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The Ketubah: A Jewish Marriage Contract
A Reform Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

How the Ketubah Came About
The ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract, which spells out a husband’s obligations to his wife.

Judaism spells out three ways for a couple to marry with money (or something with monetary value), via contract or through sexual intercourse. To create a marriage, one of these three actions would take place – with the intent to marry. (Mishna, Kiddushin 1:1) Later rabbis withdrew sex as a marriage-making act, flogging anyone who established solely through sex.

In the first century, Rabbi Simon ben Shetach (c. 100 B.C.E.) fashioned the wording the ketubah to economically protect a woman in the event of divorce or widowhood. Safeguards were put in place to insure a woman would receive the ketubah settlement. Usually, the settlement money negotiated for the ketubah would be held by the wife’s father for safekeeping. Even if the husband had no money, he would be obligated to hand over something of value for his father-in-law to keep in escrow.

This set up met with disfavor because it selected men as masters of the marriage. More egalitarian texts were written, where the couple records their wedding pledges to each other. A Reform ketubah avoids the legalisms entirely, as these would be decided in court or through a will. Instead the couple signs romantic and ethical pledges to each other.

Some couple put their hearts on paper and write their own ketubah or add loving addenda to the standard text. Other couples feel more comfortable signing a marriage certificate instead of a ketubah.


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