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No Jewish wedding is complete without a ketubah. Unlike most secular marriage contracts, these traditional contracts are intricate works of art. As long as the binding words are written, the artwork can take any form that you and your partner like. Ketubot can be decorated with flowers, animals, celestial designs, abstract patterns, or any pattern you’d like to custom-design. If you’re planning a traditional Jewish wedding, start giving some thought to how your ketubah will integrate your wedding theme.
What is a Ketubah?
The word “ketubah” comes from the Hebrew word “katav,” which roughly translates to, “It is written.” It outlines the groom’s responsibilities toward his wife; namely, to provide for her and to not leave her penniless in the case of divorce. It ensures that the woman’s rights are respected in the marriage. For a tradition that’s more than 2,000 years old, it’s a pretty forward-thinking document. Many modern couples take it one step further and promise to take care of each other, regardless of gender.
During the wedding ceremony, the ketubah is signed and read out loud to the gathered friends and family. It then accompanies the newlyweds home, where many couples choose to frame it and display it as artwork. Not only does it act as a beautiful wall hanging, but it also serves as a daily reminder of the marriage vows.
Personalizing Your Ketubah
Although traditional ketubot are written in Aramaic (the standard language when the tradition started), many modern-day ketubot are translated into Hebrew, English, or the native languages of the couple. There is no limit to the number of languages that can be used on the document, so if you want multiple cultures to be represented at your wedding, translating your ketubah into the relevant languages, side-by-side, is a beautiful way to start.
Planning an alternative wedding? No problem. While traditional Orthodox ketubot operate under very strict rules, Reform Judaism allows for more flexibility. You can have your ketubah reflect any commitment you want to make to each other, including texts for same-sex and interfaith weddings. The important thing is that you and your newlywed spouse feel comfortable with the promise you are making to each other, and that your ketubah reflects that promise in a beautiful piece of art.
Ketubot are available in a wide range of prices to fit any budget. At the affordable end, ready-made ketubot are available with blank spaces to fill in your information (like your names and the wedding date and location). These are usually a few hundred dollars.
If you want to invest in a true work of art, however, you can hire a professional ketubah calligrapher to design a document that reads exactly as you want it to read, with whatever wording and design you choose. Depending on the artist and the complexity of your ketubah, it can cost a few thousand dollars. At the end, you will be given an original masterpiece to treasure in your family for generations.
Start looking for calligraphers as early as possible. Once you find an artist whose style you adore, you’ll want to start designing your ketubah no less than two months before your wedding; leaving four to six months is even better. If you’re just ordering a ready-made print, you can wait until a few weeks before your wedding day.
If you want to commission a custom-designed ketubah, be sure to communicate very clearly with your calligrapher. Collect pictures of other ketubot you like (or any graphic design elements that inspire you–even clippings from magazines) so the artist can get a feel for your style preference. You and the calligrapher should agree upon a sketch before work on the actual ketubah begins.
Remember, the more completely you communicate on the front end, the more perfect your final product will be. Asking the artist to go in and make changes on a completed document can be very expensive, or even impossible.
There are quite a few customizable elements to consider. What font would you like? Ketubot make use of graceful calligraphy, and the text itself is an integral part of the design. The text can wrap around pictorial elements, or the design of the paragraph itself can suggest a certain shape.
Once the text is designed, the rest of the page will be decorated to match. Like an illuminated manuscript, the artwork around your written commitment will complement and enhance the meaning of the words. You can incorporate fanciful elements from your wedding theme; for example, if you’re getting married in a garden, you can use the same types of flowers to decorate the margins of your ketubah. If you’re planning a firefly release, illustrate your document with colorful fireflies. Just make sure the design is something you’ll enjoy looking at for years to come.
Your ketubah is an enduring symbol of your partnership and the promises you make to each other. While it’s easy to fall into a routine of married life, a framed ketubah on your wall will act as a daily reminder of the excitement you felt as you pledged yourself to your beloved on your wedding day.
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