Ketubah, Sienna, 1725
Parashat Chayei Sarah
This is a ketubah (marriage contract) written for a marriage in Sienna, Italy in 1725.
The ketubah states that the groom’s name was Solomon, son of Joshua Glicki and the bride’s name was Belladona, daughter of Rephael Haim Glicki.
The text of the ketubah is surrounded by elaborate, colourful decorations of flowers and birds as well as biblical verses. The ketubah would probably have been designed by hand and have been quite expensive. It can therefore be assumed that the families of the bride and groom were relatively wealthy.
Biblical verses cited on ketubot often allude to the names of the bride and groom. In this case, the biblical verse is from the Book of Chronicles II: “Solomon successfully took over the throne of the Lord as king.” The main text is surrounded by verses from the Book of Psalms, chapter 128 which link a happy and successful family to those who fear God.
The handwriting on the bottom of the ketubah are the signatures of the witnesses to the marriage.
The purpose of the Jewish 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.
Despite the thousands of years since ketubot were first used, the text has changed very little. 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.
Despite the ancient fixed text, local customs developed 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. Occasionally, the woman would be obligated to care for the husband's children from a previous marriage as if they were her children. In ketubot from Syria and Eretz Yisrael, it was stated 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 (chained wife).
Connection to Parashat Chayei Sarah
Much of parashat Chayei Sara concerns finding a bride for Isaac after the death of his mother, Sarah. Even though there is no hint in the text to a ketubah, the origins of several longstanding marriage traditions can be found in this parasha. For example, the tradition that when the groom first sees the bride he covers her face with a veil is derived from Rebekah who covered herself with a veil when, in this parasha, she saw Isaac for the first time: “She took a veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24: 65).
Likewise, the custom of blessing the bride originates from the blessing given to Rebekah at the time of her betrothal to Isaac: “Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of tens of thousands” (Genesis 24:60).
Yehuda Posnick, “The Ketubah – A Sacred Contract,” Jewish Magazine
C. Adler, J.H. Greenstone, and E.N. Adler, “Ketubah,” JewishEncyclopedia.com
Virtual Jewish World: Siena, Italy, The Virtual Jewish World
Lilia Gaufberg, The Hidden Synagogue of Siena, Times of Israel
This image can be used in Jewish Studies lessons to discuss the importance of ketubot in traditional Jewish marriages. Several ketubot can be examined and compared. Teachers can also use this as a platform to discuss the role of women and feminism in Judaism.
Jewish History teachers can use this ketubah and others to introduce the customs of the various different medieval Jewish communities.
This ketubah can also be a trigger to learn about the Italian Jewish community.
Art teachers can use this ketubah as an example or the artistic styles of ketubot and other Judaica items.
What is this document?
How is it decorated?
When was it written?
What is the document’s legal status in Judaism?
Reading Between the Lines
Looking at the detail and the effort put into designing the ketubah.
What could this tell us about the financial situation of the young couple's families?
What is the quote that is written around the text of the document? Where is it from? Why would it be on a ketubah?
The verse at the bottom of the document is related to the groom. What is the connection?
How does this ketubah compare with modern day examples?
Do your parents or grandparents have a ketubah?
Compare the ketubah to this resource.
What is Jewish life like in Sienna today?