Ketubot > Above My Chiefest Joy > The Image of the Temple and Jerusalem in Ketubot

The Image of the Temple and Jerusalem in Ketubot

 Prof. Shalom Sabar

​Ever since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 B.C.E., Jews have hoped and prayed for the day when Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Eventually, the city also became holy for the other two monotheistic faiths. It was passed from hand to hand for hundreds of years.  However, during all those years the Jews continued to long for Zion and Jerusalem.  This fierce longing was expressed in the spiritual creations of the Jewish people, mostly prayer and poetry, both religious and secular. A popular expression of these hopes can also found in Jewish art. As early as the second generation after the destruction of Temple, the façade of the Temple appeared on coins minted by Bar Kochba. On the other side of the coins the words, "For the liberation of Jerusalem" appeared. In the following centuries these symbols of the Temple (mostly the seven branched candelabra) and Jerusalem became the foundation of Jewish visual art in Eretz Yisrael and out of it. During antiquity these symbols could be found on the bases of pillars, synagogue mosaics, ceramic candle holders and coffins, etc. During the Middle Ages, images such the Sanctuary vessels, the Temple and the Messiah entering the Holy City riding a donkey, were widespread in Hebrew illustrated manuscripts, mostly from France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Depictions of Jerusalem multiplied after the invention of the printing press, and realistic and fantastical images of the city were widespread in European Renaissance and Baroque art- both Jewish and Christian. From this time period on, symbols of Jerusalem and the Temple could be found in almost every category of Jewish art: manuscripts and printed books, Hanukkah menorahs and religious artifacts for the house and synagogue, Sukkah decoration, and so on.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries in Spain, Italy and Islamic countries, it became fashionable to order beautifully decorated ketubot. This brought about a new medium for the expression of the image of Jerusalem. While ketubah illustrators had many images from traditional Judaism from which they could draw inspiration at their disposal, they (or their advisors) chose to create a new and unique connection between the marriage document and Jewish weddings in general and the dream of rebuilding of the Holy City. For instance, the sages' famous requirement to elevate the memory of Jerusalem and its destruction over every happy occasion every happy occasion (from the verse," if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy" [Psalms 137: 6]), is given a lovely graphic expression in Italian ketubot where the image of Jerusalem is raised to the top of the ketubah. In other cases, the illustrators creatively connected between Jerusalem and the establishment of a Jewish house and family. In two of these cases the artists are referring to the "building of a new house" in Israel- something which will not be perfect and solid until the two worlds- the national and individual- will be united, and the new couple will be able to achieve their personal dreams in a rebuilt Jerusalem. Specific examples of how the artists integrated this vision can be found in a small selection of ketubot from the largest and richest collection of ketubot in the world, found in the National Library in Jerusalem.