Thursday, February 21, 2008

A wedding poem in honor of Ramchal and Mrs. Luzzatto, with non-pc imagery

An Italian* Jewish wedding custom was to compose poetry in honor of the bride and groom. The poems would be distributed to the guests and read at the wedding. This custom persisted into the 20th century.

Here is a description:

The wedding poems, or epithalamia, in The Jewish Theological Seminary's collection date from the 17th - 20th centuries. They are written in Italian, German or Hebrew in verses praising the bride and bridegroom and praying for their prosperity. Designed primarily as celebratory poems praising the newlyweds and their families, Jewish epithalamia are characterized by a common structure. An introduction consisting of honorific statements introduces the names of the groom and his father. Frequently, the bride and her lineage are also noted. In the central section the author presents the poem itself employing any one of a variety of literary formats. The third section usually consists of the author's final salutations and a signature, using either the poet's full name or initials. While many of the poems are printed, the few handwritten examples that remain attest to the personal nature of such verses.

The following is one such poem from 1730, in honor of the wedding of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto to Zipporah Finzi (by Raffaele Haim D’Italia).

Even if this charming custom were to reappear, I doubt the nude cherubs would prove a popular stationary choice these days.

Be sure to check out the JTS Digital Collection (which includes over 200 wedding poems, including another one in honor of 23-year old Moses Hayyim and Zipporah).

Related: Racy title page series at the Seforim Blog.

*To a more limited extent, this custom existed in other lands, including Germany.

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