Ketubot: What do these Marriage Contracts Say?

A traditional illustrated ketubah (Jewish marr...

Image via Wikipedia

By Petal Mashraki

For Judaica Ketubah Project

It doesn’t matter which type of Ketubah you are going to get, if it is for a Jewish ceremony the text will have to include the bride and groom’s names; the couple’ mother’s names; the wedding ceremony date and the Ketubah will have to be attested to by two witnesses who know the newlyweds well. A Ketubah must contain these specific details.

Although seen today as a testimony to the couple’s eternal love, the Ketubah originally had a more practical purpose. The orthodox Jewish marriage contract listed the grooms responsibilities towards the bride and was legally binding. You could say the Ketubah was an early form of pre-nup.

Originally the Ketubah text was written in the vernacular which at the time was Aramaic . Today even the Orthodox Ketubah has undergone changes and can be printed in Hebrew, Aramaic, English or a combination of both.
Some slight shifts have been made in the text of the orthodox Jewish ketubah including the exclusion of the brides status as a virgin. there have always been slight variations in the Ketubah traditions in different parts of the world.

Orthodox Jewish Ketubah Text

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

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The Jewish Ketubah is intended to be used during the wedding service and as a spiritual and legal agreement between the newlyweds. Besides the slight adjustment of the nuances of the Jewish orthodox Ketubah text it has remained constant for centuries. The traditional orthodox Ketubah is the required Ketubah document at an orthodox wedding service.

Do you wish a Ketubah acknowledged by the Rabbinical court?

A Catholic wedding ceremony in Milwaukee, Wisc...

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Within the Jewish faith the Rabbinical court is still the higher authority. It’s much like an annulment tribunal in the Catholic Church. The marriage may be over from a civil standpoint, but from the point of view of ecclesiastical authority, and in the eyes of God, it remains undissolved. The husband and married couple would remain married in the eyes of the Church and remarrying in a Catholic ceremony would be impossible. In the same way a Jewish Ketubah is a wedding agreement which, in case of divorce would be required to be rendered null and void only by the Jewish religious court, with the Rabbinate granting a Get or legal writ of divorce. It’s an issue only for those living an orthodox Jewish life and particularly so for those who get married in Israel. If you have formerly been wed under orthodox Jewish law with a Ketubah, a second marriage won’t be condoned by the Rabbinical court unless the Ketubah was canceled and a Get granted. The civil union always takes priority over the religious marriage. For those wedding in a Jewish orthodox ceremony the Ketubah is not an option.

The original Jewish orthodox Ketubah text reads:

“I will give you the settlement of (…) silver Zuzim, which is due you according to (…) law, as well as your food, clothing, necessities of life and conjugal needs, according to the universal custom.”

Even the sexual duties of a husband towards his wife are pointed out in the traditional Ketubah text. The husband, being the man of the house, can have sex. Anytime. She. Wants to. The Ketubah also says the sum of the bride’s dowry. Then the husband attests that this amount (the silver he pays and the dowry) can be taken from the husband “even from the shirt on my back…” and returned to the bride if the marriage is dissolved. In other words it reads like an ancient form of a prenuptial agreement.

A traditional illustrated ketubah (Jewish marr...

Image via Wikipedia

The traditional Ketubah text involves words of love such as the husband’s responsibility to “work, honor, feed and support (his) wife faithfully.” But on the whole the orthodox Jewish Ketubah wording is that of a lawful document. As the Ketubah tradition has developed and gained popularity among non-orthodox Jews, mixed faith couples and couples of other faiths so too has the Ketubah text grown and changed to become more of a spiritual promise of commitment to being married. Even so for Jewish partners registering their nuptials with the local Rabbinate, and having their wedding ceremony conducted by a Rabbi, the Orthodox Ketubah wording will most probably be used.

Before making any changes to the text of your Ketubah check with your wedding officiate (Rabbi, priest, minister) to see that the changes in text are acceptable For those marrying in an Orthodox Jewish wedding this is vital as the orthodox Jewish Ketubah written text must consist of the standard clauses which have made up the body of this Jewish legal document for the last two thousand years. It’s important to have the text approved before applying it to a beautifully decorated Ketubah custom-made for the wedding ceremony. You may find a print of a Ketubah, that you love, that being the case, have the Rabbi check and approve the text for orthodoxy before you buy or use it.


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