The Ketubah Text

The traditional Aramaic text of the ketubah (marriage contract) reflects the history of Jewish marriage.

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The Groom Promised the Basic Support

"... and I will work for thee, honor, provide for, and support thee, in accordance with the practice of Jewish husbands, who work for their wives, honor, provide for and support them in truth."

Support. This is referred to as the alimentation clause. Providing support is elemental in marriage, and is considered so obvious that the Talmud makes no reference to it. But the phrase is so beautiful and appropriate that it appears in the ketubah not only once but twice, "honor, provide for, and support... honor, provide for, and support.... " Indeed, one authority described it as le'shufra di'she'tara (for the beauty of the contract).

Funds for the Wife, If and When the Marriage Terminates

"… and I will set aside for thee 200 silver zuz mohar due thee for thy maidenhood, which belong to thee according to the law of the Torah, and thy food, clothing, and other necessary benefits which a husband is obligated to provide; and I will live with thee in accordance with the requirements prescribed for each husband."

The Mohar. The funds, called mohar, are so important that this clause is called ikkar ketubah--the basic part of the ketubah, or simply the ketubah. Mohar is the cash gift the groom gives the bride, as Eliezer, Abraham's servant, gave "precious things" to Laban, Rebekah's father, and as Jacob gave seven years of service for the hand of Rachel. The great sage and the ketubah's most important author, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach, decreed that this serve as protection for the bride rather than only a gift, and ordained that the funds were not given but set aside for the bride. During marriage, therefore, it was considered a debt which was paid only in case of death or divorce, and the mohar thus became a divorce or life insurance settlement rather than a mere marriage gift. This arrangement also enabled poor grooms to marry without any immediate monetary expenditure. The Talmud provides another reason, mishum china, to give the woman a secure financial position at the time of divorce so that she may remarry, and make the trials of marriage less poignant.

The Law of the Torah. There is a running dispute between the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud as to whether this settlement, which all agree is historically of biblical times, is biblically or rabbinically mandated. Today we generally take mohar to be rabbinically commanded, yet because of the gravity of the marriage bond we persist in using, "which belong to thee according to the law of the Torah." We also include "200 silver zuz," the Tyrean coin used in biblical assessments, rather than the "current" coin used in rabbinically ordained payments.

Mohar for brides previously married is one-half the total and is recorded as rabbinically mandated.

Food, Clothing, and Conjugal Relations. The obligations are basic to marriage and are obligatory even without specific contractual condition. They are the rights (including conjugal relations) of the wife, and are accounted duties of the husband.

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Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.