Object of the Month - July - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - July

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Object of the Month July 2016

David Moss Ketubah Chicago, Illinois, 1973 Paper collage and cutout, ink on wood panel

The ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, spells out the obligations of the husband to his wife throughout the marriage.  The contract represents a legal document and must be understood by both the bride and groom. The ketubah is written in Aramaic, which is the vernacular of Talmudic law.  To symbolize the sacred ritual of marriage, the practice of writing an illuminated contract has been customary since the first century BCE and the ketubah is traditionally read aloud during the wedding ceremony.  A traditional ketubah is not a contract between bride and groom but a document signed by two witnesses who testify that the groom “acquired” the bride in the prescribed manner and that he agreed to support her.  This is not a mutual agreement; the bride only has to willingly accept the groom’s proposal of marriage.  The ketubah is then given to the bride as a surety of her rights and her husband’s duties.  

Today, most ketubot are egalitarian, written in two languages, and contain the couples’ mutual commitments and obligations.  Modern ketubot are also generally signed by the couple, as well as the Rabbi and witnesses, which signifies the first person commitment that the couple makes to each other.  The design of the ketubah is subject to the law of hiddur mitzvah, the requirement that any object which fulfills a commandment must be made as beautiful as possible.
While many ketubot are painted or printed, one of the modern ketubah examples in the museum’s collection is a paper collage.   Pieces of paper in several colors are cut out to form a large tree with a nesting white bird above.  The text is written in a traditional square script.  The ketubah’s background has an inscription from Song of Songs (2:10b-12).  David Moss, the artist of this ketubah, went on to make several other beautiful contracts and became very popular for his ketubah work.