An extremely rare 1,000-year-old ketubah inscribed in Aramaic is now on exhibit in the National Library in Jerusalem.
The Jewish marriage contract dates from November 28, 1023 (CE), according to Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator for the National Library’s Judaica section.
Written by a scribe named in the ketubah as Yosef HaKohen, son of Yaakov, the document was inscribed in what once was the town of Tzur for a couple named Natan HaKohen, son of Shlomo, and Rachel. Both were from Tzefat (Safed.)
The document is especially significant as it provides concrete evidence of a Jewish community in the city of Tzefat (Safed) in the 11th century (CE).
Although all ketubahs – including those written to this very day – list a section detailing the obligations of the husband to provide for the wife, and her rights in the event of divorce, some have additional sections as well. In fact, ketubahs have not changed much at all over the past 2,500 years; they still are written in the same format, more or less, and with the same intent: to list the obligations of the groom towards his bride, to list the contents of the dowry, and the amount of money the groom is providing to the bride as security should the marriage fail and end in divorce, as well as any other conditions that might apply.
The Tzefat Ketubah is one of these, commented Finkelman, noting an additional section in this case. “For instance, if the woman has expensive jewelry or her parents give gifts in honor of the wedding and then the couple divorce, those items are returned to her,” he explained. In the ancient document, there is indeed a list of Rachel HaKohen’s jewelry, household items and clothing – including the weight and monetary value of each item. Moreover, the disposition of each item is discussed, should various events take place – even should the wife become “mentally unstable.”
Regretfully, in today’s world, the ketubah is sometimes disregarded when marriages become fractured. Some Jewish husbands reverse the document, forcing the wife’s family instead to pay a bribe in order to win a divorce contract that by Jewish law can only be granted by a husband. In other, more rare cases, sometimes an estranged wife refuses a divorce contract, likewise holding a disenchanted husband hostage as well.
In any of the above scenarios, expert rabbinic negotiators are usually sought in order to resolve the conflict. In severe cases, the struggle can sometimes take years.