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Transformations of the Ketubbah; or, the Gallery of Broken Marriages

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Ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts) exemplify the dynamics of ritual objects in Jewish life from ancient times to the present. Though often characterized in modern publications and museum exhibitions as demonstrating the continuity of traditional practice, their history is characterized less by endurance than by transformation, as a shifting series of purposes are assigned to the ketubbah: legal document, ritual object, collectible, artifact, domestic artwork. Each of these purposes entails its own contestations of the ketubbah’s significance, thereby challenging claims that these objects betoken cultural (and, by implication, demographic) continuity. The contemporary design of ketubbot offer an unprecedented array of aesthetic possibilities, and the practices surrounding their creation and disposition following the wedding (including their fate in cases of divorce) sometimes challenge rabbinic authority, familiar customs, and the conventions of Jewish public culture. These most recent developments in the long trajectory of ketubbot reveal how disjuncture and contestation figure as animating forces in Jewish life.

Affiliations: 1: Rutgers University

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