Finding My Parents’ Ketubah: A Treasure from the Past

By Danny Azoulay

Following the first-year memorial after my mother’s death, my siblings and I convened in her apartment to begin to sort through our parents’ belongings. Amongst a pile of old documents, we discovered my parents’ ketubah from Morocco. None of my seven brothers and sisters had ever seen it before. In fact, it was not immediately clear to us that this was a/their ketubah.

The folded yellowed document, almost 90 years old, was written in a font which bore a similarity to Hebrew and “Rashi” (the typeface used in the Rashi commentary in Talmudic studies). This font had been used by the Sephardic Jews-- particularly during the Tor Hazahav (the Golden Era of Spanish Jewry) in Spain. After fleeing to North Africa in the 15th century, the Jews living in Morocco continued to draft various religious documents in this font.

However, at the time we hadn’t known any of this and we were incapable of deciphering the writing. What we could see was that the document was beautifully handwritten in a flowery slanted style with two passport pictures of my very young parents attached to the bottom. After a closer look, I discerned the faint ink of an official stamp from the Rabbinical council of their small city, Ouezane.

Eventually, I would find a rabbi from a small local Beit Knesset in a neighborhood bordering Mahane Yehudah, in Jerusalem, where at the time I had my studio. He was able to read the script and verify our supposition that this was indeed our parents’ Moroccan ketubah from ninety years ago.

The rabbi was able to enlighten me about the font and even read me what was written in the ketubah. It was a very personalized text, in that it elaborated on the families of both my mother and father, not just recording their names. Special attention was given to my mother’s father ‘a man of great knowledge of the Torah and acts of chesed (good deeds)’ since he was a highly-respected member of the Jewish community.

Another unusual detail on the wedding ketubah had caught my eye. There was a kind of abstract line drawing on the ketubah that we could not figure out the rhyme or reason for it being there. The kind rabbi was also able to shed light on the squiggle puzzle. I was told that this was the signature of the rabbi who officiated at the ceremony and that his signature, in itself, was a chain of signatures combining all signatures of his predecessors — including the current rabbi’s own addition.

Added to the joy I derive from being a ketubah artist and having my work be part of the Jewish wedding ceremony for many young Jewish couples around the world, my own experience of finding my parents’ ketubah gave me a different perspective of the ketubah’s significance. I realized that the significance of a ketubah can extend way beyond the couple on the wedding day, and may be treasured by their offspring and then the generations to follow.

Today a fine-print made of the original ketubah is framed and hanging in each of my siblings’ homes.

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