||The Montefiore Marriage Contract: An Important Italian Ketubbah from Ancona, 1690
With Added Decorations Description and Analysis by
A. The Community of Ancona and its Ketubbot
The city of Ancona, an important Italian seaport on the Adriatic (region of Marche, central Italy), has been for several centuries one of the leading centers of Italian Jewry. In this town flourished Yeshivot, and important rabbis and scholars lead the community and made it a center of Jewish learning. Despite the unfavorable policy of the papal government (Ancona was part of the "Papal States" at the time), the community managed to prosper and many Jews were attracted to the town, which offered them excellent harbor facilities for overseas commerce. The Jewish merchants of Ancona conducted business inland, but also with the islands (especially Corfu in Greece) and the Levant.
The cultural achievements of the community are reflected not only in the books written by the local rabbis, but also by the attractive silver objects produced locally, the beautiful synagogues that can be visited to this day, and by the illuminated Hebrew manuscripts. In this category stand the Ketubbot. The Ketubbot of Ancona are distinguished by large pieces of parchment with decoratively trimmed up'per border, monumental Hebrew inscriptions, figurative biblical episodes, allegorical representations, attractive flora and fauna, and overall elegant style. It was in Ancona that people spent so much on decorating the Ketubbot of their offspring, that the leaders of the community were forced to announce a limit on the amount one is allowed to spend on the making of a Ketubbah.
B. The Text of the Ketubbah
As typical in Ancona, the Ketubbot are comprised of two sections - the text of the Ketubbah in the upper part of the parchment, written in square Hebrew letters, and at the bottom of the page, in small cursive writing, the special conditions, or Tena'im. Each section is properly signed by two witnesses. The place of the wedding is described as "אנקונה מתא דיתבא על כיף ימא ועל נהרי אספי ופיומישינו" ("Here in Ancona, which is situated on the rivers Aspio and Fiumesino"). The Ketubbah commemorates the wedding of a member of the illustrious Montefiore family (see below on the family). Thus, the bridegroom is introduced as "היקר ומפואר כה"ר ישמעאל יצו בן המנוח כה"ר דוד מונטיפורי ז"ל" (namely, the honored and glorious) Yishmael, son of the late David Montefiore. The bride is: "the modest virgin Grazia, daughter of the late Yochanan Ezra, z"l." Their wedding took place on Wednesday, the eleventh of Tevet, 5451 to the Creation of the World (paralleling December
13, 1690). It should be noted that Wednesday was the most common day for weddings among Italian Jews. This is based on the opening Mishnah in tractate Ketubbot, which recommends that virgin brides be married on Wednesdays, as the rabbinical courts meet on Thursdays which is the time to bring any complaint to the court - especially if she was not found virgin. (Accordingly, a bride who celebrated her second marriage - i.e., a widow or divorcee, customarily married in Italy on Thursday, close to the Shabbat).
As Grazia's father was deceased at the time of her wedding, the Ketubbah specifies that the dowry had been brought from "her mother's house" (מבי נשא when the father is alive the expression is מבי אבוה namely, from "her father's house"). Grazia's dowry amounted to 300 Scudi, 10 Paoli the Scudo. Of this amount 100 Scudi were brought in cash money; gold jewelry in the value of 50 Scudi; wool and silk clothing items in the value of 50 Scudi; and
100 Scudi worth of linen clothing, women jewelry, and bed linen. To this amount the bridegroom voluntarily added 51 Scudi, so that his total obligation (nedunya plus tosefet) amounted to 351 Scudi.
The witnesses in this wedding were two local rabbis: Moses, son of Mazliach Cohen, and Isaac, son of Abraham Aziz. The same rabbis signed again at the bottom of the page, following the basic stipulations (Tena'im) appearing in Ancona Ketubbot. The Ancona Tena'im are comprised of three stipulations: 1) Should the bride die within the lifetime of her spouse without leaving an offspring, the bridegroom should return half of the dowry to the heirs of the bride. 2) Should the bridegroom die in her lifetime, whether they have children or not, she is entitled to her full dowry and the increment of 51 Scudi which he promised. 3) The brothers of the bridegroom take upon themselves the obligation to perform halitzah should it be required.
C. The Montefiore Family
It is well known that the family of the most renowned nineteenth century Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), came to England from Italy. In fact, Moses himself was born in Livorno, to a noted Sephardi family (the Livorno community was essentially comprised of Sephardim). However, members of the Montefiore family resided in other Italian towns - especially in Pesaro and Ancona. Apparently the family's origins in Italy are in Pesaro. An extremely early Torah ark curtain, richly embroidered in silver and gold threads on red silk background, was made in 1620 by Rachel Olivetti of Pesaro, in honor of her husband Judah (Leon) Montefiore (born in 1605). This beautiful Parokhet is preserved andmay be viewed nowadays in the Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem (Hillel Street) [See illustration and discussion of this Parokhet in Sabar, "The Right Path" see Bibliography - p. 171, and p. 183 Fig. 1]. Rachel Olivetti and Judah Montefiore are thus apparently the founders of the Montefiore family in Italy.
From Pesaro, some members of the Montefiore family went to other towns in Italy, and conducted business in Rome, Florence and other towns. However, the majority moved to Ancona, where a branch of the family was active in late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth century. A old manuscript in the Montefiore's estate in Ramsgate, England, which is dated 1741, testifies that its original owner and scribe, "Joseph, the son of the old sage Jacob Montefiore of Pesaro", married Justina, the daughter of Ancona's chief rabbi at the time, the Rev. Isaac Alconstantin. Guided by the counsel of his wife, Joseph left Pesaro to carry the family business in Ancona. However, as our Ketubbah, dated 1690, proves be,Yond doubt even earlier to Joseph's move there was already an established branch of the Montefiore family in Ancona. Later on some members of the family moved from Ancona to Livorno, where Sir Moses was born, and from Livorno went to London.
D. Decoration and Coats of Arms
The Ketubbah is inscribed on one side of a large piece of parchment, measuring 77 X 59 cm. As typical in Ancona, the upper section of the parchment (the area of the animal's neck) is cut in decorative manner and is crowned with a protruding knob. The decorations around the Ketubbah text consist of verses and illustrations. The episode of the Binding of Isaac at the bottom of the page is, unfortunately, a recent addition, which has nothing to do with the original Ketubbah. Original are apparently the flowers at top, the coat of arms, perhaps the crown, and the verses that surround the text.
The large inscriptions in monumental square Hebrew letters form a frame to the text. They are comprised of a blessing and biblical verse. Above the text column is the typical Aramaic blessing opening with be-simana tava - "With a good sign and under favorable constellation, to the bridegroom and bride and all of Israel". The blessing is followed by the verses from Ruth 4: 1 0-11, containing the blessing of the elders to Ruth and Boaz upon their marriage at the city gate.
The most important feature of the decoration is the coat of arms located in the knob atop. It features a rampant lion against a tree. This is obviously the old coat of arms of the Montefiore family. In fact, it already appears on the Parokhet of Rachel Olivetti mentioned above. Later on, Moses Montefiore was granted by Queen Victoria an official authorization to add supporters to his blazon, and the original emblem has been transformed considerably (Cf. Nahon, Sir Moses Montefiore, pp. 95-96). This Ketubbah is thus one of the very few early pieces of Judaica that contains the earlier Montefiore coat of arms. Aside from the added episode mentioned above, it is clear this is an authentic early document of the Montefiore family.