Sterling Library Exhibit Features Ornate Ketubot from Around the World
The art of ketubah — the marriage contract Jewish law requires a groom to provide for his bride on their wedding day — is featured in a new exhibition at Sterling Memorial Library.
The ketubah is intended to protect the woman by establishing the man’s financial obligations to her in case of divorce, as well as provisions for shelter, clothing and food. Signed by two witnesses and read aloud during the marriage ceremony, the ketubah is considered an important public and cultural document. In its plural form, it is called ketubot.
Although many Jewish communities have historically decorated their ketubot, during the 17th and 18th centuries Italian Jews perfected the art of ketubah illumination. Italian ketubot from this period commonly feature rich floral ornamentation and images from the Bible as well as from Greek and Roman mythology. They often depict biblical personalities whose names were identical to those of the bride and groom, or they use images to identify their individual attributes, such as virtue or charity. A special feature of the ketubot of the Jews of Rome is the extended, round bottom edge which gave an opportunity to feature either a coat of arms, an object such as an urn, or floral or geometric designs that are often micrographic.
Ketubot from Jewish centers in the Muslim world, including those in Iran and Afghanistan, are more conservatively decorated, reflecting the prohibition of the creation of graven images, but feature “dazzling” floral and animal motifs, according to Nanette Stahl, the library’s Judaica curator. Those of the Sephardic Diaspora (Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin) reflect the heritage and unique identity of those communities.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the library will offer a lecture by Vivian B. Mann, director of the Master’s Program in Jewish Art at the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary and curator emerita of the Jewish Museum in New York. Her talk, titled “Jewish Marriage Contracts as Documents of Acculturation,” will take place on Tuesday, April 28, at 4 p.m. in the Sterling Memorial Library lecture hall, 128 Wall St. It is co-sponsored by the Judaic Studies Program.
The exhibit will run until June 30 at the Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St. It is free and open to the public Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5:45 p.m. Opening hours will change on May 12. For detailed information, visit www.library.yale.edu/hours.
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