Harvard College Librarys Judaica Division and the Weissman Preservation Center,
Harvard University Library, collaborated on the exhibition, Preservation: Linking Source and Scholar, The Case of a Harvard Ketubah, now on display on the third floor of Widener Library. This exhibition features an early twentieth century ketubah from Isfahan, Iran, presented to Harvard in 1990 by the late Dr. Henry J. Tumen as part of the Bernice and Henry Tumen Collection, and illustrates the extensive conservation work required to make it accessible for research.
The Isfahan Ketubah, circa 1913, stands as a work of art as well as a legal and historical document. A ketubah (translated to mean that which is written) is a document used in accordance with Jewish religious law to record the husbands financial obligations toward his wife, particularly with respect to divorce or death. From the early Middle Ages it was the custom among European Jewish communities to decorate the ketubah, which were often on parchment with an illuminated border depicting Biblical images and Jewish symbols. Decorated ketubot (plural of ketubah) of Jewish communities in the Middle East, such as the piece currently on exhibit, are a much later phenomenon. They are often on paper and feature flowers and geometric designs.
With their precisely dated and detailed information concerning the bride and groom, the ketubah is an important and reliable historical source. Because of their decoration, ketubot are also a significant genre of Jewish art.
This ketubah required extensive conservation work, which was performed by paper conservator Debora Mayer under the auspices of the Weissman Preservation Center, Before and after photographs in the exhibition demonstrate the conservation work done. The Librarys Judaica Division and the Weissman Preservation Center presented the Isfahan ketubah in this exhibition as an illustration of the work sometimes required to preserve historical documents and make them accessible for research. Along with the ketubah, a sampling of the Librarys resources for the study of the ketubah were also presented in this exhibition, in order to set the document in its scholarly context.
Preservation: Linking Source and Scholar, The Case of a Harvard Ketubah was prepared by Elizabeth Vernon, Judaica Technical Services Librarian, and Elizabeth Morse, Paper Conservator in the Harvard College Library.