The purpose of the Jewish ketubah is to outline the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. The ketubah contains three parts: on the part of the groom, which is the primary objective of the ketubah the amount of money he is obligated to pay, as well as the addition to the ketubah, should he choose to add to the base amount. On the wife's part, the dowry is detailed. In addition, the dowry also includes the terms of the ketubah, which were meant to ensure the rights of the woman during the marriage and in the case that the marriage is nullified.
Ketubot have not changed much over the centuries. The marriage documents found in Aramaic papyruses from the days of Artaxerxes the King of Persia from the 5th century B.C.E., are very similar to ketubah documents from other eras and even to modern day ketubot.
The text in the body of the ketubah, the primary legal content, which is written in Aramaic even today – although sometimes translated into Hebrew or English – shows its incredible consistency throughout 2500 years.
Naturally, despite the ancient fixed text, local customs in various communities developed: In North Africa and Yemen husbands were obligated not to force their wives to move from city to city. Occasionally, the woman would be obligated to care for the husband's children from a previous marriage as if they were her children. In Syria and Eretz Yisrael appears the condition forbidding the husband from going on long journeys without first leaving his wife with a conditional divorce in order to protect her from a situation wherein she could become a "chained wife".
In addition to these local customs, there are a number of widespread conditions found in many ketubot dealing with inheritance arrangements in cases where the couple doesn't have children, arranging a situation wherein the husband wants to take another wife (in places where that custom was common), as well as paragraphs relating to levirate marriage.
The National Library of Israel has a vast and rich collection of ketubot that allows for a wide, comprehensive and in depth look at the ketubah as a Jewish document, a Jewish creation and a vital historical source.
In the Library collections you can find Sephardic ketubot from many different periods, beginning with the 15th century. Many of them feature special decorations and illustrations. Discover Sephardic ketubot ranging from the 15th to the 18th centuries.
Discover a variety of Ashkenazi ketubot, including some rare and illustrated examples. These ketubot date as far back as the 13th century and up until the late 18th century.
Decorative depictions of Jerusalem appeared on ketubot in Jewish communities throughout the generations. These decorations were meant to express a fierce longing for Zion. Here you can find a number of examples of Jerusalem motifs in ketubah illustrations, along with explanations.