Explanation of Ketubah Texts

From Ancient Contract to Modern Wedding Vows

Traditional Aramaic (Orthodox) Text:

The Traditional Aramaic ketubah text is the only text accepted by the Traditional Orthodox Ashkenazic Jewish community. The text was conceived approximately 2,000 years ago, with the primary purpose of protecting the finances of a Jewish wife. This marriage contract is written in Aramaic, and was originally drafted by Jewish sages -- most likely in response to social practices which are considered unjust according to Jewish thought. At the time, it was a groundbreaking document.

The situation in ancient times was such that if something happened to a marriage, specifically divorce or death of the husband, the husband's family could simply absorb the entire estate -- leaving the wife, and possibly children, with nothing. This kind of practice continues even to this day in some parts of the world. The original purpose of the ketubah was to protect the wife and children in the event of the husband's departure. This is an excellent example of justice ("tzedek"), as interpreted in Jewish thought.

Click to read the Traditional Aramaic text. The document is to be filled in with the bride and groom's personal information -- i.e., their names, parents' names, date and location of the wedding. There are also blanks for the amount of "zuzim" -- the currency in ancient times -- for which the groom is responsible. This number is determined by the marital history of the bride.

As you can see from the translation of the Aramaic ketubah text, the contract does not require signatures of the bride or groom. Rather, it is the two witnesses who must attest to the fact that the groom made this promise to the bride.

It is only in modern times that the beloveds and wedding officiant sign the ketubah, in addition to the witnesses. You will often see these signature lines in the English section of a "Traditional Aramaic with English" ketubah (see below), and on most Egalitarian ketubot.

Shalom House Fine Judaica now offers ketubot with Sephardic text. Click to see our selection of Sephardic text ketubah designs.

Traditional Aramaic with English:

Traditional Aramaic with English refers to a text with the ancient Aramaic legal agreement, as well as a modern English section. The English portion is not a translation of the Aramiac -- it contains modern sentiments, which are at the discretion of the ketubah artist. Therefore, the English text on these ketubot will vary by artist.

Conservative Text:

The Conservative ketubah text is the document most often used in Conservative Jewish wedding ceremonies. The text is identical to the Traditional text, with the addition of a paragraph called the "Lieberman Clause." This clause, drafted by Rabbi Saul Lieberman in the 1950s, states that either the husband or wife may invoke the authority of the "Beth Din," or Jewish court, in the event of a civil dissolution of the marriage. The added clause provides for equal legal recourse for husband and wife. Click to read the Lieberman Clause.

Egalitarian Text:

The Egalitarian text is the most frequently used ketubah in more liberal Jewish communities -- such as the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. An Egalitarian text includes a modern Hebrew and modern English section, which feature contemporary sentiments and promises that the beloveds express to each other. There is no Aramaic on the document. In most cases, the English is a direct translation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew and English wordings are at the discretion of the ketubah artist, so the texts will vary from artist to artist.

Alternative Egalitarian / Commitment Vows / Non-Denominational / English Only / Gender Neutral:

These texts are variations of the Egalitarian Text, written to accommodate a variety of commitment ceremonies. As with the Egalitarian text, these texts are at the discretion of the artist, and therefore will vary from artist to artist.

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