The Ketubah is a legal document that confirms the marriage agreement and details the husband’s obligations to his wife. Two witnesses, who must be present at the marriage ceremony, are required to sign the Ketubah, attesting to its contents and ensuring that the groom gives it to the bride during the ceremony. Jewish law attributes great significance to this document which protects the wife’s rights, and determines that she must take good care of the Ketubah. In fact, the husband is required to have a new document prepared in case of loss or damage to the original.
The wording of the Ketubah has changed over time, but at its core it determines that the husband promises to feed, support and respect his wife throughout their marriage and if the marriage should end, due to death or divorce, the wife is assured a predetermined sum of money. The Talmud (Tractate Ketubot page 82: 72) tells us that Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach, who presided over the Sanhedrin court in the 2nd century BCE, set the rule that attaches all of the husband’s property to the Ketubah payment.
The Ketubah has served as the fundamental document for the Jewish family for more than 2000 years and was kept by every married Jewish woman. Despite the enormous number of Ketubahs written over the centuries, few of the ancient documents survived and they are now kept in libraries, museums or private collections.
Since the Ketubah is an intimate family document with no public significance, the scribes historically did not invest in decorating such legal documents. In those cases in which a Ketubah was somewhat decorated, the scribe made do with geometric shapes and flowers, or sometimes the words were written in a shape resembling a gate. This changed in 17th century Italy, when it became customary to decorate the Ketubah with illustrations of animals and plants as well as figurative drawings that included signs of the zodiac, symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel, descriptions of Jerusalem and images from the Bible.
Verses from the Bible and Jewish literary sources that emphasized components of married life were also featured prominently in the Ketubah decorations. For example, “He who finds a wife has found happiness” (Proverbs 18:22) or “What a rare find is a capable wife!” (Proverbs 31:10). These verses were integrated among the decorations and illustrations surrounding the legal text of the Ketubah.
The souvenir sheet features an example of a modern Ketubah decorated with original illustrations based on lengthy tradition. The heart of the sheet is designed in a gate-like shape with a rounded stamp at the top. The stamp contains the traditional Ketubah text translated from Aramaic to Hebrew.
The Ketubah wording is surrounded by stylized decorations of plants and animals, fish symbolizing fertility and a landscape of buildings in Jerusalem. Three sentences representing different and complementary perspectives about marriage were incorporated into the decorations. The verse “Enjoy happiness with a woman you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) presents the groom’s viewpoint, the verse “I sought the one I love” (Song of Songs, 3:1) presents the bride’s view and the sentence “Grant abundant joy to these loving friends” (from the Seven Blessings recited during the marriage ceremony) represents joint wishes for the couple who are establishing a new Jewish home.