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New! The QAYRAWAN sculptural ketubah

We have a new design for you today! Introducing the QAYARAWAN sculptural ketubah. The ketubah is 15 layers of cut paper, 48 x 48 cm, with hand-painted gold accents. It’s available in blue/gold or white/gold color combinations, and the colors may be customized upon request.

Star of David, Qayrawan ketubah

There's a story behind this ketubah, and it goes like this:

The Legend of the Four Captives

One bright day, over a thousand years ago, a ship set sail on from the Italian port of Bari to the port city of Siponte. On the ship were four rabbis, great scholars all, who were — as rabbis often are — on a fund-raising mission. The mission was a happy one, a matrimonial one, in fact: The rabbis’ were hoping to raise money for the dowries of poor brides, so that they, too, could stand under the chuppah and be married according to the laws of Moses and Israel.

Alas, the mission was destined to fail: The ship was set upon by fearsome pirates, and the learned rabbis were taken prisoner, to be sold at ransom for gold and silver.

But rabbis did not despair. They kept their faith in the Holy One, whose works they had studied so often and so well.

Each of the rabbis was ransomed, in turn: Rabbi Shamariah was ransomed to the Jews of Alexandria, where he was renowned for his scholarship and became the the community's leader, beloved and respected by all. Rabbi Moshe and his son Chanoch were ransomed to the Jews of Cordoba, and there, too, they became known for the their great learning and compassion, went on to head the community and its great institutions of learnings, and were beloved and respected by all. Finally, Rabbi Chushiel was brought to the port city of Qayrawan. He, too, became known as a great leader and scholar, and founded the city's great yeshiva.

And, it won't surprise you to learn -- he, too, was beloved and respected by all.

Lovely story, right? I do love a good folktale. This one was popular in Spain, back in the middle ages. And it's beautifully connected to our design, as you'll see in just a moment.


The QAYRAWAN features a favorite pattern of mine, a tiled eight-fold rosette pattern. It features in another ketubah of ours, the Tunisian, and I love the pattern's simple geometric intelligence and its beautifully balanced eight-fold rosette-and-star symmetry.

I learned how to construct the pattern from Eric Broug’s wonderful book, Islamic Geometric patterns. Each pattern in the book is named for an important historical site where the pattern is found. This particular tiling is named for the the Great Mosque of Kairouan, whose present form dates from the ninth century.

The ancient mosque, located in present-day Tunisia, is regarded as a "masterpiece of of architecture and Islamic art,” and is one of the largest and most impressive Islamic monuments in North Africa. The city of Kairouan is itself an UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one the holiest cities to Islam. It was once one of world’s most important centers of Islamic scholarship and arts.

And here, of course, we begin to return to our story: For Kairouan was once home to a vibrant Jewish community, as well, and boasted several famed scholars. Among these were the Rav Nissim ben Yaakov ibn Shahim, also known as the Rav Nissim Gaon, as well as the great scholar Rabbi Channanel. Rav Chananel is still regarded as one of the premier scholars of his age. He was also son of the great founder of Kairouan’s yeshiva — none other than the Rabbi Chushiel himself, one of the Four Captives of legend.

For, as legend has it, it was the Jews of Kairouan -- that is, QAYRAWAN -- who paid the great rabbi's random and welcomed him as one of their own.

Chusiel's 1000 year-old mission may have not have gone as planned -- but it certainly had a happy ending. After all, the plan had been to help out some young marrying couples, but instead the rabbis ended up founding great institutions of Jewish learning across North Africa. Not bad for a failure, right?

With the QAYRAWAN ketubah, we invoke the Legend of the Four Captives. And with that tale in mind, we honor the joy of Jewish marriage, the gifts of learning and tradition, and the artistic and scholastic greatness of communities like Kairouan. May those traditions of tolerance and enlightened discovery guide us even today.

And finally, a word to the wise: May we always be mindful of the Gift of Marauding Pirates. As our tale teaches us, life doesn't always go according to plan. Indeed, sometimes it may seem that all is lost.

But sometimes, if we are very, very lucky -- things just might work out. Beautifully.

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