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Our Interfaith Ketubah

February 19, 2008

Kathleen and I had been together for four years when we decided the time was right for us to take our relationship to the next step. I, Steve, knew that I had found my soul mate. Kathleen said she felt the same. The fact that I am Jewish and she Catholic meant less and less to us as the years went by. We were meant for each other. Such an opinion was shared by my parents and in-laws, too, as well as our siblings. My mother had practically adopted Kathleen as the daughter she never had, and Kathleen looked forward to spending time with my family. I could spend hours comfortably talking with Kathleen's father on every topic from politics to our favorite comedy movies.

ketubah
An unsigned copy of Steve's ketubah.

Had I planned to marry a Jewish woman, we would have asked one of our childhood rabbis to marry us and it would have been as simple as that. But I knew that the now-retired rabbi from my former congregation would not perform an interfaith wedding--let alone one that would include a priest. The decision to have a dual-officiated ceremony was a no-brainer for us. Just as my parents felt strongly that Judaism should be represented in the ceremony, I respected that Kathleen's parents felt similarly about Catholicism. What surprised me was that, even though I hadn't attended synagogue since the year of my bar mitzvah, having a rabbi officiate at the wedding mattered a great deal to me.

While I'm not an observant Jew, I believe in a higher power. I would never say that just because I don't attend public worship, I am a non-religious Jew. Not only do I believe in a God, but I am strongly identified with being a Jew and have always considered myself to be Jewishly knowledgeable. I've taken courses in both ancient and modern Jewish history, comparative theology and modern Jewish thought.

As a "conversant" Jew, I was surprised when my mother brought up the topic of a ketubah for the wedding. I knew the word and that it represented some kind of marriage document and was some kind of attractive print with romantic language. I had seen it signed at a close friend's wedding. That was all I knew.

I always get frustrated when I don't know enough about part of our Jewish tradition or ritual. What was it about a ketubah that was particular to Judaism and not Christianity? I did some research and learned that a ketubah is traditionally a legal document that serves as a marriage contract between a Jewish bride and groom. It was originally created near the end of the 1st century C.E. and used to be one of the more unromantic elements of the wedding, since it served a purpose similar to the modern pre-nuptial agreement.

The first ketubahs, or ketubot, were written in Aramaic. Although similar to Hebrew and written with the same letters, Aramaic at one time replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jewish people. The ketubah required the signature of two male witnesses who attested to the promises made by the groom in the document. It detailed the manner in which the groom would support his bride during their marriage, as well as what she would receive upon the dissolution of their marriage by death or divorce. Although today these concepts lack a romantic spirit and could be seen as being somewhat backward, the ketubah was actually very advanced for its time. It was the Jewish people's recognition of a woman's rights and need for financial protection.

About a thousand years ago, the ketubah became more ornate artistically. It became customary to make it attractive rather than simply a contractual document. The traditional ketubah text has remained basically unchanged for centuries, and it is the text utilized at Orthodox weddings. Today's Reform movement typically does not use the traditional text. Instead, Reform texts reflect the movement's more equal treatment of men and women and incorporate mutual affirmations and promises. Reform texts do not qualify as legal documents but rather serve as a statement of the couple's vows to each other.

Kathleen and I went to a Judaica store, but the ketubahs there contained texts appropriate only for marriages in which both partners were Jewish. So I Googled the words "interfaith ketubah" and found many sites offering the same beautiful prints with various text options, some of which were appropriate for us. However, most of the sites were expensive.

I finally found one site that had very attractive interfaith ketubahs for under $50 (Ketubahsandmore.com) with a range of choices as to how much Hebrew was included. We selected one in which the language was universal, in keeping with our dual faiths and the desire to express our love and promises to one another.

Within a week of ordering the ketubah, we got just the print we were looking for. After the wedding we framed and displayed it in our home, and get positive feedback from everyone who comes to visit us. No, it is hardly a "contract," but it reflects my desire to stay connected to who I am as a Jew. Kathleen, too, is pleased with it, which, perhaps, is most important of all.

For additional introductory information about the ketubah, see The Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah): An Explanation and Alternate Program Definitions.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Plural form of the Hebrew word "ketubah," meaning "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Stephen Bondell

Stephen Bondell works in the fitness industry as a consultant to independently owned health clubs throughout the United States. He also operates an in-home personal training business providing fitness professionals throughout the Metro New York area to clientele who prefer to exercise in the privacy of their own homes. He and his wife Kathleen live in Bergen County, N.J.

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