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Published: Thursday, Nov. 4th, 2021
The ketubah is a symbolic Jewish marriage contract signed before a wedding ceremony. It describes the values, promises, and guiding principles of a new marriage. The ketubah signing ceremony and reading are beautiful additions to any Jewish wedding celebration.
The ketubah can be traditional or modern, written by the couple, or customized using parts of existing ketubah text.
Usually, these contracts are printed in stylized script on beautifully decorated sheets of paper -- making them meaningful documents and extraordinary works of art.
Image via @novashoham
The ketubah is a symbolic Jewish marriage contract, similar to a marriage certificate, and is an important and beautiful part of the Jewish wedding tradition. Traditionally, it’s signed by the couple, 2 witnesses, and the wedding officiant or rabbi before the wedding ceremony.
This contract almost always includes the couples’ names, the date of their wedding ceremony, and the promises they make to each other as they enter a marriage. It might also include the Hebrew year, the names of the couple’s parents, and where the ceremony takes place.
The promises written in the ketubah are similar to the wedding vows commonly exchanged during a non denominational ceremony, and include promises to respect, provide for, and care for each other. There's usually no mention of God or religion in a traditional ketubah.
Although wedding vows aren’t part of a traditional Jewish wedding, the ketubah and its loving promises are often read out loud during the ceremony.
Traditional and Orthodox ketubot (plural for ketubah) will be different from modern and interfaith versions, although there will also be some similarities. For example, the contract will always include the couples’ names, the date of the ceremony, and the signatures of two witnesses.
Traditionally, the ketubah includes promises from a groom to his bride, describing to her what she could expect from the marriage, how she would be cared for, and what sort of settlement she would be entitled to if they later divorced. Many modern couples still choose this traditional approach.
Modern versions of the ketubah usually focus on equality within the marriage and how the couple will approach their new life together. Modern ketubot tend to use ‘we’ and ‘our’ language, such as “We promise to be honest and kind,” and “Our love is our greatest asset and our most valued gift.”
A modern ketubah can also be interfaith, use non-binary and gender neutral language, be written especially for same-sex and other LGBTQ+ couples, or be personalized to include a couple’s unique experiences and love story.
How the ketubah signing ceremony looks will vary, depending on whether or not the couple is very traditional or modern.
An Orthodox ketubah is signed by two male witnesses chosen by the groom, and these witnesses can’t be related to the couple. Sometimes the groom and the officiating rabbi will also sign, but this isn’t required. Traditional signing ceremonies are attended privately, by the couple’s fathers, the groom, the rabbi, and other close male relatives and friends.
A Modern ketubah signing ceremony is more flexible and varied. Both parties to the marriage will sign, along with the wedding officiant or rabbi, and two witnesses of the couple’s choosing -- usually close friends or mentors. And some couples might create a special ketubah that all of their wedding guests can sign. These modern signing ceremonies are attended by close friends and family of all genders.
The signing ceremony takes place before the wedding ceremony, and is usually done in a secluded or private space, away from other wedding guests. Usually only the couple, their officiant, witnesses, and a few close friends and relatives will attend.
At most Jewish weddings, reading the ketubah out loud takes the place of the vow exchange. The reading takes place during the ceremony, under the chuppah, and is usually delivered by the rabbi or wedding officiant.
Sometimes, a modern couple might choose to read it themselves, or ask another honored guest to read it for them.
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