Women in documents

From private to professional life, Jewish women are present in documents, albeit they are often overlooked. Their appearance as sole actors in documents is less frequent, and the loss of documentation works against their testimonies. However, the reality is that women were active members of the community, inside and outside their homes, and there are many examples in all kinds of deeds that prove it.

Representation of Jewish women with Moses, located in the imposts of the cloister of the Cathedral. Author: Rafael Mundó.

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The ketubah

Although the majority of documents involving the Jewish community are written in Latin (and a few in Catalan), a few Hebrew documents have been preserved too. Many of them were destroyed during the attacks of 1391, others traveled with their owners when they exiled, and a few of them were even reused for other purposes. This is the case with this ketubah fragment, a betrothal document that was found in the binding of an unrelated book. Date unknown, only the name of the groom, Haim, has been preserved with the quantity (200 sous of silver) he paid to the bride. This type of document, regarding a very specific moment of Jewish life, can be found only in Hebrew, meanwhile other documents, such as selling deeds or wills, were entrusted to Christian notaries too. 

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What is the dowry?

[Perg. Hebreus XIII, 1215]

Donation of a vineyard to Dolça that formed part of her endowment. The dowry was an amount of money or property that the wife brought to her marriage and served both to cover expenses during the marriage and to support her in case of widowhood.

Translation of the document:

“The nassi R. Maquir, son of the nassi R. Xèixet, is to donate to the maiden Dolça, daughter of the nassi R. Todros, an extension of the land of three mujades, in which is planted with vineyards. Todros, of an extension of the land of three mujades, which is planted with vineyards, and is located at the end of this city in the place called Font Sedra; the purpose of the donation of this land is that the maiden Dolça gives it as a gift to the son of the sister of the nassi R. Maquir, the nadib R. Xèixet […], who is promised with her”.

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The dowry, a living document

[Perg. Hebreus, XVIII, 1262]

After the death of her husband, Rabbi Samuel Ha-Sardi, Caròssia had to face widowhood with debts and inactivity of the tutors of her daughter, Reina. In 1261, tired of the situation, Caròssia delayed her prayer in the synagogue until she was heard. Not only had the tutors failed to manage Reina’s inheritance, but Caròssia claimed her inheritance to support herself and her daughter. Caròssia’s case is exceptional in terms of the amount of related documentation that has survived to this day. Having married a reputable member of the community, Samuel Ha-Sardi, Caròssia probably also came from a prominent family and was somehow educated in Jewish Law, a factor that should have helped her claim what was due to her.

Translation of the document:

“We, the undersigned Court, have assembled to pay the honorable Caròssia, widow of Rabbi Samuel ben Isaac HaSardi, who had delayed for many days the prayer in the synagogue, the amount of her dowry and the donation that her late husband made to her (…)

This lady appeared before the Court and told us: her husband has been dead for a long time, she wished that the amount of her dowry and her donation to be paid to her; she showed us the deed of marriage contract (…) After this procedure we sent it to the guardians of the orphan Regina to look at (…) and we told them that not having collected yet, the widow Caròssia, her rights mentioned according to that which she explained, we required them to find out if this was the case (…) and they declared that they had not found any evidence or testimony that the widow had received anything.

(…) After all these things, We will break the above-mentioned marriage deed (Ketubah) and entrust the deed of gift or gift in the hands of a worthy person (…). ”

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Did you know?

This inscription on Carrer Marlet marks a pious foundation set up by Samuel Ha-Sardí, husband of Caròssia, in the middle of the 13th century. The rent of the house marked by this inscription was intended for charity work or tzedakah.