Its history: The ketubah initially came about in the first century C.E. as a marriage contract guaranteeing a woman financial and familial support from her husband. The document was unambiguously non-mutual and served to ensure that a woman be supported throughout her and her husband’s life, and after her husband’s passing. The ketubah would be signed by a pair of witnesses (not the bride and groom, as some customs follow today) and then given to the wife to keep.
A document for protection: Although the notion of a ketubah implying that the husband is the primary provider might seem provincial to us, the ketubah was actually quite progressive for its time. The ketubah was created to counter instances of women being left by husbands who did not want the burden of supporting their families. With a ketubah in hand, a woman could confront the local Beit Din, or Rabbinical Court, and appeal to have her husband compelled to support her.
The text: The ketubah was originally written in Aramaic, the primary language used for legal purposes in Jewish communities since the time of the Talmud. Today, ketubot are often written with a Hebrew or English interpretation, either alongside or in place of the traditional Aramaic, and are often embellished with beautiful artwork. Ketubah artists and calligraphers will usually have versions of English and Hebrew texts available, which vary widely. These modern texts have come to incorporate many mutual commitments such as love, respect, and spiritual support between both bride and groom. While the Aramaic text has remained the same over centuries, there are a variety of new texts available for same-sex or interfaith couples. And although ketubot are still signed by two witnesses, many will also have room for the couple to sign and acknowledge their everlasting bond.
by Eran Hornick
June 21, 2015
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