In today’s society, the subject of Ketubot can be a controversial topic. Many argue that the Ketubah is a sexist document, one that is outdated and repressive to modern women, but this was never the objective of the rabbis who introduced it. Rather, the Ketubah was designed to be a liberating document made to counteract several troubling concerns and the history behind them is as fascinating as their evolution.
One of the main reasons why the practice of using Ketubot began, was because in ancient times, for a young man to marry his bride, he must first be able to pay the mohar or the bride price. This was a sum of money paid either to the bride or her parents. It was mostly symbolic but existed to take care of the bride financially. The only issue with this system, however, was that many young men were unable to raise the money when they reached marriageable age, so the rabbis thought of a solution, one that allowed young men to marry quickly and gave their future brides protection as well: the Ketubah.
The Ketubah served as a prenuptial contract, one that delayed the timing of the mohar payment so that it would only need to be given if the marriage ends, thereby providing security to the bride in case her husband passes or divorces her and enabling those of modest backgrounds to marry. Additionally, the Ketubah entitled the wife to basic rights in the marriage and formalized the groom’s obligations to his bride, holding him responsible for her wellbeing and setting up preventative measures to deter him from abandoning her unfairly. It was a forward-thinking system for its time and remarkably effective, so ancient rabbis began insisting that the Ketubah be used in every marriage, thereby cementing the Ketubah’s role as a key component in traditional Jewish weddings.
With the establishment of the Ketubah came the practice of embellishing the document with ornate designs, following the Jewish tradition that ceremonial objects be made as beautifully as possible. This practice would flourish over the centuries, and the Ketubah grew into a significant form of Jewish ceremonial art and examples of ancient Kebutot show that many of them were just as magnificent as they are today.
However, there are a few evolutionary differences worth noting between our modern Ketubot and the ones of the past. While plenty of Ketubot still use the same traditional phrasing that was standardized centuries ago, today’s Ketubot have become remarkably diverse, with many featuring modernized variations of the classic Ketubah text to accommodate the needs of couples of every background. These gorgeous new Ketubot have opened the doors for many unorthodox and unconventional couples looking to stay true to their Jewish roots, giving them the chance to enjoy the quintessential experience of a traditional Jewish wedding.
So whether you prefer the classical aspects of the canonical Ketubah or the progressive nature of a modern one, at the end of the day, there’s a spectacular Ketubah waiting for everyone. Perhaps you’ll even find yours here in Israel where we have plenty of artists who specialize in the art of Ketubot and making them special.
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