What is a Ketubah jewish marriage contract

What is a Jewish Ketubah Marriage Contract?

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By Aviva Gat 

One of the most important parts of a Jewish wedding is the Ketubah. Once signed, this document binds a Jewish man and woman and details their obligations toward their marriage.

If you are engaged and planning a Jewish wedding, it’s important for you to understand the Ketubah wedding contract. Read on to learn everything you need to know.

What is a Jewish Ketubah marriage contract?

A Jewish Ketubah marriage contract is a document that details the obligations that a husband and wife undertake while consenting to their marriage according to Jewish laws and customs.

For many couples today, a Jewish Ketubah is more symbolic. It is a statement regarding their love and vows toward one another as they combine their lives in marriage.

Traditionally, a Ketubah was meant to protect the woman.[1]The contract deals with the woman’s rights and the man’s duties. The husband’s duties include providing for his wife during their marriage as well as his financial obligations should the marriage be dissolved.

The Ketubah marriage contract is signed before a Jewish wedding ceremony. While the wedding is mostly ceremonious, the Ketubah only takes effect after certain blessings are recited and the couple unites under one roof or spends time alone together after the ceremony.

What is the Ketubah in Hebrew?

The word “Ketubah” comes from the Hebrew word “written.” In its most literal sense, the Ketubah in Hebrew means “that which is written.” While the text may look like Hebrew, the Ketubah is written in Aramaic which was the vernacular used when the Ketubah was first required by Jewish law.[2]

What does the Ketubah say?

The Ketubah details the marriage obligations under Jewish laws and customs. As a contract, the first things noted in the Ketubah relate to when it goes into effect. This includes the date, place of signature, and relevant parties (the bride and groom and their respective parents).

After the logistics, the Ketubah states the groom’s declaration to his wife. The husband agrees to honor his wife and support her by providing food, clothing, shelter, conjugal rights, and household needs. The woman agrees to follow Jewish laws applying to married women.

Next, the Ketubah states the financial aspects of the marriage contract. It details the settlement that a man is obligated to pay should the couple divorce, as well as the dowry the woman is bringing to the new couple’s home.

The Ketubah ends by saying that the contract is in effect from the day it is signed until forever, meaning that a man is obligated under the Ketubah until it is terminated by divorce or death.

What does the Ketubah symbolize?

The Ketubah is not only a marriage contract, but it is also symbolic and reminiscent of the agreement entered into between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. Moses wrote the Book of the Covenant during the revelation, detailing the mutual obligations and duties between God and Israel, wherein God gave the Torah and Israel agreed to accept it. When a Jewish man and women decide to get married, they agree to enter the same covenant.

What is the origin of the Ketubah contract?

The custom of a Ketubah contract may have been around even before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, however it did not become a formal law until much later.[3] Originally, a man would simply put aside money to symbolize his obligations to his wife should their marriage end. Over the years it was legislated that the Ketubah must be in writing to ensure there would be no way to dispute the obligations.

Do you need a Ketubah?

If you want to enter into a Jewish marriage, then yes, you need a Ketubah. While today the Ketubah is more ceremonial (outside the state of Israel), it is required by Jewish law to certify the validity of your marriage.

If you are getting married in Israel, a Ketubah is the official Jewish marriage certificate issued by the government. In the diaspora, you might need a Ketubah for various things in the Jewish community such as:

  • Joining a synagogue
  • Registering children for religious school or bar/bat mitzvah
  • Making Aaliyah to Israel

Do interfaith couples need a Ketubah?

Interfaith couples may choose to have a Ketubah to symbolize Jewish tradition or simply their vows to one another. A Ketubah is essentially a document in which a bride and groom agree to honor and support each other, meaning it is very relevant for couples no matter their religion. Not only that, it can also be a beautiful work of art that symbolizes the couple’s union.

What are the different types of Ketubahs?

Today there are many different texts that you can choose for your Ketubah. You and your partner should choose the text version that you feel most connected to. Here are a few of the main options:

  • Orthodox: An Orthodox text is the most traditional choice. You may choose the strictest Orthodox version, which is used mostly for Sephardic or Haredi weddings, or the more popular versions from the Rabbinical Council of America or the United Synagogue in the UK.
  • Conservative: Conservative texts are generally very similar to Orthodox, but contain an additional clause that allows the bride to request a divorce.
  • Reform: Reform Ketubahs generally focus more on culturally Jewish values and traditions. Couples may choose different versions to include the values and traditions that speak to them.
  • Egalitarian: Egalitarian Ketubah texts are adjusted to address the bride and groom equally in the contract. They avoid any discussion of bride acquisition and focus on equality in the marriage.
  • Interfaith: Interfaith Ketubahs generally avoid mentioning God or religion and focus more on values, love, and friendship. Couples may choose to include whatever vows they intend for themselves.

See examples of Ketubah texts here 

What should you do with your Ketubah?

According to Jewish law, a man and woman can only live together if they have a Ketubah. This means it is important that you don’t lose it. You might want to hang your Ketubah on a wall in your home.

A Ketubah can be a beautiful work of art. There are many artists and scribes who can produce a personalized Ketubah on parchment or paper that will serve as a meaningful reminder of a couple’s matrimony.

See examples of illustrated Ketubahs here 

Interested in learning more? Continue reading about Ketubahs in these articles: 

 

[1] Encyclopedia Judaica. Second Edition. Volume 12. Page 93

[2] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1983). Made in Heaven. Moznaim Publishing Corporation.

[3] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1983). Made in Heaven. Moznaim Publishing Corporation.

By Aviva Gat

 Aviva Gat is a journalist, author, and content writer specializing in various topics including religion, culture, health, & technology. She has a B.S. in Journalism and Religion from Boston University and an M.B.A. from Tel Aviv University. 

 

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