What is the Ketuba?

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The word “Ketuba” means “document”. The Ketuba, in the strict sense of the word, is not a contract between husband and wife. It is a document that records the obligations of the husband towards his wife while married, and the provisions to ensure the economic well-being of the wife if the marriage is dissolved, or if the husband dies. In this sense, the Ketuba is more like a prenup or a “marriage insurance” where the beneficiary is the wife and the benefactor is the husband. The obligations of the wife towards her husband are not registered in the Ketuba. For this reason, the Ketuba is signed by two witnesses and by the husband, and it does not require the wife’s signature.

Now that we understand the essence of the Ketuba, we will explore it in detail.

The text of the Ketuba is divided into three parts, today we will see the first part.

DATE, PLACE, NAMES.

The Ketuba records in the first place all the basic information of the couple: the wedding date, the city and the state where the wedding is held, and the names of the bride and the groom.

If we would write the Ketuba today in Jerusalem, the first part of the Ketuba would say: “On the fourth day of the week (Wednesday), at 30 days of the month of Sivan, which is the first day of Rosh Hodesh Tammuz, in the year 5775 from the creation of the world, in the city of Jerusalem …. ”

Then, the Ketuba records the names of the bride and the groom. First, the groom’s name followed by his father’s name, for example, YOSEF BEN YAAQOB (Yosef son of Yaaqob), and then the family name. In the Ketuba we also record if the groom is Cohen o Levi.

Then we write the name of the bride and her father’s name and family name, clarifying whether he is Cohen or Levi.

In addition, especially outside Israel, the names are written also in the vernacular. For example, if the groom’s Hebrew name is YOSEF but everyone calls him “Joey”, in the Ketuba it will be written YOSEF DEMITQARE JOEY, i.e., “Yosef, also known as Joey”.

The names of the bride, the groom and their parents have to be written with extreme care. The rabbi who writes the Ketuba needs to know not only how to write the Hebrew names correctly but also, how to write the non-Hebrew names with Hebrew letters, which sometimes is difficult, because not all consonants or diphthongs in English have their exact correspondence in Hebrew (how do you write”Joey” in Hebrew letters?).

In the Ketuba we also write the marital status of the bride. If the bride is single the Ketuba would say “betulta”, unmarried (lit. virgin). In some communities, they simply write “kalata” which means “bride”. If the bride is a widow or a divorcee, the Ketuba would say “meterakhta” or “armelata” ,”divorced” or “widow”, in Aramaic, the language of the Ketuba.