Custom Map ketubah by Rachelle Tolwin
We know that commissioning a custom ketubah can be intimidating. That’s why we recently shared our tips with Jewish wedding experts, The Wedding Yentas. We had so much info on the topic that the post comes in two parts, Part I and Part II.
If you’re considering a custom work, definitely follow the links to the post as a whole, but either way, here are some excerpts that will give you a sense of the process.
Figure out what your ketubah is about: Talk to your partner about what aspects of your relationship you would like your ketubah to highlight. They should be the things that you feel are truly special about your relationship. You may want to think about the stories that are important to you as a couple: how you met, the moment you “knew,” a trip you took together. Your ketubah can depict, say, the park bench where he proposed, or a map of all the New York City apartments you both lived in before you met one another.
Start thinking about color: This could be as basic as wanting the ketubah to echo your wedding colors, or the colors of your home, or it could be more symbolic.
Figure out what you like: There is no special formula to finding the right artist, and you don’t have to know about art to have an experience with it. Look around. When you like something, listen to yourself. Collect images of the artwork you and your partner like, and look at all the images together to see if there is a pattern emerging.
Communicate: Let your artist in on the details of the conversation you had with your partner, and share your little folder of inspiration images, taking him/her through your vision for your ketubah. In one case, a couple even sent me a crude version of what they wanted, which they sketched out themselves in crayon!
The client’s sketch to the artist’s rendering
As we told The Wedding Yentas, this may sound like a lot of work, but we believe that you and your partner can figure out the basics of what you’re interested in over the span of a dedicated afternoon. It might also be fun, an opportunity to literally “visualize” your relationship. Don’t forget that your artist will also bring something to the table. You don’t have to have everything figured out in order to start the conversation!
Again, for the full post, including more information about ketubah text on a custom work, as well as the details of the agreement between artist and client, please visit The Wedding Yentas, and Ketuv’s posts, Part I and Part II!
Your ketubah signing, not the ceremony, is what precedes your first married moments.
I was in a Judaica store the other day, visiting my ex Jewish studies teacher who works at the counter. A couple came in looking for a ketubah. After a cursory glance through the pile of ketubot in a corner of the store, they brought one up to the register. My teacher tried to explain to them what they were buying– the text, who the artist was. The couple listened impatiently, until the groom-to-be finally said, “Listen, our rabbi said we needed either an Orthodox or a Conservative text. We’re just trying to cross this off the list.”
I happened to be nearby, so I asked them if they planned to hang up the ketubah. “Well, yeah,” said the groom. Then he turned to his bride and said, “So is this the one you want?” She shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
The challenge for those of us in the ketubah business can be summed up in the above interaction. We want to help you, the couples, to recognize the importance of your ketubah at the time that you’re buying it– that is, before your wedding ceremony. After the ceremony, no explanation will be necessary. You will have witnessed the significant role it played in your wedding–the signing of the witnesses, your dearest friends, in the intimate moments before your marriage. You will have felt this electrifying truth– that with or without the ceremony that follows, as soon as you sign the ketubah, YOU. ARE. MARRIED. Suddenly, this piece of paper will take on paramount importance– it will symbolize the newest moments of your married life, the small room where those closest to you joined in the joy of your union. (And this is just the emotional significance, to say nothing con the actual words in the contract– the husband’s promises to his wife, or the husband and wife’s promises to one another, as a married couple.)
This document, with significance on a symbolic, sentimental, spiritual and legal level will also serve an aesthetic function– it will likely hang in your bedroom or living room for a long, long time. I’ll present you with two examples from my own inner circle. My father, who remarried before I got into this business, often comments how he loves his ketubah for what it represents, but not so much for how it looks. It was, for him and his wife before their marriage, “just another thing to cross off the list.” They have hung their ketubah in the hallway leading to their bedroom. They want to remember and feel that connection to their wedding day, and to their commitment to one another– they just don’t want to look at the thing all the time.
Contrast that with my dearest friends Jordan and Lindsey. You’ve seen this bride before. She’s become our poster bride, because of the way that this couple really connected to their ketubah. Let me take you through the moments after their ketubah signing, pictorially. There was not a dry eye in the house. Even the groom was struggling not to lose it (sorry, dude).
