A “Just Married!” Extra – An Artistic (and Popular) Ketubah

Posted on September 7, 2017 by

Curators have to make choices: not everything can make it into an exhibit, and there’s seldom enough space to share every interesting fact about the things that are on display. That’s where social media comes in! Here’s a closer look at another “Just Married” story from JMM collections manager and Just Married! curator Joanna Church. To read more “Just Married!” extras, click here. To read more posts from Joanna, click here.


 

One of the joys of exhibit research is discovering unexpectedly-related artifacts, documents, and photos across the full spectrum of the collection; it’s like finding new pieces to a puzzle you didn’t even realize was incomplete.  Such was the case with Samson Margolis’s “Artistic Ketubah,” designed in the mid 20th century.

Margolis (1897-1972), a Baltimore artist and calligrapher, shows up frequently in our archives: we have a nice collection of his business files, printing plates, and tools, donated by his son and daughter-in-law, and in addition his work can be found on many certificates, awards, and posters from a variety of sources. These include original, hand-inked pieces as well as printed documents available for purchase and customization. Popular items were his memorial book, a family history book, and – relevant to my exhibit research – an illuminated marriage certificate.  His ketubah is bright and colorful, with text in English and Aramaic, as became common for most movements in the mid 20th century. It is suitable for framing, but can also be folded into a booklet; some versions included a keepsake envelope for storage.

Margolis ketubah, front and back when folded into a booklet. From wedding of Rose and Morton Miller, 1952. Gift of Rosedale Cemetery Association. JMM 1996.25.2

Margolis ketubah, front and back when folded into a booklet. From wedding of Rose and Morton Miller, 1952. Gift of Rosedale Cemetery Association. JMM 1996.25.2

A blank copy of this ketubah was included in the Margolis files along with other examples of his work, but digging deeper I found another unused copy, from the collection of Dr. Louis L. Kaplan (who performed many marriages in 20th century Baltimore), and this one, from the wedding of Rose Siegel and Morton Miller, married by Rabbi Samuel Vitsick on February 21, 1952.

Margolis ketubah used by Rose and Morton Miller, 1952. Gift of Rosedale Cemetery Association. JMM 1996.25.2

Margolis ketubah used by Rose and Morton Miller, 1952. Gift of Rosedale Cemetery Association. JMM 1996.25.2

After taking a close look at these various copies, I started spotting it in photos.  A 1979 snapshot (showing Jesse Hellman signing his Margolis ketubah, watched by his bride Debby Salganik and their officiant Dr. Kaplan) is included in the “Just Married!” exhibit, along with the fresh copy donated by the Margolis family; but eagle-eyed visitors might have noticed that in the 1994 wedding video in the exhibit entrance, Shurron Ann Shapiro and Andrew Carpel sign a Margolis ketubah under the guidance of Rabbi Morris Kosman of Beth Sholom, Frederick.  So far, the earliest photographic evidence of this ketubah can be found in the wedding album of Barbara Sue Levy and Bernard Dackman, who were married April 4, 1951 at Beth Tfiloh.

Bernard Dackman signs his ketubah, 1951. Photo by Bradford Bachrach. Courtesy of Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Bernard Dackman signs his ketubah, 1951. Photo by Bradford Bachrach. Courtesy of Ilene Dackman-Alon.

The last piece of the puzzle (so far) is this marketing letter written by Margolis himself, hoping to get Maryland’s rabbis to invest in a supply of his work for use in any and all weddings they might perform.

Undated letter from Samson Margolis, touting his new “Artistic Ketubah” and offering local rabbis special introductory rates for bulk purchases. Gift of Aaron and Dorothy Margolis. JMM 1994.193.60

Undated letter from Samson Margolis, touting his new “Artistic Ketubah” and offering local rabbis special introductory rates for bulk purchases. Gift of Aaron and Dorothy Margolis. JMM 1994.193.60

Dear Rabbi:

I am taking this privilege of sending you two copies of the new Artistic Ketubah which I have designed and published in five colors, A Marriage Certificate to be kept and cherished for generations.

As you will note, particular attention has been paid to the space allowed for inscribing the names in Hebrew and English. The original texts which are hand-written, are both clear and legible.

Only through the new process in Lithography and the use of fine quality durable papers, could this artistic feat have been accomplished.

Considering the labor, ingenuity, and the skillful production of this Art Ketubah, it should sell for more than a dollar at wholesale, but in order to introduce it to the public and make it popular, I have decided to market it at the following prices:

100 copies for $35.00, 50 copies for $20.00

12 copies for $5.75, single copies at 1.00

As an introductory offer you may have the enclosed two copies for only one dollar.

In the event that you are not able to use these Art Ketubahs, please return them in the same envelope, using the enclosed label for the return address.

Remittance should accompany the order or, we may, upon your request, send C.O.D.

Thanking you for your kind cooperation, and hoping to be favored with your order, I am,

Respectfully yours,

Samson Margolis

I particularly like this letter because it helps explain how Margolis’s ketubah enjoyed such a long career – still in use in some congregations into the 1990s, as evidenced by the video from Beth Sholom.  If a rabbi or congregation took Margolis up on his special introductory rates and laid in a goodly stock of documents, one might well expect to still be using them some 45 years later. I’m sure Margolis would be glad to know his “artistic feat” had a lasting impact.

Detail of unused ketubah, showing Samson Margolis’s printed signature. Dr. Louis L. Kaplan Collection, gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192.124

Detail of unused ketubah, showing Samson Margolis’s printed signature. Dr. Louis L. Kaplan Collection, gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192.124

Help us track the Margolis ketubah! If you, or someone in your family, chose one, let us know the date and place!

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1 Comment

  1. Wendy and Bob Davis says:

    We have one, too!
    We are so glad Joanna wrote this article and we could learn more about our ketubah which was written by the father of our family friend and lawyer, Aaron Margolis.

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