What is a Ketubah? 6 Things Worth Knowing

Modern Jewish wedding Ketubah

Modern Jewish wedding Ketubah

What is a ketubah and what is the meaning of the word?
 

The word, ketubah, literally means “what is written” and is a Jewish wedding contract. The oldest existing ketubah dates back to the 4th century BC and was found in Cairo, Egypt.

What is a ketubah, traditionally?

The ketubah was a legal wedding document that delineated the obligations of the groom to his bride. What a ketubah included, as well, was the actual settlement that would be awarded to her in the case of divorce or the death of her husband. Ketubahs from a variety of regions and even from different eras were pretty much similar in content and form.

What is a ketubah’s content today?

Today, a ketubah can be quite diverse depending on the sort of Jewish ceremony you are having. The Orthodox ketubah still conforms with the traditional ketubahs of the past, while Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative ketubahs are marriage contracts with the addition of the couple’s wedding vows: a mutual proclamation of the couple’s vision of their commitment and their shared aspirations.

When does the signing of the ketubah take place?

Traditionally, the ketubah is signed by two witnesses (male, orthodox and unrelated to the couple) -- just prior to the nuptials.  Today, the non-orthodox couples will sign the ketubah, as will the rabbi/officiant and witnesses of the couple’s choosing.

Later, under the chuppah, the rabbi/officiant will often read the ketubah aloud- in front of all the celebrants.

What is a ketubah’s language?

Once again, what is a ketubah’s language is entirely dependent on what kind of ceremony is performed. The traditional ketubahs are still today written in Aramaic (as they were in the Talmudic period), while Hebrew and/or English, French, Italian and Spanish are frequently utilized.

What is an art ketubah?

Examples of painted and illuminated ketubahs have been found dating from as early as the Middle Ages. It became particularly popular with the Sephardic Jews. What is a ketubah-- in the past and in the present- is most definitely a binding legal document; But what makes this legal document so unique is the fact that it was, and still is, lavished with careful artistry, symbolism and ornamental details that represent the couple’s taste. Many artists, today--including Danny Azoulay, a well-known paper cut ketubah artist-- continue to create beautiful art ketubahs that continue to express the sanctity and beauty of the Jewish wedding and the couple’s union.