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TIOH Art Tour: Persian Ketubot Wedding Contracts 

Ketubah a
  • Ketubah a 
  • Istafan (Iran), 1922 
  • Manuscript text on paper 
  • Framed by elaborate colorful decoration, including flowers and birds, and mihrab arches. At the top twin suns rise behind a pair of lions, the symbol of imperial Persia, above which are a pair of peacocks, and featuring a “Shiviti” plaque containing seven-branched Menorahs made up of micrographic Hebrew text. 
  • Gift of the Briskin Family  

Ketubah b

  • Isfahan (Iran), 1840 
  • Manuscript text on paper 
  • Hand illuminated Persian Ketubah elaborately decorated with suns and faces, pear shaped colorful designs and flowers. Bordered by bold scribal torah script. 
  • Gift of the Briskin Family 

Originally from Isfahan (modern day Iran) dating to the late 19th century, these beautiful watercolor pieces of art are Jewish marital contracts known as a ketubah

Ketubah b

Handwritten at the center of each of these is the traditional Jewish text for such contracts. In it the groom contractually and in front of witnesses (whose names and signatures we see at the bottom of the document) marries the bride and promises to take care of her needs, including her clothing, her sustenance, and her conjugal needs. The contract also stipulates her value in case of a divorce.  

The text, written in Aramaic, is formulaic and written to create a tight box with no line longer or shorter than the other. Surrounding the legal (halachich) language, the decoration of these ketubah combines the motif of the lion in front of the rising sun, a national symbol of Persia typically used in this community where Jews of Isfahan believe they are the oldest Jewish community in the country.  

The text framing the design reads: “And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God,” which comes from Isaiah 61:9-10. 

Other symbols you may notice include a Jewish star with the word zion inside, asserting the family connection to Israel as the promised land and an amulet called a shiviti, a meditative representation of a candlestick used in some Jewish communities for contemplation over God’s name. The shiviti displays the name of God (in Hebrew: yud hey vav hey). The use of it in the ketubah further invokes Gods presence in the ritual through its meaning, I have placed the Lord always before me. 

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