(photos by Robby Campbell)
Lindsey told me just what she wanted in her ketubah and I executed it, with a few surprises. They have hung the ketubah opposite their bed, where it is the first thing they see in the morning, and the last thing they see before they go to sleep (aside from one another, of course). Jordan said, “Bride and groom become husband and wife once the ketubah is signed, and on our wedding day, the significance of the signing was palpable due in large part to the beauty of our ketubah. It is a moment we will never forget, one of the happiest of our lives. We look at our ketubah, and it reminds us of our perfect day.”
After the flowers wilt, the delicacies are eaten, the white dress is in plastic, the ketubah will be there: it will hang in your bedroom as long as you’re married. Your photos and your wedding video may grace your shelf until someone– probably your children, and probably only a few times, max– will want to look at them but, again, your ketubah will be there, on your wall, out in the open, a constant reminder.
Still think the ketubah is just another thing to cross off the list?
Should you or shouldn’t you have your ketubah text pre-personalized?
As I’ve been meeting with Miami rabbis this week, many have asked me if Ketuv can fill-in the ketubah text with the couple’s details. Of course we can and we do! But, like most ketubah companies, we charge a small fee to do so. As much as we’d love for it to be included, there are serious man-hours (or woman hours, as it were) behind this kind of task, as we want to get the text layout just right.
So, the question then becomes, is it worth the money?
What I’ve found speaking to rabbis is an overwhelming yes: it’s worth it to personalize your ketubah. Though most rabbis are completely capable of filling out the ketubah text approporiate for their denomination, many feel uncomfortable from an entirely aesthetic perspective, they don’t want to “pollute” the calligraphy (or digital calligraphy) with their chicken scratch. Also, they don’t want to have to worry about mistakes because, let’s face it, everybody makes them, even rabbis, however infrequently. An astounding amount of rabbis have had trouble finding the right pen, and have ruined ketubahs with a leaky or runny pen, or a pen that doesn’t react in the right way with the surface of the ketubah. (FYI, all of Ketuv’s ketubot get along with Sakura Micron pens of any color. We suggest .005 or .01 weight.)
There are arguments for leaving spaces. Some people like the tactile sense provided by their rabbi’s handwriting. There is a memory created by the handwriting, and by the fact that the details will necessarily be filled out by the officiant, in view of the marrying couple, on their wedding day. However, don’t forget, the big “act” associated with the ketubah is still the signing, and personalization will not detract from that!
This morning I met with Rabbi Bookman at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida. He had a great idea: what if the details could be filled in a different color, a color already present in the ketubah, so that they stood out more? Totally! Good call! Ketuv is totally willing to do your personalization in a different color, should you want it, at no further cost. (Also, keep in mind that if you opt for a custom work or custom text, personalization is included!)
Ultimately, of course, we know you’ve got to balance what’s easiest on your wallet with what’s, well, easiest. But we do suggest that you ask your rabbi what s/he prefers and that you factor the answer into your decision! Remember, your ketubah is going to hang on your wall a long, long time– the owner of the ketubah pictured in this post often mentions to me that he and his wife see it every day upon waking, and every night before going to sleep– so it may be worth the investment!
Update 1/18/12: Because of the overwhelming number of rabbis telling us the same thing– that they would rather receive the ketubah already filled out– and because we want our ketubah artworks to look as beautiful as possible, Ketuv has decided to include personalization/text fill-in for free, as a default service on all of our ketubot. This means the text will be filled in by Ketuv and OK’d by the rabbi/officiant and the couple before the wedding. We hope it makes everyone’s lives easier!
We recently checked up on our Google Analytics, trying to figure out what keywords have brought you all to Ketuv.com. We realized that many of you found us by asking ketubah-related questions that we actually haven’t yet answered on our site. So we decided to cull the questions from our Analytics “search words” and answer them. Hope this helps!
Please keep in mind that, as with many issues in Judaism, the answer depends on the religious observance of the asker, but we will try to answer from many different perspectives as best we can.
Q: What happens if you lose your ketubah?
