The Ketubah Text (Part 2)

The second part of the ketubah (marriage contract) details the additional gift promised by the groom, the lien on his property, and the acquisition sealing the contract.

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And the Lien Is Fully Valid

"And the surety for all the obligations of this ketubah, dowry and the additional sum has been assumed by _______ the said groom, with the full obligation dictated by all documents of ketubot and additional sums due every daughter of Israel, executed in accordance with the enactment of our sages, of blessed memory. It is not to be regarded as an indecisive contractual obligation nor as a stereotyped form."

Not a Stereotyped Form. To assure the legal effectiveness of the debt and the lien made at a moment of exhilaration and romantic expectation, and to prevent the ketubah from being considered a mere statement of love commitment, with no legal binding force, the sages expressly affirmed, "It is not to be regarded as an asmakhta, an indecisive contractual obligation," a sort of speculation, or as a "stereotyped form," a routine rubber-stamp procedure.

Then Everything Was Sealed

"And we have completed the act of acquisition from _______ son of _______ of the family _______ the said bridegroom, for _______ daughter of _______ of the family _______ this maiden, for all that which is stated and explained above, by an instrument legally fit to establish a transaction. And everything is valid and established."

The Act of Acquisition (Kinyan). In order to seal all of the stipulated obligations, and to assure that the document is not asmakhta (based on speculation), the rabbis required the legal formality of kinyan, the act of acquisition. Because the bride cannot take possession of all the property, the groom affirms it by a symbolic act called kinyan suddar.

Thus, at the wedding, the rabbi or one of the witnesses gives a handkerchief or other article (but not a coin) on behalf of the recipient (the bride) to the groom. The groom then returns it. Then they record in the ketubah, ve'kanina ("and we have completed the act of acquisition"). This symbolic act must be seen clearly by the witnesses, who are the makers of the contract, before they sign to its validity. If the ketubah is calligraphed by a scribe, or printed in advance of the wedding, one letter of the word ve'kanina (or the whole word) is usually omitted so that the ketubah is technically not completed before the kinyan itself is made. If this custom is overlooked, it does not alter the ketubah's validity, so long as the witnesses in fact witness the kinyan-transfer of the handkerchief.

Everything Is Valid and Established. The sages took precautions that legal documents not be tampered with or added to, and therefore instituted several procedures in concluding the document. First, the last sentence had to briefly summarize the contents; second, the formula ha-kol sharir ve'kayam, ("and everything is valid and established") must appear at the end of that line; and third, the witnesses must sign very close to the last line.

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Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.