The text of a standard orthodox Jewish Ketubah has undergone subtle but significant changes over the last millennium. Here’s an interesting comparison of three generations of Ketubah contracts which also reflects the progress of woman’s equality and the way society has changed.
These are real Ketubah documents belonging to three generations of men from the same family: Moshe- born 1923 in The Yemen married in 1940 and immigrated to Israel in 1950; Yoseph, Moshe’s son was born in The Yemen in 1942 and at 8 years old immigrated with his parents to Israel and Yoseph’s son Noam the first of the family born in Israel in 1970.
Moshe and Sade married 1940, The Yemen
In 1940 Moshe 18 and Sade 17 were married in The Yemen, they came from a religious Jewish family which soon made aliah (immigrated) to Israel with Operation Magic Carpet in 1950 together with their 3 children. Their Ketubah was written by hand by the local Rabbi and is not decorated in any way. It is written on good quality standard paper and you can see in places where mistakes were made and have been scribbled over.
On an Orthodox Ketubah there is standard text as well as blank spaces to fill in with the relevant personal information of the couple. Because this entire Ketubah was written by hand there is no distinction between text which is “filled in” and the standard text. Being a legal document the entire Ketubah is written in Aramaic the language of the Talmud rather than the more prosaic Hebrew.
At first it was difficult to determine the date of the wedding, it didn’t match up with the birth dates of the couple, then it was explained to me that the dates on a Ketubah used to be calculated from the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem where as the regular Jewish calendar is calculated from the presumed Biblical beginning of creation. This makes 2012 the Jewish year 5772. Like Ketubot around the world at the time it also states that the bride was a virgin and had not previously been married.
In any Jewish Ketubah the couple decides how much money the husband will write on the Ketubah, in 1940 it may have been relevant as in the event of divorce the husband may have been bound to pay this sum, especially in The Yemen. Today the amount is less significant as couples use secular courts of law and pre-nups to determine divorce settlements. In this Ketubah the sum promised by the husband is minimal as in the event of divorce the husband really would have had to pay it.
Yoseph and Mazel married 1966 Israel
The distinct differences between Yoseph’s marriage and his parents’ is that the marriage was not arranged; the couple was older (24 years old and 21 years old) and they were already independent from their parents when they wed unlike the Yemeni marriage when the bride came to live in the home of the husband.
This Ketubah was a standard issue Israeli Rabbinate Ketubah, it was printed in bulk and then the personal details were filled in. At the time there were not many options as to the type of Ketubah a couple had, the Israeli Rabbinate offered no optional texts; only couples who were both Jewish, both Christian or both Muslim could be married in Israel; the couple was required to provide proof that their parents were married and Jewish as well.
Perhaps the most striking difference between this Ketubah and the Ketubot to be used in the years to come is that there is a space to be filled in which states that the bride is a virgin. This appears on the 1940 and 1966 Ketubot but not in 1994.
This Ketubah is not written in Aramaic but rather in the Israeli vernacular – Hebrew, perhaps inssuring that all parties will understand the marriage agreement.
Tal and Noam married 1994 Israel
As the world becomes a global village and the barriers between different cultural groups are broken down it is now possible for couples to wed using custom written Ketubah texts incorporating personal wedding vows. Couples who are mixed-faith, gay or secular still cannot be married according to Jewish religious law in Israel but it is now possible for any couple to marry in Israel using the ceremony of their choice but they can’t register the marriage with the Rabbinate.
Like many couples today it’s not a simple case of Jew marrying Jew in a Jewish country with a Jewish Ketubah, the bride in this case is a convert. On the Ketubah where the name of the bride’s mother should be written it is written “a convert daughter of our forefather Abraham”. Converts are considered the children of Abraham and Sarah – the first Jews.
This information is relevant in Jewish marriage laws as converts are not allowed to marry Cohens (Priests) but it’s interesting that even after being legally converted the bride still needs to have this detail in her marriage contract. The next generation (Tal and Noam’s kids) will have to bring the mother’s certificate of conversion to the Rabbinate when they register their marriage.
The question of whether she is a virgin or not is no longer mentioned on the Ketubah. In some modern orthodox Ketubot the “virginal status” is replaced by the words “beautiful bride.” The Ketubah in this case, 1994 is the same printed version as the 1966 version with the only difference being the blank space for virginal status has been removed in 1994.
These examples are the plainest examples of Ketubot, government issue so to speak and today you can choose from a variety of hand painted Ketubot and personally decorated Ketubot.