Toward a More Balanced Wedding Ceremony

Envisioning ceremonies that respect modern gender roles and adhere strictly to tradition.

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Betulta, "virgin." It is currently the practice to use this description for the woman's first wedding, regardless of her personal status. This description is not essential and may be totally eliminated or replaced with a generic phrase such as L'kalah hayikarah (to the dear bride). (It should be noted that the absence of the word "betulta" may raise questions in the future as to whether this was a first wedding for the bride. This would be a concern if she becomes widowed from this marriage and then wishes to marry a kohen, who is not allowed to marry a divorcee. Based on similar considerations, if the woman has been divorced there needs to be some textual indication in the ketubah as to her personal status.)

Beyond these minor adjustments, there is the possibility of adding additional stipulations in appropriate places in the ketubah as is the practice in Sephardic communities. The groom can insert a statement that he will not take a second wife or divorce his wife against her will. This space can also be used to insert phrases of mutual love, support, and commitment. Of course, any new language needs to be carefully reviewed by a competent halakhic authority.

For couples who are disturbed by the unequal nature of the financial obligations in the ketubah, additional modifications are possible. For its time, the ketubah was quite progressive, ensuring that the wife was treated as a person and was provided for during and after the marriage. The Rabbis, through the ketubah, obligated the husband to pay specific sums if he divorced (or predeceased) her, thus ensuring that a husband did not treat his wife as property, to be disposed of at will. (See Ketubot 11a, and P'nei Yehoshua to Ketubot 39b. For a full treatment, see Judith Hauptman, Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman's Voice, pp. 62-68.)

The ketubah also protected the wife's interests by requiring the husband to provide her with lodging, clothes, and food, in exchange for which he is entitled to her earnings. However, these ongoing obligations may be modified, and a marriage contract that speaks of shared earnings and shared financial responsibilities is indeed possible within halakhah.

The halakhah states that since the husband's obligations were instituted for the benefit of the woman, the woman is entitled to waive them. (See Ketubot 58b, and Shulkhan Arukh, Even Ha'Ezer, 69:4.) If they are waived, the wife would be entitled to her own earnings, and would be financially responsible only to herself, and the same would obtain for the husband. They could both then obligate themselves to share their earnings and to share the financial obligations of the household.

With the approval of recognized halakhic authorities, some Israeli rabbis have begun to attach riders to the ketubah that incorporate such stipulations. These stipulations have not been inserted into the ketubah itself, so as not to modify the traditional, central ketubah text.

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Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Head of Academics of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York. Rabbi Linzer lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to halakhah, Orthodoxy, and modernity.