300-year Italian ketubah mystery finally solved

300-year Italian ketubah mystery finally solved

Ancient manuscript sheds light on age-old tradition where couples would be married off in mass ceremonies before Pesach

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

An ancient scripture discovered in Florence, Italy, has shed light on an old Jewish Italian custom: to marry off couples in a mass ceremony on the eve of Passover.

The contents of the manuscript, now up for auction, and the custom it describes, remained a mystery until Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, made it his mission to learn more.

Rabbi Di Segni was examining a 317-year-old ketubah, or traditional Jewish marriage agreement. The ketubah, found in the Jewish archive in Rome, is covered in colourful and golden decorations and shows hand-crafted drawings of a bride and a groom wearing fine clothes, alongside lions and decorated horses.

But what caught Di Segni’s eye wasn’t the unique decoration, but the unusual date of the wedding: April 12, 1702, a day before Passover.

Why did the groom, Shlomo Menahem, son of Shmuel Meir from Urbino, and the bride, Bonina, daughter of Raphael, marry on the eve of the holiday?

Why did they choose this specific evening, in which Jews traditionally finish the cleaning of their homes and go through the house checking for hidden crumbs?

Rabbi Di Segni devoted years to researching the puzzling question, and recently discovered that the Roman Jewish community used to organise a mass wedding on this particular date, holding one ceremony and one huge wedding feast.

“I was very surprised,”said the rabbi. “But apparently this became popular since this is the last night before the Counting of the Omer (a 49-day period in which Jews do not hold weddings or follow mourning customs), and since people were poor, they wanted to use all their wheat before Passover.

“We thought this was solely a Roman custom, but now we realise it was also practised by the Jews of Urbino and Florence”, said Rabbi Di Segni.

After the mystery was solved, the adorned ketubah was sent to the international King David auction house and was expected to fetch $40,000 to $50,000.

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