What is a Ketubah?
A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, a ketubah was a legally binding document, written in Aramaic (the vernacular of the time), describing a groom’s “acquiring” of a bride, and stating the amount that the groom would have to pay the bride in case of a divorce. There’s no mention of God, love or romance in a traditional ketubah. Modern liberal ketubot (plural) are typically spiritual, not legal, covenants between both partners, and ketubot for interfaith and same-sex couples abound. For example, ketubah.com has four different interfaith text options for couples to choose from.
In past generations, the ketubah was a simple document supplied by the rabbi, signed before the ceremony and filed away with the secular marriage certificate. Today, many couples choose ketubot that have modern texts that they find meaningful and that are also works of art and a visual testament to the love and commitment of the couple. Many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding, reading it as part of the ceremony and displaying it on an easel for all their guests to view.
The ketubah text may detail how both partners will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts, the ways they will support and encourage each other throughout life, and/or the values they want to guide their marriage. Some interfaith couples even choose to mention their different religious heritages in their ketubah.
As Aliyah from Ketubah.com notes in her blog post: “The beauty of the modern ketubah is that it can have a text that means something to you personally and as a couple. The original purpose of the ketubah is still there but is elevated to mean more to you as a couple through your modern text.”
Aliyah and Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia joined for a Facebook Live about ketubot, which you can watch here.
Several websites, like ketubah.com, Modernketubah.com, thenewketubah.com, and etsy.com offer interfaith couples a variety of artistic styles and texts. You can also purchase ketubot at many local synagogue gift shops or Judaica stores. When ordering a ketubah online or from a store, choose a ketubah with the artistic style that you want, then you can figure out which of the available text options is right for you.
Ketubot are usually written in Hebrew and English (though they could be in just one or the other). Some couples choose to customize a ketubah with other languages that are personally meaningful to them. Beautiful customized ketubot have been created with three languages, adding to the Hebrew and English a language such as Chinese, Russian or Spanish.
You may choose to create your own personal ketubah, either because you have in mind a special design for your ketubah or because you’d like to write your own ketubah text—or perhaps both. There are ketubah artists who will work with you if a customized ketubah is your choice. You will need to commit to this process months before your wedding date to give due time to this process.
If you are artistic, you may decide that you want to make your own Ketubah—or you may want to ask an artistic family member or friend to make one for you. To read about how Hannah created her own DIY Ketubah, click here.
For sample language you can use in creating your own ketubah click here.
Regardless of if you are purchasing a ketubah or making one on your own, before you commit to any version of text, you should make sure that it is acceptable to your officiant.
When is the Ketubah Signed?
In most modern Jewish interfaith weddings, the ketubah signing takes place about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of the two witnesses, the couples’ immediate family members and the wedding party.
Today, many couples have a “first look” before their wedding ceremony that’s photographed so that they can take pictures together before the wedding ceremony. If that’s the case, then the couple can be together for the ketubah signing. If the couple doesn’t want to see each other before the ceremony, there are different options for how they can sign their ketubah – for example, they can each sign the ketubah in a different location (there’s no requirement that they be in the same room when signing the ketubah) or they can have the ketubah signing at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. If you do not plan to see each other before your wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your officiant how and when the ketubah will be signed.
Some couples like to display their ketubot during their wedding reception. One way to do this is to have your ketubah mounted, but not framed (or framed without the glass), or placed in a temporary plastic frame to keep it from getting soiled, before your wedding. The ketubah can then be displayed on an easel during your reception.
After your wedding you can have your ketubah framed and hang it on a wall in your home. This is a great way to remember your special wedding day as well as the commitment you’ve made to one another.
Traditional ketubot are signed by two male Jewish witnesses who are not related to the couple or to each other—the couple and officiant don’t sign. Modern liberal ketubot are usually signed by two witnesses as well as the couple and the officiant. If you’re being married by a rabbi, you should ask them who can sign your ketubah. While all liberal rabbis are presumably fine with having females serve as witnesses, they may or may not allow someone who isn’t Jewish to serve as a ketubah witness and they may or may not let you have people who are relatives sign the ketubah.
Some couples want to have more than two witnesses sign their ketubah. If you want to do this, you should check with the company you are ordering from or the artist making your ketubah to see if this is possible. You should also get the OK from your officiant.
Do You Still Need a Marriage License?
A ketubah is not a substitute for a civil marriage license. In order to be married, a couple must have a civil marriage license from the state in which they’re being married. Some states require that civil marriage documents be signed by witnesses, while other states only require marriage documents to be signed by the officiant. In states that require civil marriage documents to be signed by witnesses, this can be done at the same time that the ketubah is signed, by either the same witnesses or different witnesses.
To learn about obtaining a marriage license in any of the 50 United States, including how much a marriage license costs, which states require a blood test to get married, certified documents you need to bring with you and what you need to know about the United States marriage license laws before applying for your state’s marriage license application, click here.