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The Business of Marriage

Discarded History

Jewish marriage is symbolised by the ketubba, the marriage deed. Often this was the largest, most magnificent document a couple would own. In Judaism there are several other stages to marriage: engagement, betrothal and the wedding itself. All were marked with written deeds, hundreds of which are preserved in the Genizah. These are rich sources of social history, shining a light on the lives of ordinary people.

Prenuptial agreements aimed to ensure a cordial married life by solving problems in advance: no living with the in-laws, no buying a slave girl and no wild partying! Hundreds of trousseau lists survive, valuing in minute detail all the clothes, jewellery, bed linen and other property – including slaves – that women brought into a marriage. Such lists provided security in case of divorce or widowhood, ensuring that the woman would be no worse off financially than when she entered the marriage.