Who Can Sign Your Ketubah?
Updated: Sep 14, 2019
Your ketubah is your wedding contract. “Ketubah” derives from the Hebrew meaning “committed to writing.” Commiting a wedding agreement to writing is a Jewish legal practice dating back 2,000 years and, as such, it's a prime example of the progressive nature of Judaism! A ketubah can be as simple as a text on a 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper, or as elaborate as a custom, hand-calligraphered piece of art to be framed and then displayed in your new home. In either case, the following people will sign your ketubah: two witnesses; and perhaps, the Bride, the Groom and your Rabbi.
Witnesses can’t be just anyone. Both your witnesses must be Jewish adults, and neither should be related to you. Why only Jews? This is a Jewish document, written in Aramaic or Hebrew. It makes sense that, in this instance, Jews would be most eligible to serve as witnesses. Why no relatives? In the eyes of Jewish law, your ketubah is a binding, legal document and, as such, cannot be signed by any “interested” party. An interested party is anyone who has stake in the outcome of a matter before a court, or in this case, the assembly about to consecrate your marriage. Parents want their children to enjoy the love and bliss that only marriage can offer, but parents also stand to benefit when you become financially independent and move out. So parents are, in this simple example, interested parties and therefore ineligible to sign. So is your younger brother who will likely get a bigger room in your parents’ home when you move out! A good friend of the bride and one of the groom’s side are perfect examples of eligible witnesses.
Your rabbi will want to know, well in advance of your wedding day, who you are considering as witnesses. S/he may also require that you and your witnesses sign your names in Hebrew. If you or one of your witnesses doesn’t know how to sign in Hebrew, your rabbi can help you by providing a sample from which you or your witnesses can practice and be prepared for your big day.
To put the foregoing discussion in context, in traditional Jewish circles, witnesses can only be adult males who are recognized by their community as fully Shabbat observant. More progressive rabbis view women as equally eligible to sign, and do not require witnesses to be committed to Jewish living in its most traditional sense.
I take a special interest in knowing who a couple’s witnesses are, well in advance of the wedding. I want to know about their relationship to the bride and groom, and why they chose them to endorse this very special document. By understanding the connection between your signers and you, I’m able to make your ketubah signing ceremony more personal and intimate. Like you, they will also be a little nervous about signing such an important document in full view of your immediate families. The more I know about them, the better equipped I am to put them at their ease, and you too, for that matter!