A: According to Jewish law, if you lose your ketubah, a new ketubah must be written immediately, as it is forbidden for a couple to live together without their ketubah. The couple will appear before the rabbi and ask for a new ketubah, which will feature the date that the new ketubah was written, and not the date of the marriage. Of course, if your ketubah serves more of a cultural function than a legal/religious function in your lives, you may simply choose to buy another one, or wait until your anniversary to get an anniversary ketubah, like the ones featured on this site.
Q: What happens if your ketubah has the wrong date?
A: According to Jewish law, any major error in filling out the ketubah means that you must obtain a new ketubah in the manner described above. However, if your rabbi catches the mistake, s/he may choose simply to cross out or edit directly on top of the text. If you’re more concerned with the document’s accuracy than with a blemish on your ketubah text, then this may be the best option. Either way, it’s important to make sure you provide the ketubah company with the correct information, as verified with your rabbi, or that your rabbi has the correct information before he fills out your ketubah.
Q: Who can fill out the ketubah? Does it have to be a rabbi?
A: It is best for a rabbi familiar with Jewish law to fill out your ketubah, especially if you are religiously observant, although many ketubah companies (including this one) can personalize the text for you beforehand, which is also an acceptable option. If you choose to personalize your ketubah text beforehand, you should always ask for a proof of the final text and have it confirmed with your rabbi. If your ketubah is more of a memento or a cultural document, who you’d like to fill it out is up to you. Of course, if you choose a ketubah with Hebrew text, make sure there is someone on hand who can read and write Hebrew.
Q: Who can sign the ketubah? Can more than two witnesses sign? Do the witnesses have to be Jewish?
A: According to Jewish law, the witnesses must be two religiously observant Jewish men who are not related by blood to the bride and groom. However, if you’re not observant, it’s your choice who you would like to honor as a witness. We featured an interfaith ketubah on this blog that was signed by every wedding guest.
Q: What are the husbandly duties outlined in the traditional ketubah text?
A: The Orthodox and Conservative texts state that the husband is obligated to provide his wife with food, clothing and sex. The husband is also promising to pay his wife an agreed upon sum in the event of divorce or death. Many couples who are not religiously observant may choose to have a mutual agreement—one where the wife also takes on obligations towards her husband. Couples often write their own texts that reflect more expansive and personal ideas about the obligations of marriage.
Q: What is the relationship between the ketubah and the get?
A: A “get” is the document required to divorce by Jewish law. Your ketubah will have laid out some of the financial terms in the event of divorce, and may be referred to during the writing of the get. Otherwise, you do not need a ketubah to get a get. As long as one of the people in the couple is Jewish by birth, you can ask a rabbi for a get in the event of divorce.
Q: How do you fill out a ketubah?
A: Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis have handbooks and other resources for filling out ketubot. If you are using a text besides the accepted Orthodox or Conservative texts, you should receive fill-in instructions from your ketubah company. Ketuv provides fill-in directions with all of our ketubot.
Q: Can you have a ketubah if one of the partners isn’t Jewish?
A: Orthodox people do not believe in interfaith ketubahs, but then again they are unlikely to be in an interfaith marriage. For many Jews in interfaith relationships, interfaith ketubahs are a wonderful way to celebrate one’s roots, and are commonly available at most ketubah stores.
Bonus question about chuppahs!
Q: Can the chuppah be made out of any fabric or does it have to be a tallit?
A: The chuppah can be made out of any fabric, and does NOT have to be a tallit. What’s more important is that it is made of four poles and is open on all sides.
Elsewhere on the site, you may have noticed that we’ve mentioned Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer’s The Creative Jewish Wedding Book. When we started Ketuv, this book was so helpful to us in understanding the ketubah in its various incarnations. We highly recommend this book to couples looking to deepen their understanding of the Jewish traditions in their marriage, and to make informed decisions about which ones to include and how. For this post, we’ve invited Gabrielle to offer some tips on choosing the right ketubah.
For many contemporary couples, choosing a ketubah can be a very important part of not only wedding planning, but also of their marriage preparation. The process of choosing a ketubah creates an important dialogue for couples on a number of topics—whether they prefer traditional or contemporary language, or what their favorite styles of art are. Choosing a ketubah is also an opportunity for couples to reflect on the commitments that they are making to one another in their marriage, as these commitments will be expressed and reflected in the ketubah that they choose.
