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The Ketubah Design and Designation
A Conservative Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

 • Ketubah Design
 • Pre-Printed Handwritten Ketubot
 • Signing the Ketubah
 • What to do with the Ketubah
 • Fasting and Prayer
 • When the Ketubah is Lost
 • Accepting the Terms of Marriage – Kabbalat Kinyan

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.

Pre-Printed or Handwritten Ketubot
Using a pre-printed ketubah, that has already been proofread and certified as free of any errors, is a longstanding preferred custom in some communities. Dating back to the 16th century, printed ketubot have been the preference of some Jewish communities in Holland and Germany.
Ketubot that are handwritten on paper are preferred by some communities in Israel, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Amsterdam, Holland; and London, England.

Some communities in Italy and southern Europe preferred ketubot to be handwritten on parchment.

Who would do the calligraphy was also a matter of custom. Some Sephardim in Amsterdam had theirs written by a scribe. While other London-based Jews selected their synagogue’s cantor for the honors. In Israel, ketubah-writing was often a privilege and an art handed down from father to son.

Signing the Ketubah
Just before the marriage ceremony begins, the ketubah is traditionally signed by two witnesses. Whoever signs the ketubah should be at the ceremony to witness the actual ketubah reading. Men and women qualify as witnesses. Witnesses should not be related to the bride or groom.

According to halacha, witnesses should be an observant Jews. Based upon this, some synagogues have the rabbi and cantor sign the ketubah. Given the personal nature of the ketubah many couples sign the document as well. At some ceremonies, a short Torah thought or explanation of the ketubah’s meaning follows the signing.

What to Do with the Ketubah
Ketubah handoff ritual: the rabbi hands it to the groom who passes it to the bride. She is reminded this document evidencing her marriage in in a safe place. In fact, there is a halachic opinion that states a couple may not live together if they are not in possession of the ketubah. Others believe that so long as the ketubah is written, the couple may live together.

One of the ways for a Jewish marriage to be validated is through contract, a bride’s acceptance of the ketubah. That is the reason for requiring witnesses to observe the handoff of the ketubah. (Acceptance of the ring is another way of establishing a Jewish marriage, and witnesses stand watch over that event as well.) A lot happens during the ceremony. Wine sipping, blessings, glass breaking. It’s easy for the ketubah to get lost in the shuffle. Choose a bridesmaid or best man to keep an eye on the ketubah until after the ceremony.

A Lost Ketubah
Don’t worry. A lost ketubah does not mean a marriage is over or invalid. Hurry to a rabbi and have him write up a replacement ketubah, called a ketubah d’irkesah, which will be witnesses and signed. The whole wedding ceremony does not have to be repeated. (Good thing. Who fits into their wedding dress anyway?)

Accepting the Terms of Marriage – Kabbalat Kinyan
After the ketubah is witnessed and signed, the groom signifies his acceptance of the terms in the ketubah by performing a kabbalat kinyan. In this ceremony, the groom pulls a handkerchief from the hands of the officiating rabbi. Symbolically, the groom is taking handkerchief in barter for his obligations. (An actual handkerchief does not have to be used. A scarf, cloth napkin, gartel – a thin belt used by some during prayer - or any small piece of will do. In truth, the kinyan can be done with any item, but the Talmud uses a handkerchief as its prototype.)

Kinyan is an ancient Jewish custom mentioned in the Book of Ruth (4:7): “To confirm all things a man would take off his shoe and give it to another party. This would create an obligation.” In place of shoe removal, the groom grasps the handkerchief.

Witnesses who sign the ketubah should be certain to see the kinyan take place.

Some couples skip this ceremony, because the kabbalat kinyan can be interpreted to have another, less savory meaning. In most instances, a kabbalat kinyan was done to both seal a deal and transfer ownership of property. Though the rabbis who formulated the marriage ceremony were careful to point out that a woman was not being acquired in marriage, for some the ceremony is too tinged what appears to be a ceremony that treats women like property.


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• Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part I: The "Erusin" - the Engagement
• Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part II: The Ring and Its Significance
• Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part III: The Ketubah Reading
• Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part IV: Nesuin, the Marriage Ceremony
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