A ketubah is a Jewish prenuptial agreement. It is considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage. It states that the husband commits to provide food, clothing and marital relations to his wife, and that he will pay a specified sum of money if he divorces her. If he dies, leaving her a widow, the ketubah amount is the first charge on his estate.
Role in Wedding Ceremony
The ketubah is not part of the Jewish marriage ceremony (but is usually done at the wedding hall, before the Chuppah), however, the groom and bride may not engage in marital relations, although the marriage has been completed, unless two valid witnesses have signed a ketubah. At the wedding the signed ketubah is handed to the bride, and it becomes her property, and her guarantee that she will not be left with nothing should the marriage dissolve or should her husband die.
Design and Language
Ketubot (the plural for Ketubah or Kesubah) have many different styles of language and designs, depending on the beliefs and traditions of the couple. Traditionally, the language of the ketubah formalizes the various requirements by the Torah of a Jewish husband vis à vis his wife (e.g. giving her adequate resources for dress, sexual intercourse), and stipulates the sum to be paid by him in case of divorce, which is 200 Zuz (a Talmudic currency) - generally considered the sum to support oneself financially for a full year.
A traditional Ketubah is written in Aramaic. Conservative Jews often include an additional paragraph, called the Lieberman clause, which stipulates that divorce will be adjudicated by a modern rabbinical court in order to prevent the problem of the agunah. Reform Jews and interfaith couples often opt for more egalitarian language, similar in tone to marriage vows, which stress the values on which they base their relationship and marriage (love, companionship, family, tradition, etc.). Many times a traditional text will be accompanied by a more creative, poetic and egalitarian rendition in English. Because there is a variety of available texts, betrothed couples often consult their rabbi or wedding officiate in order to determine which ketubah text is right for them.
A recent flourishing of non-standard ketubah texts have provided more specialized options for marrying couples, including those designed for same gender couples, couples with only one Jewish partner, secular humanists, and other individually crafted commitment texts.
The ketubah is one of the predominant forms of Jewish art, or Judaica, found in the home. Ketubot are often hung prominently in the home by the married couple as a daily reminder of their vows and responsibilities to each other. Ketubot have been made in a wide range of designs, usually following the tastes and styles of the era and region in which they are made. Many couples follow the Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzvah, which calls for ceremonial objects such as the ketubah to be made as beautiful as possible. They choose a design, which reflects both their artistic tastes and their feelings about marriage. Many designs incorporate religious or secular symbolism, such as the Tree of Life, the Star of David, Jerusalem, or images from nature. According to Jewish law, a woman may not sleep with her husband unless she knows the location of her ketubah; if the ketubah is lost relations are suspended until it can be recreated.