If you’re having an interfaith wedding with Jewish components, you’ve probably decided to get a ketubah – a Jewish marriage contract. The ketubah is a traditional part of every Jewish wedding ceremony, and in modern times interfaith couples have found that incorporating this beautiful custom is a lovely way to include some of the Jewish partner’s heritage into their wedding. You may be having fun shopping for the perfect design, and discussing what you want the text to say. But you probably also have a lot of questions. Here are some tips to help you out:
Tip 1: Check with your rabbi about his or her text requirements
If your officiant is not a rabbi or cantor then your can ketubah can have whatever wording you want, but if a rabbi or cantor will be officiating at your ceremony, check with him or her first, before you do anything else! Although an interfaith ketubah is not a legal document according to Jewish law (as an Orthodox ketubah would be), many rabbis still have very strict policies about what kind of text they will (or will not) allow on an interfaith ketubah. The traditional ketubah wording refers to the bride and groom as followers of Jewish law, and if one partner is not Jewish, then this wording would technically not be accurate, so most rabbis do not want such wording included on an interfaith ketubah. In addition, rabbis are all different, and since your rabbi is the final authority on what is permitted at your wedding, you definitely want to know ahead of time if he or she, for example, forbids any Hebrew on the ketubah (an unlikely possibility, but it actually happened to one of my interfaith clients!)
And don’t just ask your rabbi or cantor for their general policies; make sure to show him or her the actual text you’re planning to use. I’ve known of couples who were unable to use the ketubah they carefully selected, because their rabbi had told them any wording was fine, but then wasn’t comfortable with the wording when reading though the text right before the signing ceremony! The last thing you want is any unpleasant surprises at your wedding!
Tip 2: Find or write a text you’re both comfortable with
Although many couples concentrate on the design of the ketubah, don’t forget that this is a special document that will be with you for your entire lives together. The wording is just as important as the design, if not more so! There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of ketubah texts available online, so spend some time reading to see what is out there. You may find a text you love just the way it is, or you may decide you want to compose your own ketubah wording. Most ketubah artists offer their own texts, but it sometimes happens that a couple likes one artist’s design, but another artist’s text. If this is the case for you, check to see if it’s possible to add a custom text to the ketubah you like, and then make sure to ask the author’s permission to use the wording. It’s a violation of copyright law to use someone else’s wording on a commercial product without their express permission. The author may charge a fee for usage rights, in which case you’ll have to decide wither you want to pay the fee or go with another text.
If you can’t find any ketubah texts you’re completely happy with, write your own! Composing a text together can be a very special and memorable part of planning your wedding. If you want your ketubah text in both English and Hebrew you may be able to get your rabbi or a friend to translate your English wording for you, or your ketubah artist may offer translation services for a fee.
Tip 3: Check with your rabbi about your names
Once you’ve found your perfect ketubah, and you’ve chosen or composed your perfect ketubah text, the next question is always “how the heck do we handle our names in the Hebrew?” If the Jewish partner has a Jewish name, it’s customary to use it on the ketubah, in conjunction with the parents’ Hebrew names, which serve the function of surnames. The traditional Jewish naming convention follows this formula:
[Hebrew name] son/daughter of [Father’s Hebrew name]
In more progressive communities it has become customary to also include the mother’s name, as follows:
[Hebrew name] son/daughter of [Father’s Hebrew name] and [Mother’s Hebrew name]
In addition, if the father is a Cohain or Levite it is traditional to include that, as follows:
[Hebrew name] son/daughter of [Father’s Hebrew name] the Cohain/the Levite and [Mother’s Hebrew name]
And if either parent is deceased, it is customary to use an acronym after their name, z”l, that represents the phrase “of blessed memory”:
[Hebrew name] son/daughter of [Father’s Hebrew name] z”l and [Mother’s Hebrew name] z”l
(All of these “formulas” would of course be written in Hebrew on the ketubah.)
But what happens if one of you doesn’t have a Hebrew name?
In most cases when someone doesn’t have a Hebrew name their English name is transliterated into Hebrew letters and used instead of an actual Hebrew name. Your ketubah artist will probably be able to handle the transliteration for you, but again, check with your rabbi! Whatever you do, don’t make up a Hebrew name for the non-Jewish partner! Most rabbis will not approve, and might declare your ketubah unusable at the wedding. (Though again, if your officiant is not a rabbi or cantor then you can handle your names however you like.)
It also sometimes happens that the Jewish partner and parents all have Hebrew names, but they don’t know how to spell them. If this is the case with you, see if you can find any written records with the unknown Hebrew name (a bris or naming certificate, a bar/bat mitzvah certificate, parents’ ketubah), and if that’s not possible, you know what to do: check with you rabbi!
Tip 4: Filling in the ketubah: always get a proof
Once you have your text selected and approved, and your names figured out, go ahead and order your ketubah. You may choose to have your rabbi fill in the blanks at the wedding, but your ketubah will have a “filled-in” look (and don’t get me started on White-Out horror stories…) For the most elegant presentation you’ll want your ketubah artist to fill in your personal information when she or he makes the ketubah. That way the text will flow seamlessly and look like the work of art it’s meant to be, rather than a questionnaire.
Whatever you do, be sure to get a proof before the final document is created. Most ketubah artists will include a proof in their personalization process. This is your opportunity to make sure everything is spelled correctly and exactly the way you ordered it before the ketubah is actually made. Take advantage of the proof and go over it very carefully! Have your rabbi check it with a fine-tooth comb. Make sure to allow plenty of time, and look it over more than once – proofing in a rush is never a good idea. If you find any errors after you sign off on the proof you will probably have to pay extra to have them fixed, maybe even up to the full price of the ketubah.
A ketubah is a lovely custom to incorporate into an interfaith wedding, and if you follow these four tips your ketubah ceremony should go smoothly. Happy ketubah shopping!