This is a ketubah or wedding contract written for a wedding that took place in Ancona, Italy in 1804. The ketubah was for the marriage of Yitzchak Chaim ben Yechiel Halevy and Raba Mazal Tov, daughter of Shlomo Yechiel Shimshon Chai of Kamirina. The ketuba is made of parchment, and the text is in the traditional Aramaic. At the bottom of the document is another text, the tenaim, the agreements formalising the couple and their families’ commitment to the marriage. The witnesses have signed their names in Italian.
The biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Akeidat Yitzchak) appears as the central illustration at the top of the ketubah. This is likely to have been inspired by the groom’s name, Yitzchak Chaim. A verse decorating the document blesses the couple with good luck in their new marriage, and a second verse from the book of Genesis (Bereshit), refers to Isaac’s economic success. Around the text are decorations of flowers and figures of people. On the left is a boy drawn in the classical Italian style, and below him is David with Goliath’s severed head. On the right is another child, and a king with a gold crown on his head, presumably David after he was anointed King of Israel. Below the text are the figures of imaginary animals common in European culture: griffins with an eagle’s head and a lion’s body.
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The Binding of Isaac – The Binding of Isaac is a central motif in Judaica illustrations that appear in books, on Torah ark covers, and on ketubot. The story from Genesis 22:1-19 relates to a test God gives to Abraham, commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Abraham begins to follow God’s command, but soon after binding Isaac to the altar, an angel calls to Abraham and tells him not to harm his son. He is told to sacrifice a ram instead. The account of the Binding of Isaac is considered a foundational story of faith.
Ketubah – The ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract that is signed as a central part of the wedding ceremony. Written in Aramaic, the text of the ketubah was codified in the first century CE. An entire tractate of the Talmud called Ketubot is devoted to discussing the purpose and requirements of wedding contracts. The ketubah outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom toward his bride: the amount of money he must pay, the contents of her dowry, and the settlement in case of divorce. While the text has been very consistent throughout history, ketubah designs are very varied and many have calligraphic text and are illuminated. The National Library of Israel features over 4,200 ketubot on its collections, spanning the entire Jewish world over hundreds of years.
Tena’im – The document that is written when a Jewish couple get engaged is called the tena’im. The tena’im formalise the engagement and detail the mutual obligations in preparation for the wedding. While originally personalised for the specific couple and their families, the tena’im is now usually a standard text with blanks to fill in the names of the bride, groom, and witnesses. In some communities the tenai’im are signed at a different time in a separate ceremony, while in others the tena’im are signed directly before the wedding ceremony.
Ancona, Italy – The Jewish community of Ancona dates back to 967 CE. Ancona is an Italian city and seaport northeast of Rome on the Adriatic Sea. Because it is a port city, Jews often worked there as merchants, trading throughout the Middle East. Life for Jews in Ancona fluctuated between times of persecution, including being forced to live in a ghetto, and times when Jews were encouraged to settle in the city due to their experience as merchants. During the time of Napoleon’s occupation of Ancona at the end of the eighteenth century, most of the anti-Jewish laws were revoked, but when the Italians regained rule of the area, some of the laws were reinstated. In 1861, however, the Jews of Italy received complete civic rights. The Jewish population of Ancona was estimated at 1,600 in the nineteenth century; by the end of the twentieth century only a few hundred Jews lived in Ancona. Today a few Jewish institutions remain active in the city including two synagogues, a mikve (ritual bath), a Talmud Torah school, and some social organisations.