New Ketubah from Rome, Italy, 1857

Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on vellum, dated 26th of Av 5617 at Roma (1857), 79 x 45 cm.

New Kebutah

Bridegroom: Matsliaḥ ben Mosheh Eliyahu mi-Ṿeroli.
Bride: Gratsya bat Aharon Menifi.
Witnesses: Ḥayim ben Avraham and one other.

The text is written in Italian block letters and is enclosed in a double border with sections framed in red. On the top, in the center register are two figures from biblical times who are appear to be serving wine. On either side are two images relating to the biblical story of the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:2-14). On the bottom, in the center, are two figures in contemporary attire also serving celebratory drinks.

side left

side right

On either side, are images of two couples dressed in contemporary dress, who appear to be bridal couples.

Other sections contain decorative elements including rams horns, doves, coats of arms, flowers and geometric designs.


The bottom is scalloped with a stylized vase in the center of the triangle, which is typical of ketubot from Rome.

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Ketubah (Marriage Contract) from Siena, Italy, 1790

This is a marriage contract, manuscript, ink on vellum, dated 12 of Shevat, 5550 at Sienah (1790), 62 x 42 cm.


Bridegroom: Yedidyah Menaḥem ben Aharon Ḥayim Galiḳi.
Bride: Leʼah de-hot mitḳare Avigail Ḥaṿah Tamar bat ha-manoaḥ Avraham Barukh Ḥaviv.
Witnesses: Yedidyah ben Refaʼel Shelomoh Segal, Yitsḥaḳ ben Sheneʼur?.

The ketubah is elaborately illuminated with colorful vignettes and floral and geometric designs.




Women of Valor

The top of the ketubah is shaped in a triangle in which are contained benedictory statements for the bride and groom, verses from Proverbs 31:10-31 (a woman of valor..."), depictions of exemplary women in Italian dress, and depictions of putti, all surrounded by decorative elements.


On either side of the text are symbols of the zodiac, and at the bottom is a vignette of Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve

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Shiviti plaque : [Russia or Poland?, 19th century?]

Manuscript, ink and paint on paper, approximately 42 x 32 cm (in frame 55 x 45 cm). This elaborately calligraphed and illuminated plaque is a votive tablet designed to be hung on a synagogue wall to exhort the congregation to more intense prayer.

Shiviti Plaque

At the top of the plaque is the Hebrew verse often found on a mizraḥ hung on the eastern wall, "From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof the Lord's name is to be praised" (Psalm 113:3).

Just beneath this verse is a turquoise border framing the four sides of the plaque containing the phrases, "Know before Whom you stand..." (based on Mishnah Avot 3:1) and "the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick" (Numbers 8:2).

Inside this frame is a green inner border decorated with vines and animals and in each corner a round geometric medallion. The central portion of the plaque is divided into two registers.

In the top register is the shiviti statement, "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalm 16:8), as well as a two-headed eagle and kabbalistic divine names. The bottom register contains a seven-branched candelabrum with Psalm 67 written within its intertwined branches. On either side are rampant lions and mythical creatures. The plaque is not signed or dated.

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Cain. A series of lithographs on the early biblical stories in the Book of Genesis by Avigdor Arikha, 1955. The images are accompanied by the biblical text and rabbinical commentaries translated into French.

The portfolio is comprised of a pen drawing and 8 lithographs, 31X29.5 cm. The colophon is signed and numbered 39 from an edition of 110. Published by imprimerie-Edition des Poets, Paris.

The Cover Drawing:

Below are photos of 2 of the 8 lithographs:
God prefers Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb to Caine’s sacrifice of grain.

Cain is punished by God for killing his brother Abel by becoming an exile, doomed to roam over the earth.

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New items in the collection: Last Will and Testament: Novohardak, Belarus, 1844

title page of last will and testament
second page of last will and testament

Manuscript in Hebrew and Yiddish. In this will Avraham Shklifer, evidently a wealthy merchant without children, leaves instructions for the distribution of his estate including bequests to talmudic academies, book publishers, hospitals, and other Jewish communal institutions. The document mentions several important leaders of the community of Novogrudok, Belarus and Vilna.

