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  Ketubah (Jewish Marriage Contract)
   Read More About the Ketubah in the Jewish Celebrations Jewish Wedding Guide

What is A Ketubah?

The ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract, which traditionally spelled out the husband’s obligations to his wife.  Judaism spells out three ways for a couple to marry with money (or something with monetary value), via contract or through sexual intercourse.  To create a marriage, one of these three actions would take place – with the intent to marry.  Later rabbis withdrew sex as a marriage-making act, flogging anyone who established solely through sex.

The first century, Rabbi Simon ben Shetach fashioned the wording the ketubah to economically protect a woman in the event of divorce or widowhood. The settlement money negotiated for the ketubah would be held by the wife’s father for safekeeping.  Even if the husband had no money, he would be obligated to hand over something of value for his father-in-law to keep in escrow.

Divorce settlement costs were placed high enough to cause a husband to think twice before divorcing his wife.  When the ketubah was first instituted, wives could be summarily dismissed by their husbands.  The ketubah made so “he shall not regard it easy to divorce her,” according to the Gemora (Yebamot 89a).

The ketubah also stipulated a wife’s right to support, clothing and non-procreative sex.  A husband’s obligation to pay for his wife’s medical and burial costs were included as well.  The ketubah further assured a woman would leave a marriage with the dowry she brought to it, and the interest it earned.  Later, in the tenth century, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz fixed the pledges of support at a specific amount.  Two hundred silver zuzim were promised; 100 zuzim would be paid to a woman at the end of a second marriage. Poor couples were thus spared embarrassment in ketubah negotiations and at the wedding ceremony when it was read aloud.

The traditional ketubah stipulates wife’s right to support, clothing and sexual satisfaction.  A husband’s obligation to pay for his wife’s medical and burial costs were included as well.  A general statement in the ketubah  The ketubah further assured a woman would leave a marriage with the dowry she brought to it, and the interest it earned. 

What is Written on a Ketubah?
A ketubah handed from a husband to the wife is symbolic of the covenant Moses wrote as the Jewish people accepted God at Mount Sinai.

Traditional ketubah texts fell into with disfavor among Conservative and Reform Jews as the modern age dawned because the ketubah set men as masters of the marriage.  More egalitarian texts have been written, where the couple pledges support to each other.   References to the woman being a betulah, which translates as “virgin” have been excised.  The original text made no mention of a man’s virginity.  (In the context of the ketubah, the term betulah referred to a woman who had never been married before and not necessarily her sexual history.)  Instead the term penuya, unmarried, appears in reference to the bride and panui, the male form of the word is written before the groom’s name.  Brief mention of financial pledges continue to be included in the traditional Conservative text.  

A Reform ketubah avoids the legalisms entirely, as these would be decided in court or through a will.  Instead the couple signs romantic and ethical pledges to each other

Ketubah Design
A dizzying array of ketubah design choices are available.  Ketubah artists abound who can illuminate a marriage certificate to suit individual tastes.  Personalized ketubot can be built around Jewish symbols, shared goals, personal loves.  One rock climbing couple had an artist write the ketubah surrounded by a ring of mountains.  Another ecologically minded couple used a tree’s silhouette to shape their ketubah text.  A UPS executive tucked a tiny sketch of the familiar brown delivery truck into a corner of his ketubah.  Still another artist learned Hebrew calligraphy and wrote out the text in white ink over a poster-sized photograph of a dew drenched rose.

 • Search the Jewish Celebrations DIRECTORY for fine Ketubah Vendors and artists.



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