In a Jewish wedding, the signing of the ketubah is an important ritual. It takes place before the actual wedding, usually on the same day. The bridal couple, officiant, witnesses, and a few close family and friends gather in a room to witness the act.
What Is the Ketubah?
The ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract that is validated before a wedding. The couple, a rabbi or cantor, and witnesses all participate in the signing of the ketubah.
The ketubah signing is all about business. The exact rules about what should be written in a ketubah and who should sign it vary depending on if the wedding is Orthodox or modern. In all instances, witnesses are required to read and sign the document. Once it is signed the ketubah is read out loud at the ceremony, and then it is usually displayed in the bride and groom’s new home.
The History and Meaning of The Ketubah Signing
The ketubah or marital contract has been an essential part of Jewish weddings for thousands of years. There are mentions of the contract in the bible, specifically stipulating how much a groom’s family would have to pay the bride’s family upon a union. The earliest surviving ketubah is from 440 B.C.E and written in Aramaic.
In some Orthodox communities, the text hasn’t changed in modern times, and it’s still published in Aramaic. Much like a prenuptial agreement, it lays out details such as what a wife gets if there is a divorce or untimely death and what the husband promises to his wife. “It outlines a husband’s marital obligations to his wife,” said expert Aliyah Guttmann. “How he must provide for her with clothing, food, a roof, and please her all the days of his life.”
Meet the Expert
Aliyah Guttmann oversees all the content for Ketubah.com, a large website that helps couples understand what a ketubah is and find the perfect document for their needs.
In nonorthodox communities couples usually use modern texts that stipulate equality and love. It’s also common for the bride and groom to write the contract themselves. “The ketubah has grown and evolved to fit every couple and ceremony,” said Guttmann. “In other denominations, the text is written in Hebrew and English for all other types of ceremonies from Reform to Interfaith and now we even offer non-binary!”
Ketubah Signing FAQs
What is written in a traditional ketubah?
The Ketubah lists all the details of the wedding: the date, the name of the bride and groom, and more. It also outlines what the couple owes each other during their marriage. In traditional communities, it lays out what the groom is obligated to provide his bride and lists both financial and conjugal responsibilities. It also stipulates what happens in the case of a divorce or untimely death. In modern communities, the bride and groom determine what they will give each other, similar to vows.
How do you write your own ketubah?
The traditional ketubah text is ancient, and many couples see it as outdated. They, therefore, opt to write their own. Some couples include their vows in the marriage contract. Others incorporate poetry or song. Different denominations have their own rules for the ketubah, so it’s important to check with your Rabbi or officiant about the requirements needed at your wedding.
What do I do if I don’t want to write my own ketubah, but I don’t want to use the traditional text?
There are now numerous versions of the ketubah text from which couples can choose. There are versions in multiple languages and ones specifically for interfaith or same-sex couples. These can be found on websites where you buy a ketubah.
How do you purchase a ketubah?
“We find that most couples purchase their ketubahs online whether it’s with us, Etsy, or independent artists,” said Guttmann. You can choose a design already made or get one unique to you. “Some couples love working with an artist to create a completely custom artwork that can include symbols of their relationship or with quotations that mean something meaningful to them,” she said.
What kind of artwork is acceptable for a ketubah?
While a ketubah is technically a legal document, there is nothing wrong with making it look beautiful. “There have been so many trends and styles in ketubah designs. Papercuts have become incredibly popular over the years,” said Guttmann. “We also have a collection of ketubah designs that are from real historical ketubahs partnered with The Jewish Museum, The National Library of Israel, that date back to 1614. Couples have loved the rustic look, the authenticity of the history, or finding a ketubah design from their family's origins whether it be Italy, Afghanistan, or India!”
When is the ketubah signed?
“The ketubah gets signed in a ceremony before the chuppah,” said Guttmann. “Some people make this into an intimate family-only affair while others, especially Orthodox couples, do the ketubah signing at the Chatan’s Tisch, the groom’s reception, which takes place before the chuppah.” Some couples opt to do the signing the day before the wedding in a private ceremony for close family and friends.
Who signs the ketubah?
Surprisingly, in Orthodox Jewish weddings, the ketubah isn’t even signed by the bride and groom. The law states that two witnesses, unrelated to the couple, must sign it. They also must abide by Jewish law and be male. In more modern Jewish practices, the two witnesses can be anyone the couple wants, whether they are male or female or observant or not. Many couples also choose to have more than two witnesses (make sure your ketubah designer leaves space for extra signatures!) It’s common for the bride and groom to sign their own ketubah, signifying their commitment to one another. The Rabbi or officiant also signs the document.
Who is present at the ketubah signing?
The ketubah signing is an intimate affair, and only close friends and family are invited to it. The officiant and the witnesses signing the document also need to be there.
What happens to the ketubah after it is signed?
The signed ketubah is usually displayed under the chuppah, or wedding canopy, during the Jewish wedding ceremony. In many ceremonies, especially at Orthodox weddings, the ketubah is read out loud for the entire community to hear. “It is then handed from the groom to the bride who accepts the ketubah,” said Guttmann.
Where should you store a ketubah?
Many couples choose to display their ketubah in their home as a reminder not only of their wedding day but of their commitment to one another.