What is the Ketuba? Chapter 2


The second part of the Ketuba states the obligations of the husband towards his wife. The groom declares to his bride that he is taking her legally as his wife “according to the law of Moses and Israel”, implying that he accepts all the responsibilities of a Jewish husband.

The Tora established the three main duties of the husband towards his wife

1. she-erah: to provide his wife with sustenance

2. kesutah:  to supply her clothing and lodging

3. ‘onatah:  to cohabit with her.


1. she-erah.   The first responsibility of the husband is tomaintain his wife financially.  This is the first duty stated in the Tora  (Exodus 21:10), in the language of the rabbis is called “mezonot” (food, i.e., alimony/aliment= food).


A few illustrations from Maimonides

MT, Ishut 12:10-11: The husband is obligated to supply food for his wife and children according to his material means. A husband who is poor should provide only two meals a day, and a wealthy husband should make provisions for having nutritious foods (meat, fish, or whatever is the local custom) every day.

MT, Ishut 12:16-17: If a husband leaves his home for a business trip overseas (in ancient days people would travel overseas for months or years, with virtually no possibility of communication) and the wife is left with no means to obtain food, the rabbinical court might confiscate and sell the husband’s assets to provide food for his wife and children, provided that at least three months have passed since the husband left. It was assumed that thoughtful husbands would leave sustenance for their families for at least 90 days.


2. kesutah. Literally means “her clothing”. The Jewish husband is obligated to provide his wife with appropriate clothing, bedding, furniture and a place of residence.




Clothes: The husband has to supply his wife with appropriate clothing for each season of the year. Regarding the quality of this provision, the rule is that the husband must provide his wife with a level of clothing according to: a) what the husband can afford, b) the local custom, e.g., the social needs of a woman who lives in a farm are not the same as the needs of a woman who lives in a city (Maimonides, MT ishut 13:2). This category also includes the husband’s obligation to provide his wife with non-essential items (13:4) such as jewelry, cosmetics, etc. at a level which results from the balance between the husband’s financial possibilities and the wife’s social needs (=local custom).

Place of residence: The place of residence is sometimes determined and written in the Ketuba, if husband and wife agreed upon it in advance.  If the husband wishes to change his usual place of residence, the wife is expected to move with him. Some exceptions are: 1. A disreputable neighborhood (13:15). The wife can refuse to move to a violent or corrupt place. 2. Israel: if the couple lives in Israel, the wife can refuse to move out of Israel or if they live in Jerusalem, she can refuse to leave Jerusalem. (13:19-20).


3. ‘onatah. In Biblical Law, conjugal rights are explicitly granted to the wife. The Tora indicates in Exodus 21:10 that the husband “must not deprive his wife from her food, her clothing and her marital rights”.  In the words of Maimonides, a husband’s consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations, deliberately  or maliciously, is considered a transgression of a Biblical prohibition, and the woman has legal grounds to ask for her divorce, claiming the full amount of the financial compensations established in the Ketuba. This  does not apply, however, when the reason for the husband’s abstinence is, for example, health-related.  (Maimonides MT, ishut 14:7). The Talmud also discusses the expected frequency of the husband’s marital duties based on the husband’s occupation (14:1).

Although not based on a specific Biblical statement, the wife is also expected to fulfill her conjugal duties. A wife who without a justified reason or maliciously (kede letsa’aro) permanently denies from her husband his conjugal rights is called a rebellious wife (moredet) and, in case of divorce, she is not entitled to any compensations (14:9).

It is important to clarify that the primary purpose of Mitsvat ‘ona is to reinforce the loving bond between husband and wife.  In a separate Mitsva, the Tora indicates the commandment of having children (peru urbu). This Mitsva, ‘ona, is independent from the intention of procreation. Illustration: when conception is not possible, such as during pregnancy or when the woman is under a permissible form of birth control, or when the wife is no longer able to bear children, the couple is still expected to have an active marital life.


In honor of  the wedding of Orit Bitton and Adam Harari, BH  in Yerushalayim עיה”ק