Even non-Orthodox couples should consult with the Rabbi that will be performing the marriage ceremony before selecting the text for their ketubah. Some Rabbis may have stricter guidelines for the exact wording of the Hebrew/Aramaic text, but those of most denominations will allow the bride and groom to select or create their own English text to be added beneath the traditional Hebrew/Aramaic words. In a modern Ketubah English text may contain the couple’s personally-written vows, may be based on the couple’s individual understanding of marriage or personal beliefs, or may act to equalize the bride’s and groom’s roles in the marriage.
Some couples may even omit the Hebrew/Aramaic ketuvah entirely from their document, composing their own text in Hebrew and English. While the text of the traditional Ketubah is straight and legalistic, a modern Ketubah may have wording that emphasizes the contemporary perception of a wedding – as a romantic celebration of the couple’s commitment based on love. Just as with wedding vows in non-Jewish weddings, Jewish couples can find suggestions, advice, and examples of modern Ketubah English text to help them say exactly what they mean.
Other textual options are the Interfaith Wedding Blessing, which leaves out all mention of specific religions or traditions, or even the addition of a third text in another language to celebrate the bride’s or groom’s cultural heritage.
Traditional ketubot have signature blanks for the bride, the groom, the rabbi, and two spaces for witness signatures – and traditionally, both witnesses must be Jewish men. Depending upon a couple’s denomination and/or level of observance, they can choose any configuration of signature blanks. Some couples want to uphold the requirement of two Jewish male witnesses, but add signature blanks for additional witnesses who may be women or non-Jewish friends. Others purposely leave extra space in the margins of the document, and ask all guests at the wedding to witness and sign the ketubah, making it an even more personal memento of the joyful celebration.
Ketubah Designs and Visual Symbolism
Because ketubot are not mere certificates to be kept on file, but are meant to be beautifully framed and displayed prominently in the home, the ornamentation is an essential element of a modern Ketubah. Just as the text may vary from traditional forms, the “illumination” found on modern ketubot can differ considerably from traditional Judaic art as well. Couples can select a Ketubah design from “galleries” online, or may come up with their own design concepts with unique, personal details and then commission an artist to create the final illumination for them.
Judaica artwork for modern ketubot can be far more than just a tree or a watercolor depiction of Jerusalem. Although these somewhat generic images are considered “traditional,” there is no required visual symbolism to be displayed on a modern Ketubah. Today, couples can select a Ketubah design that speaks to their hearts, representing their unique tastes, personalities and shared interests. Many couples put much thought and effort into selecting the artwork for their ketubah together.
In selecting artwork for a ketubah, a bride and groom may focus on line, color combinations, or details in the illustration they choose. Considering aspects of the relationship that they most want to highlight, they may choose to include an image of a place important to them as a couple, a favorite animal or activity both share, or depictions of love and commitment. Some couples even tell the story of their relationship in their Ketubah design, adding tiny details such as the face of a beloved pet, a score from a favorite piece of music, and/or symbols for important events in their shared lives. In this way, they make the artwork on their ketubah entirely their own, so that it becomes a rich and eloquent expression of their love and their future together.