In this article, we will explain what a ketubah is and why it has remained a significant part of a Jewish wedding. A ketubah is traditionally a binding contract that is used to validate the marriage during the wedding ceremony. Today, in more liberal weddings, it’s less of a formal contract and more of a way for couples to exchange their promises and vows to each other.
During a pre-ceremony before the main wedding ceremony, the ketubah will be recited and officially signed. Sometimes this ceremony is large with many guests in attendance, and sometimes it’s private with just immediate family and witnesses.
After the ketubah is signed, the chuppah ceremony takes place. This is where the couple commits to each other under the chuppah and the seven blessings are recited.
Modern Ketubahs are personalized works of art, including both the text of the symbolic Jewish marriage contract and artwork in the margins. The text of modern ketubahs (or ketubot, the plural in Hebrew) has been adapted to fit better the modern understanding of marriage as a partnership based in love and commitment, not legality. Some couples use the ketubah to detail how they will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts. In the modern liberal Jewish world, couples can consider a much wider range of ketubah options than in any previous era of Jewish history. There are interfaith ketubot, LGBT ketubot, secular humanist ketubot and more.
In most modern Jewish/interfaith weddings, the couple signs the Ketubah about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of two witnesses of their choosing, their immediate family and the wedding party.
Ketubahs are considered prized wedding mementoes and are typically framed and hung in a prominent place in the couple’s home after the wedding. Many people hire professional ketubah-makers to create a one-of-a-kind calligraphed work of art.
In ancient times, a Ketubah was a legally binding Jewish marriage contract, signed by two witnesses, that “verifie[d] that the groom has acquired the bride and agrees to provide for her, and includes a lien to be paid by the groom in case of divorce, according to Valerie S. Thaler. As you can imagine, in the liberal Jewish world, there aren’t too many couples, straight or gay, who want to sign a wedding contract in which one partner “acquires” another. But roughly 1900+ years ago, Middle Eastern norms regarding marriage and gender roles were quite different. One thing the original traditional ketubah did was guarantee the bride some financial security in the event that the groom divorced her (and of course, in that era traditional authorities did not recognize same-sex marriage, whereas in the liberal Jewish community we happily do today).