Judaism

Vintage Ketubahs

In 2008 my wife and I bought my grandma’s house. She had lived in the house for more than 53 years and was ready to downsize into a more manageable apartment.  A lot of time and effort on the part of my mom and my aunts went into helping her sort through several lifetimes’ worth of belongings. Eventually though, she was able to whittle her way down to what would fit into her new apartment. A few things though, she didn’t want to take with her, but still wanted to keep. We offered to let her leave some things in the house in a seldom used closet under the steps going down into the basement.

About a year ago I was rooting around in that closet for something (don’t remember for what) and I came across a cardboard tube. Being the curious type I pulled out the paper that was inside. Opening the scroll, I was excited (shocked? suprised? intruiged?) to see hebrew lettering. I had no idea what it was until I turned it over and saw my grandparents’ names on the back. It turned out to be their ketubah.

In Judaism, a ketubah is what we would consider a “marriage contract”. It specifies the duties of the partners and some other legalese.  Originally written in Arameic, ketubahs (or ketubot to be grammatically correct) were traditionally only signed by the groom, rabbi/chazzan and some witnesses and given to the bride for safe keeping.  You can read more about them here.

I was pretty excited about finding this piece of family history. My parents have had their ketubah hanging in their bedroom for as long as I can remember.  My wife and I have ours hanging in our living room (as it’s a fairly substantial piece of art). I had never seen my grandparents’ before. Apparently they simply stored it away.

Not wanting to hurt the delicate paper, I rolled it up and tried to put it back in the tube but it became stuck on something. I looked inside the tube and lo and behold, there was something else inside! I pulled it out and was flaberghasted to see it was my grandma’s parents’ ketubah!

My great grandparents' and grandparents' ketubahs

As you can see from the picture, the ketubahs are almost identical. This is because both couples were married by the same rabbi at the same synagogue in New York City! Rabbi David de Sola Pool married my great grandparents, Irv and Eva Sitt in 1926 at Shearith Israel, also known as the The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

My grandparents, Bernie and Norma Sevel, were also married by Rabbi de Sola Pool. They wed in 1951.

I recently had them framed and hung them in the hallway going back to our bedroom. It’s really neat to be able to walk past so much family history in just a few steps.  Someday, I hope my kids or grand kids will continue the collection with my parents’ and our ketubahs.

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