A Traditional Jewish Marriage Contract

Image copyright Pereira family, altered and used with their permission.

A translation of an 1872 Jewish marriage contract, commonly called a Ketubah, completed in the South American country of Curaçao.

The Ketubah is central to the Jewish life. One can describe them as a prenuptial agreement. It especially protects the woman from any economic loss in case her husband dies, divorces, or many other reasons. The Ketubah is a legal document written in Jewish Aramaic complete with legal terms equal to that of modern legal ones.

Below is a sample Ketubah translated in honor of the Pereira family.

Rashi Text Converted into Modern Hebrew

1. כסימן טוב
2. בליל חמישי
3. בשבת שנים ועשרים לחדש שבט שנת חומשת אלפים שש מאות שנים ושלשים
4. לבריאת העולם למנין שאנו מונים פה קורסוא במתא דמתקרייא ווילם שטאד דיתבין
5. על כייף ימא דהודו מערבא הבחור הנחמד יצחק בן יעקב חיים פרירא יצ״ו
6. אמר להצנועה הבתולה יעל (Julia) בת הישיש דהנכבד אברהם שניור יצ״ו
7. הוי לי לאנתו כדת מושה וישראל ואנא בס“ד אפילח ואוקיר ואזון ואפרנס ואכסי יתיכי כהלכת גוברין
8. יהודהין דפלחין ומוקרין ומזנין ומפרנסין ומכסין ית נשהון בקושתא ויהבנא מהר בתולייכי כסף זוזי מאתן
9. דחזי ליכי מדאורייתא ומזונייכי וספוקייכי וכסותייכי כארח כל ארעא וצביאת מרת יעל כלתא דא הות
10. להבקור הנחמד כנ״ל לאנתו. והנדוניא דהנעלת מביתא ומה דהוסיף החתן הנ״ל מן דיליה הכל כתוב וחתוס
11. בקונטראתו שעשי ביניהם על ידי הנוטריז המפורקס יואן סגותבורך בי״ח ינוארי שנת אלף ושמונה מאות שנים דשבעים
12. לחשבונם. וכן אמר לנא הקתן הנ״ץ אחריות וחומר שטר כתובתא דא קבילת עלי ועל ירתאי בתראי מכל שפר
13. ארג נכסיו דקנאי ודעתיד אנא למקנאי נכסיו דאית להון אחריות ודאגבן דלית להון אחריות כולהון יהון אחראין
14. וערבאין למפרע מנהון שטר כתובתא דא כאחריות וכחומר שטרי כתובות העשוין כתקון ח״ז״ל מן ימא
15. דנן ולעלם ודלא כאסמכתא ודלא כטופשי דשטרי וקנינן מהחתן להכלה הנ״ל על כל מאי דכתוב שם במנא
16. דכשר למקני ביה והכל שריר ובריר וקים.
17. כצעיר חזקיהו חיים בכ״ דוד ישראל יצ״ו
18. אולם התנאים שהתנו בניהם החתן והכלה הנ”ל הנם כתובים בקונטראתו שעשו בניהם הקתן והכלה הנ״ל על ידי הנטריז המפורסם
19. יוהן שגותבורך בקדש ינוארי שנת אלף ושמונה מאות שנים ושבעים לחשבונם. וקנינן מהקין להכלה הנ״ל על כל מאי דכתיב שם במנא
20. דכשר כמקני ביה פה קורסוא הלילה הזה שנים ועשרים לחדש שבט שנת ה׳תרל״ב והכל שריר ובריר וקים
21. הצעיר חזקיהו חיים בכ״ דוד ישראל יצ״ו

