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Ketubba

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Illustrated Ketubba (18th c.)

Marriage contract from Venice, 1765, Jewish Museum of Switzerland

The Ketubba (Hebrew: “written, document”, literally: “It is written”) is the written Jewish marriage contract. It is written in Aramaic and signed by two witnesses.

In Orthodox Judaism, the ketubah defines the husband’s obligation to his spouse. He thereby obligates himself to ensure her support, nourishment, healthy life and joy. In a narrower sense, the ketubba secures the rights of the wife to which the husband obligates himself (three rights): 1. maintenance (sh’era), 2. clothing (kesuta), 3. sexual intercourse (onata). The ketubba also regulates the wife’s financial security in the event of divorce or the husband’s death. No duties are specified for the woman in the ketubba.

The text of an Orthodox ketubba, translated from the Aramaic, reads something like:

“On… Day of the week, on … Day of the month… of the year… after the creation of the world, according to the calendar which we count here in the city of XYZ. A., son of B., said to the virgin C., daughter of D.: “Be my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel, and I will work for you, honor you, feed you and provide for you, according to the custom of Jewish men, who work for their wives in honesty, honor them, feed them and provide for them. Also I will give thee the morning gift of thy virginity, 200 sus (denarii) in silver coins, due thee according to the Torah, as also thy food, thy clothing, and all thy necessities, and I will come unto thee after the manner of all the earth.’ And she, the virgin, consented to become his wife.
And the dowry which she takes from her father’s house, whether in silver, gold, ornaments, garments, household utensils, or bedding, is 100 silver coins. And A., the bridegroom, has consented to add to her 100 sus of silver coins, so that the whole sum is 200 silver coins.
And A. the bridegroom said thus: I warrant this ketubba, dowry, and addition both for myself and for my heirs after me, so that it shall be paid out with the best and most excellent of my property which I possess on earth, which I have acquired or shall acquire, whether in real estate or in chattels. All this property, even my mantle on my shoulders, shall guarantee or vouch that your ketubba, dowry and addition shall be paid upon my life and after my death, from this day forward for all eternity.’
The guarantee of the morning gift, dowry, and addition was undertaken by A., the bridegroom, in accordance with strict regulations of the Ketubba and the supplementary deeds, such as are customary among the daughters of Israel, and according to the directions of our sages, not as a mere promise or deed.
All this has been declared on the part of the bridegroom A., son of B., for C., daughter of D., in relation to everything written and declared above, in order to acquire it legally. We (the witnesses) have, from the bridegroom A., son of B., for the bride C., daughter of D., the virgin, by means of a garment suitable for kinjan[1] the aforementioned rights.

Everything is firm and legal.

Signature: … Son of …, witness … Son of …., witness.”

In some areas, the groom and bride also add their signatures.

However, this form of ketubah is used only in Orthodox Judaism. The majority of Jews in North America and a significant minority of Jews in Europe and Israel practice forms of Conservative or Reform Judaism. In these denominations, the ketubah serves partners primarily as a solemn declaration of their love for each other and their mutual promises and commitments. This usually includes an appropriate contribution to their livelihood, but both partners take on this obligation equally. Morning gifts and dowries do not occur. Many non-Orthodox ketubot also include a passage in which the groom agrees to grant his wife a divorce on demand. Because some Jews marry members of other religions, there are also ketubba texts for such mixed-religious marriages. The same applies to the growing number of same-sex Jewish partnerships, which are sealed in a religious ceremony and for which there are also ketubot.
Non-Orthodox ketubot are not simply a formality, but serve as a kind of solemn “mission statement” for the couple of their marriage. Accordingly, much care is taken with the wording. That the ketubah is written by calligraphers and elaborately designed by artists who specialize in it is part of the Jewish tradition of chidur mizvah, or the “embellishment” of a religious commitment. Many couples have their ketubba framed and hang it in a place of honor at home.[2]

Individual references

  1. Legal transaction symbolized and consummated by the handing over of a garment, handkerchief, etc.
  2. See also Anita Diamant: The New Jewish Wedding. 2. Auflage, Fireside, New York 2001.

Web links

Commons: Ketubba– Collection of images, videos and audio files