If you and your partner are in the process of selecting a ketubah, there are a number of different factors for you to consider as you begin to search for the ketubah that is just right for you:
One of the most important choices for you to make is how the text of your ketubah will read. For Orthodox couples, the traditional text that has been used for hundreds of years will be the same text that appears on their ketubah. However, most non-Orthodox couples prefer an updated text for their ketubah that presents both the man and woman’s voices or focuses on the personal commitments that the couple is making to one another. Some types of ketubah texts, besides the traditional Orthodox text include:
*Egalitarian: These texts represent the voice of both the male and female partners. Some are written in the style of a traditional ketubah text and others are written in contemporary language.
*Write your own: Some couples prefer to write their own ketubah text. This process is like writing your own vows, although you may want to include the style of text used in a traditional ketubah as a framework. In my book, “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book,” I take couples through the process of writing their own ketubah text.
*Marriage Blessings: Rather than being written in the traditional legal style of what the couples promises to one another, these texts are written more as blessings for your marriage. They may include a famous quote.
*Interfaith: For interfaith couples, there are wonderful ketubah texts available that reflect the couples’ different backgrounds. Some couples may even choose to include relevant quotes from the texts of both faiths.
*Gender neutral: For same sex couples or couples who prefer not to be labeled as bride and groom, there are beautiful ketubah texts that are written in gender neutral language.
The ketubah is a work of art and for some couples, it is the first piece of art that they are selecting for their home. This is an opportunity to talk about your taste in art and perhaps to figure out a compromise if you each have different preferences. Some design elements include:
*Traditional Jewish imagery: Many ketubot evoke images of Jerusalem or are adorned with other traditional Jewish images.
*Contemporary: Contemporary artists are creating beautiful ketubot with all different kinds of images—from floral designs to abstract works of art. You should be able to find a ketubah that suits your taste.
*Photos: Some artists will use photo images of the couple to incorporate them into the ketubah design.
Another important factor to consider is whether or not you would like an original work of art, or a reproduction. You need to determine how much money you have budgeted for your ketubah to select the type of ketubah that you will purchase. These include:
*Original: An original ketubah is one that you commission an artist to create just for you. It will be a one of a kind work of art.
*Print: This is a reproduction that you will select from an artist’s series of work. Some artists will personalize the text for you.
*Make your own: Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you may want to hire a calligrapher to write your ketubah text and you create the design elements on your own.
Once you have your ketubah selected, it is time to consider how you will use it in your ceremony, including:
*Signing Before: It is traditional to sign the ketubah just before the wedding ceremony.
*Reading: Many couples choose to read or have their wedding officiant read the ketubah text during the ceremony.
*Displaying: Don’t forget to display your beautiful easel at your reception so that everyone can see it!
Best of luck in finding the right ketubah for YOU!
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of The Creative Jewish Wedding Book (Jewish Lights). She consults with couples who need support planning their weddings and also serves as a wedding officiant with Journeys of the Heart. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The word ketubah literally means “writing” or “written” and refers to the traditional Jewish marriage contract, signed and read at the wedding to unite a couple by Jewish law.
Though Orthodox Jews observe the ketubah tradition exactly as the rabbis intended thousands of years ago, many modern Jews and those influenced by the Jewish tradition have adapted the tradition to best reflect their identities.
Below are some of the basics of the ketubah tradition. Next week, we will post about choosing a ketubah. Until then, please know that it is always best to consult with your partner, your families, and your rabbi/officiant when deciding how to best incorporate the ketubah tradition into your wedding.
The text of the first ketubah, written around 200 BCE, was an innovative document for its time, intended to protect the bride financially in the event of divorce or death, as well as to enumerate her ongoing rights in the marriage.
The ketubah tradition replaced the antiquated mohar tradition—similar to a dowry—which made it difficult for young grooms to raise enough money to marry. The ketubah, in effect, delayed the time when the sum would be payable, while still ensuring financial protection for the bride.
The traditional ketubah text outlines the three major obligations of a husband to his wife according to Jewish law: clothing, food, and sex (that’s right guys, it’s the law). It also outlines the amount of support the wife will receive in the event of divorce or death.
