of the Jewish Temple is included in this ketubah because the bridegroom traditionally says the verse originally from Tehilim (Psalms) 137:6 “אעלה את ירושלים על ראש שמחתי” “I will set Jerusalem above my chiefest joy,” before breaking a glass in commemoration of Jerusalem during the wedding ceremony. The meaning is that even at such a time of great joy like a wedding, one must remember the destruction of the Jerusalem and of the Temples. Items from the temple in Jerusalem were also possibly included in this ketubah because it is traditional to bless a Jewish couple that they should build a Mikdash Me’at – a mini sanctuary mimicking the Temple.
Just above the text of the ketubah are two illustrations. One is the biblical scene of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. The other is probably Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s servants’ dreams in the prison. These illustrations might have been chosen because the bridegroom was called Joseph.
Ketubot have been decorated since fourteenth-century Spain, from where the custom spread across Europe. Not only were the decorations believed to embellish the ketubah, but the rabbis saw it as a way to avoid tampering with the text after it had been signed. The art of decorating ketubot became so popular that the rabbis set out laws to restrict how much could be spent on it.
The purpose of the ketubah is to outline the rights and responsibilities of the groom towards the bride. Reading the ketubah aloud is an integral part of a traditional Jewish wedding. The text has changed very little since ketubot were first used thousands of years ago. The marriage documents found in Aramaic papyruses from the days of Artaxerxes, the King of Persia from the fifth century BCE, are remarkably similar to modern-day ketubot. Local customs did, however, develop in the ketubot of various communities. In ketubot from North Africa and Yemen, husbands were prevented from making their wives move from city to city. In ketubot from Syria and the Land of Israel, it was written that before going on long journeys, a husband had to leave his wife with a conditional divorce in order to protect her from being left as an agunah (a chained wife).
There is believed to have been a Jewish presence in Lugo, the hometown of Joseph and Malka Mazliah, since the thirteenth century. In 1634 the Jews were forced to live in a ghetto in the centre of the city and their living conditions deteriorated. The Jewish population dwindled during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and by the mid-1800s there were only 396 Jews recorded to be living in Lugo. Jewish community continued to diminish as 26 were murdered in the Holocaust, leaving only one Jewish family remaining in 1969.
This ketubah can be used in Jewish Studies classes to teach about the concepts involved in Jewish marriage and the purpose of ketubot. It can also be used by Jewish History teachers to teach about the history of Italian Jewry and the role of Jerusalem in the lives of European Jews during the eighteenth century.
Bible teachers can use this resource when teaching about the story of Joseph.
Art teachers can use it to discuss the use of biblical imagery in Jewish art and Judaica.
The Ketubah can be used as a point of comparison when looking at marriage or contracts in other cultures in Cultural Studies.
What is this document?
When and where was it written?
Who are the people mentioned in the document?
What is the main text that appears in the document?
What languages are used in the document?
Look at the pictures around the text.
Which characters are depicted?
What objects are illustrated in the foreground?
The document also includes illustrations of two biblical scenes.
What are these scenes?
Reading Between the Lines
The design of the ketubah includes religious vessels from the temple.
Why do you think these objects were included?
What is their connection with Jewish marriage?
Why do you think this ketubah include scenes from the biblical stories of Joseph?
What is a ketubah and when is it used?
Have you ever seen a ketubah? If so, describe it.
Are there any similarities between this ketubah and the one you have seen?
Design a modern day ketubah.
What images will you choose to draw on the ketubah?
Create the ketubah using these images on canva.com. Don’t forget to explain why you chose these images.