The Ketubah is the official Jewish marriage certificate which also incorporates the obligations of the groom towards his bride. The precise origins of the Ketubah is unknown and it is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. In ancient times, the marriage ceremony was performed in public in the presence of the elders of the congregation and was the occasion for a feast. The festive - an official part of the ceremony - was concluded with the entry of the bride into her husband's tent to begin their conjugal lives. The legal expression for this form of marriage is "marriage through intimacy" as defined in the Rambam's "Yad Ha'Hazaka".
In the course of time the need was felt to provide legal sanction for the marriage act, and the Ketubah document emerged for that purpose. The first specific mention of this type of marriage contract is in the Apocrypha, in the Book of Tobit, and this served as a prototype for the Ketubah's place in the marriage ceremony: "And they inscribed these matters in a book, then they ate, drank and blessed the Lord" (Tobit 7.19). The Mishna attributes the codification of the Ketubah to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah, Nasi (President) of the Sanhedrin, who lived in the 2nd century BC.
In accordance with Jewish law, the marriage ceremony includes the act of the groom handing his bride the Ketubah whereby he accepts the obligation to supply all her needs in their future life together. The Ketubah serves to defend the woman's position after her marriage and, in the words of the Gemara "so that it will not be easy for him to cast her aside".
The legal importance of the Ketubah in the relations between bride and groom is evidenced by the fact that Jewish law prohibits the husband from spending any time with his wife unless she is in possession of the ketubah, and should the original certificate be lost, he has to provide her with another. It is interesting to note that the unique status of the Holy Land in Jewish life finds expression even in the law concerning the Ketubah since it is ruled that should the wife refuse to follow her husband to the Holy Land, the Ketubah is automatically annulled.
Although the Ketubah is a very common document, found in the possession of every Jewish community at all times, not many contracts from previous centuries can be found today in libraries, museums or in private collections.
The "Ketubah, Jerusalem, 1846" stamp (1):
The Ketubas of Jerusalem, the "Holy Cities" and the Jewish communities of the neighbouring countries (Lebanon and Syria) hold a special place among the ketubas from the lands of Islam, but in spite of the fact that the Jerusalem Ketubas belong, geographically speaking to the Middle [astern group, they are famous for their specific motifs which differ from those employed in the neighbouring Islamic countries.
The Ketuba shown on the stamp is a typical example of a Ketuba from Jerusalem. It is made of a rectangular parchment at the top of which is a dome crowned by a circle. Around the edges are floral decorations within a double frame (except for the bottom edge). The area within the frame is bisected by pillars supporting a kind of arch. In the upper section are roses flanked on either side by flowers and a pair of cypresses.
The "Ketubah, Morocco, 1897" stamp (2):
The IL. 3.90 stamp portrays an illuminated Ketuba from the Morrocan community of Meknes which clearly shows the influence of Islamic art both in the use of the decorative arabesques and other motifs typical of Arab architecture as well as in the use of blue and green commonly to be found in illuminated Moslem manuscripts.
The Ketuba is a rectangular parchment with a double frame decorated mainly with arabesques in floral and geometric patterns in the margins. The text, in the cursive script used by the Jews of Morocco, is underneath the arch. In the upper corners are two windows at each side, in Moorish style which call to mind the windows of the "El Transito" synagogue at Toledo. On the windows are inscribed the texts "A woman of worth who can find? Her price is above rubies"; "He who has found a wife has found a good thing...'; "May the Lord grant that the woman who enters your house be as Rachel and Lesh"; "May your house be as the house of perez...". The text is written in ink and watercolours (tempera) on paper and coloured in green, blue and ochre.
The "Ketubah, Nederland, 1648" stamp (3):
The stamp portrays a beautiful Dutch Ketubah from the 17th century. This Ketubah shows typical influence by Italian art. At that time in Holland, it was very common to find Ketubahs illustrated with highly-colored floral and figurative motifs typical of Italian art. The Jewish artists living in Holland were quick to master the new art of copper etching, which made big strides in the Low Countries, and apply the technique to the Ketubahs and their illumination. The designer of this specific Ketubah was a well-known copper-engraver artist, who came to Holland from Italy. Produced with copper etching, the Ketubah follows the Italian style of illumination by its use of rich artistic motifs, particularly in the use of the delightful colored, miniatures of biblical themes, each with the appropriate text enhanced by garlands of flowers. An escutcheon at the foot of the Ketubah contains the contract's clauses. Below it appears the artist's signature "by Shalom Italia".
All the Ketubot shown on the stamps are from the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The stamps were issued in 1978.