This quite lengthy will is mostly in Hebrew and not in Yiddish, the spoken language of the Jewish population of the region. It has a red wax seal at the conclusion. The graphic illustrations on the first two pages are also unusual. The two angels on the second page seem to have an Italian influence. The document is in its original binding. The stamp of one of the previous owners, Hayyim bar Reuven Lieberman, appears on several of the pages.

Since we mostly know more about the poor Jews who lived in Eastern Europe, it is quite a novelty to learn about the holdings, property, and way of life of a very wealthy one.

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New items in the collection: Shiviti plaques from Morocco and Italy

Shiviti plaque : [Italy?], [twentieth century?]

This type of plaque was usually hung in a synagogue and was meant to exhort the congregation to more devout prayer.

Manuscript, ink and paint on paper. The document is illuminated with colorful biblical scenes and incudes the traditional Shiviti statement "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalm 16:8) and Psalm 67 written in the design of the seven-branched candelabrum. The biblical scenes on the bottom depict the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis) and Samson’s struggle with the lion (Judges). On the top are three images: one is David slaying Goliath (Samuel I), in the center are the priests carrying the Holy Ark, and the third is a depiction of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In the center of the plaque above the two smaller candelabra are depictions of Moses holding the Ten Commandments and Aaron, the High Priest, holding an incense burner. There are biblical scenes on either side of the plaques as well. At the bottom of the document in the center is a statement that the scribe is Amram Asiag bar Masud but no date is given.

Shiviti plaque : [Italy?], [twentieth century?]

Manuscript, ink and paint on paper. The entire text is calligraphed in colorful, decorative micrography. The traditional Shiviti statement "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalm 16:8) appears in large bold letters on the upper register. Two fish appear in the below God’s name and at the bottom of the plaque; they represent fertility. The text on the document written in Hebrew block letters consists of biblical and liturgical passages that deal with blessing and God’s beneficence. The calligraphy is an integral part of the design of the document. There is a floral border along the outer edge that is beautifully executed and whose color scheme blends in with the art and calligraphy of the plaque. The shiviti is unusual in that it does not contain the seven branch candelabra in calligraphic form that is at the center of most shiviti plaques. The manuscript appears to be Italian because manuscripts from Italy are written in block letters similar to those that appear in this one.

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Professor Moshe Bar-Asher: Moroccan Style Sermon Demonstration

Click here to view a video in which Professor Bar-Asher demonstrates how a sermon is chanted among Moroccan Jews.

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Discussion with Professor Moshe Bar-Asher

bar-asherClick here to view a discussion with Professor Moshe Bar-Asher about our North African Manuscript Collection.

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Discussion with Visiting Professor Michael Silber (Academic Year 2013-14)


Click here to view a discussion with visiting Professor Michael Silber about his work at the Central Archives of the Jewish People which is now part of the National Library of Israel.

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North African Jewish Life

The photographic essays below are meant to enhance the North African Jewish Manuscript Collection at the Yale University Library.  We recently purchased a collection of postcards recording Jewish life in Morocco in the early 20th century.  This period overlaps with that of a large majority of manuscripts in Yale’s collection.  The postcards thus present a graphic image of the society from which the documents emerge.  They present cityscapes, rabbinic  figures, commercial life, women in the various modes of attire and more.  We have chosen to present two subjects that stand out in the collection:  depictions of women and depictions of the market place and commercial life.




Photo essay of Jewish women of North Africa at the beginning of the 20th century.  Almost all of the women are from Morocco.  The images are taken from a recently acquired collection of picture postcards of Jewish life in Morocco.  Most of the photographs appear to have been posed portraits. Please find a selection of photographs from the collection here: North African Women (Powerpoint) North African Women (PDF)





The Jews depicted in this set of postcards made their living primarily as merchants and craftsmen.  They either did business on the street or in small store fronts in the market places of the cities and villages in which they lived.  The men who appear in the photos seem to have made a meager living which allowed them to barely get by. Those women who worked outside the home, were laundresses which kept them out of the marketplace and thus out of sight of strange men. Find the collection here: North African Professions (PDF), North African Professions (PowerPoint)


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