Moroccan Wedding Traditions

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There’s always a story behind our ketubahs so we’re looking at all things Moroccan this week! Morocco used to have the largest Jewish population in any Muslim country. It’s traditions and style have been passed on from generation to generation.

The Henna Party

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Photography by JoVon

The Henna party is traditionally the day or week before the wedding but also can be celebrated at Purim and Passover.

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“Henna was a part of any culture where the plant grows, primarily in places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India, Afghanistan, in the Maghreb, such as Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Ethiopia. All the way back in the Song of Songs it is mentioned.” – From Atlanta Jewish Times

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Henna is believed to have blessings and applied for luck and beauty. Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck. Some bridal traditions were very complex, such as those in Yemen, where the Jewish bridal henna process took four or five days to complete, with multiple applications and resist work. The bride’s hands were then be wrapped in cotton and sprinkled with rose water. The wrapping of the hands allow the henna to set to a deep crimson tint. Most of the women in the bride and groom’s family will in turn have henna applied to their hands with less extensive work. Here are variations in customs and dress between the different Jewish sfaradi/mizrachi and Arabic communities.
For further information check out Henna Wikipedia Page

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Keswa kbira, Rabat, late 19th century.
In the Jewish Museum, NYC from Henna By Sienna

Henna and Ketubah artist Noam Sienna gave us even further insight into the henna. “The traditional festive dress, known in Judeo-Arabic as el-keswa el-kbira, “the Grand Dress.”

In Haketía (Judeo-Spanish), it was known as the traje de la berberisca, “the dress of the Berberisca,” a term for the henna ceremony; the dress itself was also sometimes called berberisca.

The Moroccan Ketubah

The Jewish Museum Historical Museum Tetouan, Morocco, 1837 Multi Ketubah Designs

Our Jewish Museum Collection has a ketubah called Tetouan, Morocco from 1837 with the phrase, “with a good sign and favorable fortune, and in time of goodwill and prosperity,” across the top.

Walking throughout Morocco you will notice the intricate doorways which the ketubah uses to frame the text of this ancient marriage contract.

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Anyone with Moroccan heritage or simply a love of Moroccan history could have this beautiful ketubah at their own nuptials.

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In Merrakesh there is a ketubah on display at the synagogue. Interestingly, it doesn’t pull inspiration from the Moroccan tile work but rather looks very similar to other traditional ketubahs like those in our Jewish Museum Collection. To understand this better Sienna had great insight explaining that it was not uncommon for ketubahs from the 20th century. He noticed the ketubahs has a French influence seen by the Latin monogram at the bottom. “True of ketubbot from Gibraltar, but those ketubbot are almost always decorated with a European-style floral wreath, usually topped by a crown,” which this ketubah (below) has.

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Morocco has a rich history of its Jewish community which has spread throughout the world. Its traditions, style and flare have continued to thrive and inspire artists, couples — and us!

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