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When choosing the decoration for your Ketubah you can take a look down your family tree, discover your roots, then use some of the traditional elements from your ancestor’s country of origin. Remember, Ketubah art is often influenced by the era in which it appeared and the religious persuasion of the couple. So, not only the geographical location affects the Ketubah decorations.
As with other Countries which were once part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish
The Jewish community in India introduced pairs of fish into their Ketubah decoration to illustrate fertility (Genesis 1:22). Peacocks were popular images on both Indian and Iranian Ketubot, in an Indian Ketubah from 1911 a crown can be seen representing the British rule or perhaps the King of Kings – G-d. Today there is still a small Indian community of Jews living in the subcontinent although most of them have immigrated toIsrael.
The once mighty Persian Empire, today’s Iran, used symmetrically placed lions and a central light on the Ketubah with the image of a human face visible through the light. In most traditional Ketubah designs human figures are avoided. This dates back to the wish not to encourage idol worship by creating images in the likeness of man. In the Muslim countries this is a lot more strictly honored as in the Islamic faith human images are also forbidden in artwork.The lions in the Persian Ketubah decoration represent the Torah, the sun stands for righteousness (Micah 4:2) and the text of the document being the committed relationship completes the three blessings given in a Jewish brith. The Iranian Ketubah art is often complex and intricate with lots of vines and nature -as in a Persian carpet. Ketubah decoration in Muslim countries could also be found in the Muslim colors of green, gold and blue disguised as Muslim documents as Jews would often be forced to keep their Jewish faith hidden.
The earliest existing example of a Jewish marriage contract comes from the city of Krems in 1392. In this Ketubah there is the image of a man with a beard, wearing a hat identified with Jews of the time, as the man leans over a women wearing a crown -and hands her a ring. Reminiscent of a crude imitation of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel as the man and women could represent God and Adam.
You can see animals, flowers, Jerusalem and the Temple in the Italian Ketubah artwork. Italian Ketubot also have classic Biblical love stories depicted in them as well as symbols of fertility, chastity and charity also feature in the Italian Ketubah designs. With the dynamic artistic culture of Italy the Ketubah art often reflected the latest trends in artistic styles. This accounts for the use of human figures in Italian Ketubah art where as it is rare in other traditional Ketubah decoration. A Ketubah from Italy in 1864 shows floral decoration as well as a wreath and ribbons intertwined with the marriage blessings.
The land of the free has meant that any kind of Ketubah decoration goes in America. We have a Ketubah from New York from 1863 which has a painting depicting the firm shaking of hands and two sturdy Greek columns topped with two clock faces reading 6:13 (number of Jewish mitzvot).The style is art-deco and obviously forward thinking and open minded compared to the “Old Country.” Another historic American Ketubah from 1930 is dedicated to the founding of Israel as a Jewish nation and even has a tear-off coupon on the bottom so that couples could give to the Zionist fund. In modern times custom made American Ketubah art includes the aspirations of the couple, their personalities and beliefs as well as the meaning behind the symbolism of the Ketubah contract.The popularity of Ketubot / marriage contracts among non-Jews and mixed faith couples has brought with it liberal interpretations of both the text and decoration of the Ketubah.
Israeli Ketubah decoration most often shows Biblical and classic expression of the Jewish faith and home land. Symbols of the Jewish faith like the Shabbath candles, Torah scrolls and the star of David are utilized in the Israeli Ketubah as well as illustrations of Biblical stories. Because Israel comprises Jews from all over the world they bring with them their traditions so that an Israeli Ketubah often incorporates elements from Diaspora cultures.
A Syrian Ketubah from 1912 shows pastel shades of stylized vines surrounding the Ketubah text, and it is possible that stencils were used to create this effect.
A Dutch Ketubah from 1756 used copper engraving, a common practice among Sephardi Jews, the Dutch Ketubah artwork also includes the national flower, the Tulip, among other floral decoration. Concepts and ideas such as faithfulness, fertility and generosity are depicted as allegorical figures.
Like other countries which were once part of the Ottoman Empire the Romanian Jewish marriage contract displays detailed floral vines and blossoms as well as architectural elements of the period such as tall columns and arches.
The Ketubah art is often non-existent or used modestly partly because of the austere view of religious modesty and partly because in the previous century the Ketubah marriage contracts were a private legal document not shown in the home.Today a couple designing their Ketubah decoration can pick and choose according to their own tastes, not only the standard Ketubah on offer. Instead, each Ketubah can be unique, personal and a work of art to be passed on from mother to daughter. New traditions are being created in Ketubah artwork and incorporating a little from the old country.
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