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What’s a ketubah

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

As a Cantor who officiates weddings, when brides and grooms meet with me, we always discuss how they need to acquire a Jewish marriage contract called a Ketubah. What is a ketubah they ask?

A great resource for information on this matter is which shares that 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.

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 Jewish wedding ceremony, and then it is usually displayed in the bride and groom’s new home.

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.”

In nonorthodox communities couples usually use modern texts that stipulate equality and love.

I always tell the brides and grooms that I meet that I will most certainly help them choose a ketubah, but ultimately they have to acquire it themselves according to Jewish law.

I always have the bride and groom send me a link to the one that they are considering, and I will approve it and then they can go ahead and purchase it. I can even help with the online customization or personalization of the document as it’s essentially a template with a lot of blanks. So I help the bride and groom fill in the blanks like their Hebrew names, the city they’re getting married in, the date they’re getting married etc. so that the final document comes with a uniform font looking beautiful to be hung in their new home.

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