English Translation

1. Good Fortune!
2. On the Fifth Night1
3. On the Second day of the week, the twentieth day of Shevat, the year 5,632
4. according to the manner in which we count here, in Curaçao, in the city of which is called Willem Stadt, the headland
5. of the West Indian Sea, the lovely young man Yitzhaq ben Yaakov Haiim Pereira, may [G-d] our Stronghold bless them and protect them,
6. said to the chaste maiden, Yael, (Julia),2 the eldest3 daughter of the honorable Abraham Senior, may [G-d] our Stronghold bless them and protect them,
7. be to me my wife according to the Law of Moses and Israel, and I, with the help of heaven, and will work, cherish, provide sustenance, material support, and clothe you, according to the laws of Jewish men,
8. who work for you honoring, providing sustenance, ongoing support and clothing their wives in truth, and I will give the worth of your Maidenhood two hundred Zuz4
9. which is coming to you according to Biblical Law, and sustain, provide money, and clothing for you as the way of the land, and the agreement of this bride Miss Yael begotten to
10. the lovely groom as mentioned above to be his wife. And the dowry which she brought from her house and what follows the groom from his own listed above, everything written, and
11. in the contract made in the their midst by the hand of the reputed notary5 Juan Segutborek6 on the 18th of January, 1872,
12. for the accounts. And thus the bridegroom said to us he undertakes the dowry responsibility and the substance of the ketubah contract, I accept upon myself and upon my heirs after me. From every choice
13. of my desirable property which I have acquired and whatever in the future I am going to buy, possession which have mortgageable status and whatever unsecured and non-mortgageable, all of them are a surety given
14. and be as a guarantor for the collecting from them this ketubah contract with the responsibilities and with the matters of the marriage contract, as enacted by our Sages of blessed memory from this day
15. and forever and not as someone who has no intention to keep his word, and not by additions of the contract. The legal obligations are granted from the groom to the bride including the above mentioned and all that was written there insofar as
16. that it is authorized by the laws within it.7 It is all properly set-up and established.

[Signature of] Is. HmPereira

17. By the younger of Hezekiah Haiim the priestly blessing of David Israel may [G-d] our stronghold bless and protect them.8

[Three more signatures that I cannot accurately render]

18. Nevertheless, the sages stipulated about these things, the groom and the bride mentioned above, the writings completed in their contract between them, the groom and the bride referenced above, by the hand of the reputable notary
19. Juan Shegutborek,9 to their calculation on this holy January, 1872. And the legal agreements being established to the bride including the above mentioned and all that was written there insofar as
20. that it is authorized by the laws within it, in Curaçao, this night, on the second day of the week, the twentieth day of Shevat, the year 5,632, and it is all properly set-up and established.
21. By the younger of Hezekiah Haiim the priestly blessing of David Israel may [G-d] our stronghold bless and protect them.

[Signature of] Is. HmPereira

[Three more signatures that are the same as above]


A Pereira family member submitted their ancestral Ketubah and asked if I, or someone else could translate it. It is such a beautiful and ornate document. The document posed a challenge to translate. Familiarity with Jewish legal discussions, especially in the 1800s, is a foreign concept to me. My Hebrew/Aramaic is very rusty as well. The curiosity to translate this was too great and gave in to this document.

It is a Sephardi document written in Rashi script. The calligraphy is legible for the most part. There are a few locations that were difficult, especially the use of the punctuation marks for hyphenated words. The gershayim (the double apostrophe (“)) was sometimes hard to distinguish.

The translation is in a beta form, and readers qualified in this area are encouraged to give any tips or recommendations for changes.

The translation is dependant on a number of sources. The website, thekesubah.com, was invaluable. Their standard Ketubah text paralleled this Curaçao document in many places. Their sample made the translation process much easier. The modern Hebrew/English website, morfix.co.il was surprisingly helpful. Of course, Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli, etc., was a go-to in this case.

Aiding Talmud Study, by Aryeh Carmell, along with Grammar for Gemara and Targum Onkelos were also utilized, but not often.

  1. Wednesday night. Wednesday, along with Sunday is the preferred days for marriage
  2. Julia likely did not know how to read Hebrew/Aramaic and so her name was inscribed in Roman type nest to her Hebrew name to ensure that she understood and agreed to the ketubah.
  3. בת הישיש. It means old/really old, suggesting she was quite old when she married. Jastrow suggests it can mean ‘venerable’ as well. There is a remote possibility it means joyful. In this context I am persuaded that it means eldest rather than meaning an old woman.
  4. Two hundred Zuz is customary for a virgin. A non-virgin or widow is usually given one hundred zuz
  5. הנוטריז
  6. יואן סגותבורך A guess on the transliteration.
  7. דכשר למקני ביה https://thekesubah.com/ has it as “with a object that is good for a “kinyon”” and further notes that the groom does not need to understand קנינ It is a legal technical term that the Rabbi has to approve that it was done correctly.
  8. Although signed by Yitzhaq’s father, this ketubah contains the name of the signatory’s grandfather as further proof. It does not necessarily mean his grandfather was alive or present at the wedding. This statement is usually found near the signatory. A practice often done in Ketubahs.
  9. The spelling of Juan Shegutborek the second time in the original text is different than in the main body. The main body is a legal text whereas this addition is not. Perhaps, the calligrapher felt this was better suited than the main body dictated by the Rabbi.

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