The Ketubot of Amsterdam

The National Library of Israel hosts a display of over 4,200 ketubot on their site. The ketubot are from various times and places, and the site allows you to browse the ketubot by year, country, or city.

The text of the Ketubah has remained much the same throughout the ages, but the script and the decorative elements have change with the times and the locations.

Browsing the site, the ketubahs of Amsterdam caught our attention. The Jewish community of Amsterdam has a fascinating history. In the 1600s, after the Dutch won their independence from Spain, Amsterdam quickly became an important European economic center. This was in part to their policy of religious toleration. Sephardic and Portuguese Jews had found a community there – a refuge from the expulsion from Spain; Ahkenazi Jews started to arrive to escape the Chmielnitzki massacres and the horrors of the Thirty Years War.

Seventeenth century Amsterdam is famous for the Amsterdam Stock Exchange – the first of its kind, the Dutch East India Company, and the artist Rembrandt van Rijn, who resided in the Jewish quarter of the city for a number of years, as well as Menashe Ben Israel whose efforts helped Jews gain permission to resettle the UK.

The collection shows that Ketubahs in Amsterdam were of two kinds – the fancy, custom-made kind and the cheaper template kind.

Amsterdam at this time is also a place where contradictory artistic tastes are present in the city. The Protestant north tends to favor simpler, more subdued art, while the south prefers baroque – an over-the-top, dramatic style of art.

Here are two colorful ketubahs from the period of the first kind:



Most of the ketubahs in the collection were using one of the following two printed templates:

Blank Ketubah – 5500s or 1740-1839

This one seems like the no frills, budget option. The one below seems to have been the next step up.


This ketubah template appears often at this time not only in Amsterdam but in the nearby countries as well. And apparently is can be upgraded to a color version.

I’ll end off this post with two photographs by Leonard Freed – a Brooklyn photographer, who spent the late 50s and 60s (that’s 1950s and 1960s) photographing Amsterdam and  the Jewish community there.

Succoss, Amsterdam 1958

Jewish Wedding, Amsterdam 1958

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