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What is a Ketubah

The Ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, is a legal document believed to have originated more than 2000 years ago. Outlining a husband's obligations in marriage to his wife, the ketubah was created to confer legal and financial rights to her and marked a turning point in the rights of Jewish women.

References to these historic Judaic obligations can be found in Exodus (21:10,11) although no mention is made of a Jewish wedding document. The Apocrypha, however, contains mention of a scroll that was brought to the Jewish marriage ceremony of Tobias and Sarah, an early form of the ketubah. During the Babylonian Exile, 586-536 B.C.E., the need arose to protect Jewish women regarding property that was held in her husband's name. Many Jewish men migrated to Egypt and left wives and families behind. The Babylonian predilection for written legal contracts was a firm basis for the start of the ketubah. Papyrus records dating from around 440 B.C.E. in Aramaic clearly outline the Jewish marriage wedding principle of securing the wife's property. Included in this ketubah is the sum of the bridal price paid to the father of the bride, as well as the sum of the bride and bridegroom's dower contribution. In addition, the wife is named as the beneficiary of the estate should the husband die.

Nearly four hundred years later, the ketubah introduced a sum to be paid by the Jewish husband to his bride upon his death or dissolution of the marriage. The ketubah became a Jewish wedding contract signed by the Jewish groom and two witnesses and was presented to the Jewish bride under the chuppah (wedding canopy). The earliest actual ketubah formula is set down in the Talmud and exists today in the Orthodox text.

Ketubah as Jewish Art
The practice of illuminating manuscripts and of decorating ritual objects goes back many hundreds of years. The concept of Hiddur Mitzvah, or the beautification of a mitzvah, has led to the creation of a legacy of Jewish ritual art objects. Richly decorated ketubahs (including papercuts) can be found in the great museums of the world from Persia, Italy, Turkey, Israel and even the United States. The design of ketubahs (ketubot) would often reflect the style of the times, and could include symbols of the country such as flags or crowns. Jewish symbols were also prevalent - the lion of Judah can often be seen in historical ketubahs as well as Hebrew calligraphy in stylized forms.

Today, the ketubah is one of the predominant forms of Jewish art and is usually hung prominently in the home by the married couple as a daily reminder of their love, marriage vows and responsibilities to each other. Often the first piece of art that a couple buys, a ketubah becomes an heirloom to be passed down to generations to come.

To find a Ketubah that fits your taste and style, please view my Ketubah Galleries.

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