The Ketubah Text
The traditional Aramaic text of the ketubah (marriage contract) reflects the history of Jewish marriage.
This article explains the first half of the traditional ketubah, including the proposal and funds committed to the marriage from the bride's family and the groom. "Explaining the Ketubah Text (Part 2)" describes the additional gift from the groom, contractual protections for his wife, and how the ketubah is sealed.
In liberal communities the bride and groom often write more egalitarian ketubot that reflect their goals for the marriage--either in place of or in addition to the traditional ketubah. Both liberal and some traditional Jews may include a prenuptial agreement in their ketubah that would require the groom to give the bride a get, or Jewish bill of divorce, should the marriage end. Reprinted from The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage by permission of Jonathan David Publishers.
The Date and Place of the Wedding
"On the _______ day of the week, the _______ day of the month _______ in the year _______ since the creation of the world according to the reckoning which we are accustomed to use here in the city of _______ in _______ "
The Date. The law prescribes that the date appear at the beginning in private agreements, but at the end in court agreements. Though the ketubah has the status of a court decree, it is in the nature of a private agreement and so the date is placed first.
The Place. The same rationale is used for the place. A divorce document contains more geographical information (e.g., mention of a neighboring river). The Sephardim [Jews of Spain who, after the Expulsion, emigrated to North Africa and the Middle East] retained this custom, and Rema, in the 16th century, urged that the technicalities of the ketubah follow those of the divorce. But the Talmud simplified the ketubah and the Jews of Europe have followed that tradition.
The Groom, the Bride, & the Proposal
"… _______ son of _______ of the family _______ said to this maiden _______ daughter of _______ of the family _______ "Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel."
The Names. Their Hebrew names, their fathers' names, and usually, though not always, their family names. The mother's name is given when praying for recovery from illness, as a symbol of mother's compassion. A father's name is used in legal matters, just as a father's family name has always been used in legal affairs. [Today, though, many liberal Jews include the mother's name on a ketubah as well.] Added to their names is also the appellation for a rabbinic scholar, Rav, or priestly or Levitic descent, kohen or Levi.
The Proposal. "Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel" is the marriage proposal. The ketubah, following in time as it does the betrothal and its oral proposal formula, "You are hereby betrothed unto me according to the law of Moses and Israel," is written by witnesses testifying that the groom in fact proposed to the bride. The formula has remained intact for some 2,000 years. The Talmud considered variants, but this language of proposal endured.