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Thursday, June 2, 2016

More about the Orthodox and Conservative Ketubah

An Explanation on the TRADITIONAL KETUBAH and What It Stands For.

Earlier this year I had a bride who emailed me in the midst of what she later dubbed a "small freakout" to say that she had learned a ketubah is essentially a prenup, that it and all it implied didn't sit well with her, and therefore she was regretfully cancelling her order.

I felt really bad for her. I think we can all understand where she was coming from. When brides first enter the planning stages of a Jewish wedding they get bombarded with religious rules and ideas and opinions and the information is infuriating and scary and you don't know who to listen to. There are a lot of misconceptions about the ketubah, stemming mainly from its original use, and sadly in great part not addressed by well-meaning but misguided rabbis.

Below are excerpts from my email back to her, which I hope those of you who are looking into buying an ORTHODOX or CONSERVATIVE ketubah will also benefit from. I want to offer my own knowledge of what the KETUBAH is, but keep in mind that my experience and knowledge are of course no replacement for the decree in your own community. Your rabbi will tell you what their views on the role of the ketubah is and their golden standard for weddings. I'll just tell you the guidelines of the halakha as I know them:

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First, the ketubah is NOT a legally binding document, and it is NOT a prenup, not at all. It has spiritual significance, and confirms that a Jewish marriage recognised by the rabbinical court took place, but it is NOT a contract. Rather, it can be called a Jewish marriage certificate (independent of the legal marriage license you are obliged to file in your country). How binding you find the ketubah depends on how immersed you are in the Jewish religion and community.

The ketubah is in fact a pledge by the groom to provide for his wife spiritually, physically, emotionally and materially. In the Conservative text he also agrees to recognise the power of the Rabbinical court in case of marriage trouble or the dissolution of the union; no divorce settlement is mentioned.

The ketubah is used in Jewish divorce proceedings (called 'Get') in the rabbinical court only as proof of marriage. Even there it does not take on the role of a prenup. (There is a separate halakhic prenuptial agreement for that purpose, which can be found online.)  I know the reference of 200 zuzim in the text causes worry, so to clarify: that is a symbolic sum, referring to the husband's monetary obligation to his wife in life as in death, NOT in case of a divorce.

And yes it's true that the texts are one-sided, written for and pledged by the groom only. The reason for that is the patriarchal constitution of Judaism, which is unfortunate. (If you're looking for a text with traditional flair where the bride is on equal footing with the groom, look into the EGALITARIAN text.) The ketubah itself is signed in a Signing Ceremony by two witnesses only, not the groom and bride, as a way to consign the groom to his pledge.

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Many times I am also asked about the Orthodox and Conservative texts: if they can be edited, if details can be left blank, why is the template different from the text your officiating rabbi approved, and more. To answer, I've written about the basic guidelines of traditional text and my other templates HERE.

WORTH REMEMBERING: the ketubah's text can be left with blank spaces to fill in on the day, you're under no obligation to have the text written in full beforehand. In fact, many rabbis prefer to leave at least the letter ק in the last וקנינא unfinished so they may complete it as part of the signing ceremony. To be clear, a fully printed ketubah versus one filled-in on the day is a preference set by the rabbi, one is not right over the other. If you don't agree with your rabbi, you can respectfully contest it.

ALSO, if your officiant is very much against using any ketubah other than the one provided by them and a compromise can't be reached, I've had clients who signed the rabbi's "plain" ketubah with the religious text for safe-keeping as decreed, as well as signed their papercut ketubah with a text of their choosing that they display in their home.

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A month later, the bride from the top of this post emailed me back. I quickly created her ketubah and she happily received it the following week!

The lesson here, which is hard to realize when you're swept up in wedding preparations, is to research the type of ceremonies there are, and never, ever, let someone else pressure you into a ceremony you don't feel comfortable with.

I hope you all have a meeting with your officiant set up in order to explain and prepare you for the signing ceremony. Ask questions and don't be afraid to request clarifications - your rabbi is there to guide you!

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IMAGE CREDIT | Custom Japanese Seven Species ketubah (read more about it). Similar ketubah available in the shop. Photo of Jillian & Gabriel's wedding ; by El Marco Rojo Photography
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