Understanding the Orthodox Ketubah

Understanding the Orthodox Ketubah

Papercut Fruit of the Orchard Ketubah
Minimalist Gold Brush Circle Ketubah
Papercut Tree of Life Ketubah
Jerusalem Ketubah
Ketubah. Venice, Italy. 1732
Paper Cut Sun ketubah
Modern Art Wave Ketubah
Papercut Nature's Embrace: Branches Artwork Ketubah
Spring Flowers Ketubah
Paper Cut Lace Ketubah

  By Aviva Gat 

A Jewish Ketubah marriage contract is a sacred document that serves as the foundation of a Jewish marriage. It symbolizes the “Book of the Covenant” that Moses wrote prior to the revelation at Sinai detailing the mutual obligations between God and Israel.[1] When a Jewish man and woman decide to get married, they enter their own covenant detailed in the Ketubah document.

It’s important for Jewish couples to understand the covenant and obligations they are entering with their Ketubah marriage contract. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Orthodox Ketubahs.

What is an Orthodox Ketubah?

Literally meaning “that which is written,” a Ketubah is a contract that details the obligations of a husband toward his wife according to Jewish laws and customs. The Ketubah outlines the husband’s duties during the marriage, the dowry the wife brings to the couple’s home, as well as the sum the husband is obligated to pay should the marriage be dissolved.

Orthodox Ketubahs follow ancient traditions that date back to even before the Torah was given.[2] This document was designed to protect the woman and ensure a man understands the full weight of his agreement to enter the sacred covenant of marriage by making divorce more difficult.[3]

Contrary to popular belief, the Ketubah IS NOT a contract for the sale of the bride. According to Jewish custom, the groom acquires the exclusive right to marry the woman and the Ketubah states that the woman must agree to become the man’s wife.

According to Jewish law, the Ketubah must be written and in the possession of a woman for a couple to live together. It therefore must be prepared and ready before the wedding so that the couple can build their home together after the ritual blessings during their ceremony.

Learn more about the history of the ancient Ketubah here

Different text versions for Orthodox Ketubahs

While the Orthodox Ketubah is based on ancient tradition, there are several versions for couples in different locations or of different heritages. These versions are very similar, but have slight variations. You should choose the one that relates to your heritage and location:

  • Rabbinical Council of America: The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) offers multiple different Ketubah texts depending on the situation of the marriage. These texts are used in North America for Modern Orthodox weddings. The RCA has versions for Ashkenazi as well as Sephardic weddings.
  • United Synagogue UK: The Orthodox Rabbinate of the United Kingdom offers Ketubah texts that are used for getting married in Britain and the UK.
  • Traditional Orthodox: Sephardic, Haredi, and Yeshivish couples might choose to use the ancient Aramaic text for the strictest traditional version of the Ketubah.
  • Israeli Rabbinate: The Israeli Rabbinate version includes additional clauses because it is the official marriage certificate enforceable by the national court system. It is a legal document only relevant to people in Israel.

See different Ketubah texts here

The contents of the Ketubah

As a Ketubah is essentially a marriage contract, its main contents relate to the terms of the marriage. It mentions what the parties are contributing, their obligations throughout the union, and in the unfortunate event of a divorce, what the settlement amount will be. Here is a brief overview of the terms mentioned in the Ketubah.

The bride’s status

Many of the terms outlined in the Ketubah are contingent on the bride’s status upon entering into the marriage. Therefore, it must be clearly stated in the document. Generally, brides are assumed to be virgins. However, the Hebrew word for virgin, bethulta (בתולתא), will be omitted if the bride is known not to be a virgin.

The word virgin may be substituted for the Aramaic word for divorcee, mathrakhta (מתרכתא), or widow, armalta (ארמלתא) if relevant to the bride. It will also be noted if the bride is a convert to Judaism with the word geyurta (גיורתא). [4]

The bride must agree to the status and terms outlined in the Ketubah for a wedding to commence. With her agreement, it is also implied that she agrees to follow all the Jewish commandments that apply to married women.

The groom’s obligations

The groom’s obligation in the Ketubah starts with his declaration, “Be my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” This wording implies that the groom is accepting all the legal responsibilities of being a Jewish husband.