Today, ketubot and their texts reflect the great diversity of the Jewish community. Though the Orthodox community still uses the original text described above, other denominations and individuals have adapted this text to reflect their values. The Conservative movement, for example, has added the Lieberman clause, which guards against agunah—literally, “a chained wife”—by allowing the wife to initiate a divorce.
Many modern texts, often used by Reform, secular, interfaith and nondenominational couples, expand on the marital “obligations,” focusing on the spiritual and emotional needs of both partners. These ketubah texts often resemble what we commonly think of as “vows,” but their inclusion on a ketubah fulfills a distinctly Jewish ritual element within the wedding ceremony.
While Orthodox and Conservative ketubot are written in Aramaic—once the secular language of the Jewish community—today, many people opt to write their ketubot in the languages they speak, often English and Hebrew.
Role in Wedding
Traditionally, the ketubah is signed by two witnesses, in the presence of close friends and family, before the bride and groom stand at the chuppah. The ketubah is then read aloud under the chuppah and handed to the bride for safekeeping.
Who signs the ketubah depends largely on the couple. Orthodox Jews observe the halacha that the witnesses must be two Jewishly observant men who are not related to the couple by blood.
Outside of the Orthodox tradition, many couples choose two guests they would like to honor to be their witnesses, regardless of gender, faith, or relation. It has also become common on non-Orthodox ketubot for the bride, groom and rabbi/officiant to sign the ketubah.
Art and Display
Examples of decorative ketubahs go back hundreds of years. Decorative ketubahs were diverse in design, as they adopted the style and tastes of the time and place in which they were made.
Decorating the ketubah is an expression of the Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzvah, which calls for the beautification of ceremonial objects. Ketubahs are often hung prominently in the married couple’s home following the wedding, as both a daily reminder of the couple’s vows and responsibilities to each other, and as a work of art symbolizing their union. Some couples also choose to commemorate an anniversary or renew their vows with a ketubah.
Questions unanswered? Check out our FAQ page, or drop us a line: email@example.com. We’re happy to help.
Glad you asked! Well, we launched on August 10th and since then we’ve just been getting our bearings, peering into the blinding expanse of social media marketing like little deer in headlights, bringing new meaning to the words “learning curve.” For one thing, if you’ve sent us an email through our contact form in the last two weeks—yeah, we didn’t get it. But now that’s fixed so feel free to reach out again or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So what’s next…
We wanted to give you an idea of what to expect from the Ketuv blog. Of course, this brief list is by no means the extent of it—we plan to cover a range of different topics relating to Jews and art and weddings (and sometimes all three simultaneously).
Here are some themes we’ve outlined in our first editorial meetings:
Ketubahs 101: Ketubahs are what we’re all about, and on this blog you’ll find valuable information on the history (and future) of ketubahs, as well as how to choose the right ketubah for you. As early as next week, we’ll have guest blogger Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, author of the Creative Jewish Wedding Book, to check in and drop some knowledge!
Remixing the Jewish Wedding: What keeps Judaism relevant is the little ways that Jewish people make the tradition their own. That’s why we plan to feature ways that people are updating/personalizing/remixing Jewish traditions in their own wedding ceremonies. Whether it be a homemade, handmade chuppah, or a rewritten sheva brachot (seven blessings), we want to be a resource for inspiring ways that real people use the Jewish tradition to connect to their identities. Every so often, we’ll throw in remixed Jewish traditions from other holidays and ceremonies, for good measure. And, of course, if you’ve got a suggestion, or want your “remixed Jewish wedding” featured, send us an email at email@example.com.
Artist Wishlist: We’ve always got one eye on the art world, since that’s where we’re from! When we see work we love, and especially work that would translate well to a ketubah—whether it be famed artists, or someone’s little sister, living working artists, or old deceased dudes and dudettes—we’ll post it here.
Artist Features: Spotlight on our artists, including studio visits, exhibitions, interviews, new work and, of course, new ketubahs.
The Biz: We’re figuring out this “small business” thing as we go along, and we’re eager to share what we learn. Maya, who is 1/2 of Ketuv, starts an MBA program this fall, so look out for the fruits of her edumacation.
Ok, no puppies. But wouldn’t it be nice if that were part of the job?
In the meantime, send us suggestions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @KetuvTweets.