Rabbi Lev Herrnson
How to Choose Your Ketubah
Updated: Sep 14, 2019
Like the marriage you are about to consecrate, choosing a ketubah is an exercise in tradition, creativity, personal preference, and sometimes, it’s just a matter of love at first sight. Your ketubah—that is, your Jewish marriage contract, should be an expression of your personal tastes (with respect to the artwork) and your aspirations for your life together (as represented by the text as it appears in Aramaic or Hebrew, and English). Choosing a ketubah also presents the opportunity for a couple to align thoughts and feelings with respect to art and expression in general. When choosing a ketubah, negotiations are sometimes required; other times, it truly is love at first site. I suggest a five-step process in selecting a ketubah.
Step 1—“Window Shop”
Browse one or more online virtual ketubah stores to get a general feel for the artwork offered by various artists. Take note of the various types (color lithographs, paper cuts, artwork with various appliques, etc.) and the sizes offered. Your purpose at this preliminary stage is to get a sense of what you, as a couple, love, like, like less, and what is an absolute “no”.
Step 2—“Bricks and Mortar Store Visit”
Assuming there are one or more Judaica shops near where you live or work, go as a couple to look at and handle some ketubot (plural, in Hebrew, of ketubah). By handling a few ketubot, you’ll get a sense of the dimensions, i.e. what 24” x 24” square actually means. You might also consider matting and framing and how it might enhance your choice once the document is signed and you’re married. You’ll also get a good feel for various artists’ artwork and how the art might look in a well-lit, or dimly lit room. Also, take note of the paper or cardstock upon which that the ketubah is printed. Assessing your reaction to various samples in a bricks and mortar store will help you to clarify what you love, what you like, and what you simply don’t want to consider. Now return to your online shopping, or visit additional Judaica stores, and come to some understanding, as a couple, as to your “top three” artistic choices. Can you narrow it down to a specific artist or genre? Good, because the next stage can be complicated!
Step 3—“Proof Text”
Online sellers (and bricks and mortar stores based on inventory) organize their offerings according to the Aramaic (or Hebrew) text, including but not limited to the following categories: Orthodox; Orthodox with English; Conservative; Conservative with Lieberman Clause; Reform, Liberal; and, Same Sex. With respect to the text, choices abound and there are many subcategories to each of these groupings. The choices are further complicated by the fact that not every ketubah is offered in every text category. Start to review the three ketubot you previously selected with respect to the text categories offered. Do you identify yourself as Reform? If so, see if any of your artistic selections are offered in a Reform version with an English translation that’s meaningful to you. Do you consider yourself Conservative? Review those texts associated with Conservative Judaism and the supplied English translations. Consider with great care and attention the text that appears on each ketubah, and keep in mind that you’ll read—or at least wake up to or pass by, on a daily basis, this text in your new home together. Take copious notes on all this or, if you are shopping online, bookmark the specific links so you can find your ketubot of choice easily.
Step 4—“Consult with Your Rabbi”
In advance of your next meeting with your wedding officiant, send him/her the links to the various ketubot that are “contenders” as finalists, or bring a printout of each. At that meeting, your rabbi will carefully review with you, in English, the meaning of the text in Aramaic (or Hebrew) so that you understand exactly what appears on the document. Together with your rabbi you’ll then compare the legalities and sentiments expressed in the Aramaic to that which appears in English. Do you like what’s reported in Aramaic? How accurate, or liberal, is the English translation? These are all things to consider in advance of making your lasting selection.
Step 5—“Decisions, Decisions”
Decide! Determine which artist/artwork you love. Carefully select the right/correct version with respect to artwork and the text in Aramaic and English. Make your purchase on line or at a store, but only after you’ve consulted with your rabbi. Keep in mind that your ketubah seller will ask you for your rabbi’s contact information as s/he will need to provide information about the date, time and location of your celebration. Place your order. Your ketubah seller will subsequently provide both you and your rabbi with a proof before anything is printed, personalized or shipped.
Additional things to consider:
Give yourself at least three months for this process. Ketubot may not be in stock or even backordered. The back and forth between you and the ketubah seller may take some time. Personalization of the ketubah also takes some time.
Printed artwork will cost more if it’s signed and numbered by the artist. Heavier gauge paper will also cost more, as will, for instance, archival quality. Perhaps you’ll decide upon a custom text: customization of text costs even more and will take additional time as your ketubah will be considered a “special order.”
How will your ketubah be shipped to you? Will the seller roll it up and place it in a mailing tube? (Thoroughly protects the document but requires effort on your part, in advance of the wedding, to ensure that the document stays flat.) Or perhaps the seller packages and ships it flat, like a framed painting? Does the seller provide a transparent acetate cover for presentation purposes? (Great for protecting your ketubah while it’s on display at your wedding.) Does the seller provide you with a pen that’s guaranteed not to bleed or feather? (See my post about ketubah pens.)
I’ve reported a lot of information above, but experience teaches me that working through all the steps will save your time, and trouble, in the end.
Mazal tov and happy shopping!
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