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The Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah): An Explanation and Alternate Program Definitions

 

The Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah): A Modern Explanation

Modern Ketubahs are personalized works of art, including both the text of the symbolic marriage contract and artwork in the margins. The text of modern ketubahs (or ketubot, the plural in Hebrew) has been adapted to fit better the modern understanding of marriage as a partnership based in love and commitment, not legality. Some couples use the ketubah to detail how they will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts. Many modern couples include both the traditional text of the date, place and parties to the Ketubah, in Hebrew, as well as their own text of vows in English. Ideas for ketubah text can be found at sites like ketubahketubah.com, ketubah.com, Modernketubah.com and ketubah-gallery.com, as well as in books like The New Jewish Wedding, Revised, by Anita Diamant.

In most modern Jewish/interfaith weddings, the couple signs the Ketubah about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of two witnesses of their choosing, their immediate family and the wedding party.

Ketubahs are considered prized wedding mementoes and are typically framed and hung in a prominent place in the couple's home after the wedding. Many people hire professional ketubah-makers to create a one-of-a-kind calligraphed work of art.

The Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah): A Traditional Explanation

Traditionally, a Ketubah is a legally binding marriage contract that "verifies that the groom has acquired the bride and agrees to provide for her, and includes a lien to be paid by the groom in case of divorce," according to Valerie S. Thaler ("Updating the Traditional Jewish Wedding: Some Contemporary Innovations," MyJewishLearning.com). It is signed by two witnesses, and the bride's only participation is a choice either to accept or to reject the arrangement. In Israel, Orthodox ketubahs are still legally binding documents. Outside of Israel, a state license is required and the Ketubah is seen as a spiritual document.  For a full transcript of the traditional ketubah text, see "Explaining the Ketubah Text" by Rabbi Maurice Lamm.

 


Sample Program Definitions

  • This is a marriage contract with spiritual significance but not legally binding. While it once had legal status in the Jewish community, a state marriage license is also required, except in Israel if the couple has an Orthodox Ketubah.
  • A Jewish legal marriage document with a legacy spanning two thousand years. It is typically signed before the wedding ceremony by the couple and at least two witnesses. The original formulation was written by Shimon ben Shetach, head of the ancient rabbinical court at the end of the first century CE. It was a legal document that detailed some of the rights and obligations of the bride and groom. It offered some protection, in this case for the bride, in the event of divorce. Given the era in which it was written it was quite extraordinary, giving some legal rights to women in an age when they had few. Modern ketubot are typically spiritual, not legal, covenants that the bride and groom make with one another, and use egalitarian language. The ketubah is often written as an illuminated manuscript, and becomes a work of art in itself. Many couples frame it and display it in their home.
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The language of Judaism. Used in prayer in most synagogues and the official language of the state of Israel. Also refers to Jews, especially before they entered Israel and were given the Torah, as in "the ancient Hebrews." Jewish marriage contract. Spiritual leader and teacher. Typically, but not always, leads a congregation.