The KETUBA and the shirt on the husband’s shoulders


עד שבא שמעון בן שטח ותיקן שיהא כותב לה: כל נכסי אחראין
כתובות פ”ב

Yesterday, we explained that the Ketuba is similar to a marriage insurance. Which means that if the marriage is ח”ו dissolved, the Ketuba establishes the sum of money that the husband needs to pay his wife as a compensation. The function of the Ketuba therefore, is to protect the wife. While without a Ketuba a divorced women would be left with nothing (that was the case, by the way, in most gentile civilization up to modern times) the Ketuba insured that this would not happen to a Jewish woman. And at the same time, as the rabbis had explained, the Ketuba served as a powerful deterrent for husbands, lest they decide to divorce their wives in the heat of the moment. Knowing that he has taken upon himself a big financial responsibility, would make the husband think again and avoid impulsive decisions.

To make this point even stronger, the rabbis made a very important addition in the text of the Ketuba. In the beginning, the Ketuba was closer to a “mohar”, a gift or inheritance that the husband would willingly leave to his wife. This created a situation in which many women would remain single because they were scared to be left with nothing. That is why, at the end of the text of the Ketuba we have a clause to insure the collection of the Ketuba’s value in case the husband does not have enough cash or liquid assets to cover the value of the Ketuba. This clause was established by Rabbi Shimon ben Shatah (120-40 BCE). Rabbi Shimon was credited with the actual making (or remaking) of the Ketuba שבת טז: שמעון בן שטח תיקן כתובה לאשה , in other words, he made from the Ketuba a collectable debt, instead of a voluntary gift or inheritance. Thus, after the final amount of the compensation is calculated, the Ketuba mentions that all properties (real estate or qarqa’) and possessions (portable goods or metaltelim) of the husband are mortgaged to this Ketuba. The groom pledges to pay for the Ketuba even “from the shirt that he is wearing on his shoulders”. Accordingly, if the husband does not have the actual money to compensate his ex-wife or his widow, his assets could be seized by the Bet Din (the Rabbinical court of Law) to pay the value of the Ketuba.The groom also pledges that the the Ketuba is binding on his heirs (who might not necessarily be the children of his wife), during his lifetime, and after it.

The Ketuba is then signed by the witnesses. But before that, the Ketuba is formally accepted by the husband by a legal procedure called qinyan. The qinyan is performed as a barter (qinyan sudar or ḥalifin), i.e.,an exchange by which goods or services are exchanged for other goods or services. The Rabbi who presides the wedding gives the groom an item, normally a handkerchief or a pen or any other item, except food or coinage. Upon receiving that item the groom declares: “qibbalti ‘alay beqinyan…”, which means, “I formally accept upon myself… all the obligations of the Ketuba” . By lifting the item he received, the groom acquires that item and in exchange he grants the rights of the Ketuba to his wife.

Once the qinyan is done, the Ketuba, which is written from the point of view of the witnesses, says: VEQANINAN… “And we have acquired (i.e., witnessed the procedure of acquisition ) this Ketuba from the groom…. to the bride… and we attest that all is valid and confirmed (sharir veqayam)”. These last words are a rabbinical formula to indicate that the document has ended, so that nothing else can be added to it except the signature of the two witnesses.