The traditional ketuba (pl. ketubot) we know today was developed by the Talmudic Sages, and was a radical innovation in its time. It precluded summary divorce of a wife by a husband. The financial protections ranged from one year to two years of full living costs paid up front to the wife. Needless to say, this intense financial requirement dramatically slowed the rate of gratuitous divorces in Talmudic society!
The ketuba also stipulates the physical and emotional needs of a wife must be met. Again, this was radical for a culture that allowed a man up to four wives. It is interesting to note that the traditional language of the ketuba is Aramaic, the common spoken and literary language of the Jews during the Talmudic period. Everyone could immediately read and understand its contents.
This leads to an interesting point: a ketuba can be in any language. That is why on traditional ketuba versions, whatever English is present is not a direct translation of the complete Aramaic or Hebrew original. It would essentially be a second ketuba on the same document, and that is not kosher!
While the traditional ketuba does have standard elements, it can be personalized. There are countless historical ketubot which detail the specific responsibilities of a husband, and even his estate, to a particular wife.
Today, many Modern Orthodox rabbis recommend a “halachik (Jewish legal) pre-nup.” This extra document is used to preclude either party from refusing to grant the other a religious divorce (a get) if the marriage fails. This refusal would prevent either party from remarrying within traditional Judaism; they are “chained” to the dead marriage. Many ketubot have this language incorporated within. Pioneered by Conservative movement scholar Professor Saul Liberman, the “Liberman clause*,” or the “Agunah clause*” in certain Orthodox settings, is a common option from many ketuba providers. (Agunah is the Hebrew word for “chained”.)
*Important note: A legally binding prenuptial agreement can include this provision, and would likely have far greater enforceability in the secular American legal system.
Did you know a growing number of traditional ketubot are produced in Hebrew instead of Aramaic? After 2000 years, Hebrew is now the common language of the Jewish people around the globe!
5 Things Your Traditional Ketuba Wants to Know:
The date and location of the wedding
The Hebrew names of both bride and groom, and if any parents are deceased
If the bride has joined the Jewish people by conversion
If the bride has been previously married
Your preference for the Liberman/Agunah clause within the text
Pro Tips! Placing the ketuba in a frame after it is signed and before the ceremony is a smart idea. Place it on a good easel during the ceremony, and then display it during the celebration!