A ketubah (pl. ketubot) is a Jewish prenuptial agreement. It is considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage. It states that the husband commits to provide food, clothing and marital relations to his wife, and that he will pay a specified sum of money if he divorces her.
The rabbis in ancient times insisted on the marriage couple entering into the ketubah
as a protection for the wife. It acted as a replacement of the biblical dower
or bride price
, which was payable at the time of the marriage by the groom to the bride or her parents. The ketubah
became a mechanism whereby the amount due to the wife (the dower
) came to be paid in the event of the cessation of marriage, either by the death of the husband or divorce
. It may be noted that the biblical bride price
created a major social problem: many young prospective husbands could not raise the bride price at the time when they would normally be expected to marry. So, to enable these young men to marry, the rabbis, in effect, delayed the time that the amount would be payable, when they would be more likely to have the sum. The mechanism adopted was to provide for the bride price
to be a part of the ketubah
. It may also be noted that both the dower and the ketubah
amounts served the same purpose: the protection for the wife should her support (either by death or divorce) cease. The only difference between the two systems was the timing of the payment. It is the predecessor to the wife's present-day entitlement to maintenance
in the event of the breakup of marriage. Another function performed by the ketubah
amount was to provide a disincentive for the husband contemplating divorcing
his wife: he would need to have the amount to be able to pay to the wife.
Role in Wedding Ceremony
is signed by two witnesses and traditionally read out under the huppa. It is then handed to the bride for safekeeping.
Design and Language
have many different styles of language and designs, depending on the beliefs and traditions of the couple. Traditionally, the language of the ketubah
formalises the various requirements by the Torah
of a Jewish husband vis à vis
his wife (e.g. giving her adequate resources for dress, and providing her with regular sexual intercourse), and stipulates the sum to be paid by him in case of divorce, which is 200 Zuz
(a Talmudic currency) - generally considered the sum to support oneself financially for a full year. A traditional ketubah
is written in Aramaic
Reform Jews permit personal innovation in the text of ketubot. Interfaith couples, for example, often opt for more egalitarian language, similar in tone to marriage vows, which stress the values on which they base their relationship and marriage (love, companionship, family, tradition, etc.). The text used in ketubot under Reform auspices may be a traditional text, accompanied by a more creative, poetic and egalitarian rendition in English. Because there are a variety of available texts, betrothed couples often consult their rabbi or wedding officiant in order to determine which text is right for them. Recent non-standard texts provide options for same gender couples, couples with only one Jewish partner, secular humanists, and other individually crafted commitment texts.
Conservative Jews often include an additional paragraph, called the Lieberman clause, which stipulates that divorce will be adjudicated by a modern rabbinical court (a beth din) in order to prevent the problem of the agunah.
The ketubah is one popular form of Jewish art, or judaica
, found in the home. Ketubot are often hung prominently in the home by the married couple as a daily reminder of their vows and responsibilities to each other. Ketubot have been made in a wide range of designs, usually following the tastes and styles of the era and region in which they are made. Many couples follow the Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzvah which calls for ceremonial objects such as the ketubah to be made as beautiful as possible.