The responsibilities of a Jewish husband include:

  • Working to bring money to support the home
  • Ensuring his wife has enough food to eat, clothing, and other household needs
  • Doing any housework that is customary for men
  • Providing conjugal pleasure to his wife
  • Honoring his wife as he would want to be honored

A man who completes his obligations brings blessing to his home.[5] The Ketubah states that the man must complete his obligations in good faith to create trust for a strong Jewish marriage.

The divorce settlement

One of the most important parts of the Ketubah is the settlement amount due should the marriage dissolve. Called the mohar or the “settlement of virgins,” this is a cash fund amount that is payable to the bride should the marriage end. The standard amount in traditional Ketubahs is 200 silver zuzim. The sum is halved for any bride that is not noted as a virgin earlier in the document.

The wife’s dowry

The Ketubah also specifies the dowry that the woman brings to the marriage. Called the nedunya (נדוניא), this can include money or other items of value such as silver, gold, household items, and other articles showing that the bride is not coming empty handed. While the husband is allowed to use the dowry, he is liable for its full value should the marriage dissolve.

Generally, the nedunya is noted as a fixed price in the Ketubah, no matter whether the bride brings a large dowry or if she comes with nothing. This avoids any feelings of embarrassment the bride may have regarding her socio-economic status prior to the wedding. The standard amount is 100 zakukim for a virgin, and half for any other bridal status.[6]

An important thing to note about the dowry is that it belongs to the wife even if the marriage dissolves for reasons rendering the wife unentitled to the mohar settlement. Even if the husband is released from his liability to pay the mohar, he still must ensure to return the wife’s dowry in full. [7]

The additional increment

Currency fluctuates with the times and is susceptible to inflation. For this reason, the Ketubah adds an additional amount that the husband obligates for called the tosefta (תוספתא).[8] This amount shows the groom’s generosity and respect for the bride and ensures any payments will have the same purchasing power they had at the time of the marriage. This amount is generally 100 zakukim.

It’s unclear exactly how much a Ketubah including 200 zuzim and 200 zakukim is worth today. Estimates range from anywhere from $6,000 to $45,000[9]. For this reason, many couples today choose to write the settlement amount in a more well-known currency such as shekels or dollars. If you choose to write your own settlement amount, it is important to choose a reasonable number that will not sound outlandish in front of a Jewish court.

Once the groom accepts the Ketubah, he is responsible for these payments in the event of a divorce or his death. If he dies, his property or his heirs will fund the transactions.

Learn more about the legal aspects of a Ketubah here

What makes a Ketubah kosher?

A Ketubah is kosher if it is written in a way that it cannot be altered.[10] As mentioned, a Ketubah is a legal document so it must follow strict legal protocols to ensure its validity. It can be written in any language, so long as it is written and effectuated correctly.

Here are several important things that ensure a kosher Ketubah:

  • It must be written on paper and with ink that cannot be erased.
  • Numerals must be written so they cannot be altered.
  • The names of the bride and groom must be written legibly.
  • The witnesses must abide by the Ketubah witness requirements.
  • The witness signatures must be close enough to the end of the document so no text can be added in between.

Find the right Orthodox Ketubah for you

It’s important for you and your partner to choose the right Ketubah as the foundation for your marriage. Not only is the text and content important, but so is the artistic design that can symbolize your union.

See examples of many beautiful and traditional Ketubahs here


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Encyclopedia Judaica. Second Edition. Volume 12. Page 94

[8] Encyclopedia Judaica. Second Edition. Volume 12. Page 94

[9] Orlian, R. M. (n.d.). (1/15/2023) Zuzim and Zekukim – the value of a Kesubah. The Jewish Press JewishPresscom. https://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/zuzim-and-zekukim-the-value-of-a-kesubah/2023/01/15/

[10] yeshiva.co. (n.d.). Is your Kesubah kosher?: Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff: Beit Midrash. Yeshiva Site. https://www.yeshiva.co/midrash/11715


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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Modern Art Wave Ketubah
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Ketubah. Venice, Italy. 1732
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