Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Jacob and I have finalized the wording of our ketubah! A ketubah is a formal wedding contract in the Jewish tradition. Many people say that its original incarnation was a feminist act since it belonged to the wife and guaranteed that the man she married would provide for her or at least think twice about divorce since it would be costly. Still, the version that is acceptable to Orthodox rabbis in Israel (oddly, a more important distinction than you might think) states that the man acquires the wife and only men can witness the contract.

Since our marriage is considered illegitimate by Orthodox rabbis in Israel, anyway, Jacob and I decided to create our own contract and to sign it during our ceremony. We might also read it to our guests like my friends did last weekend with their "family mission statement."

We borrowed some lines about the history of covenants from a version that A. is using for her ketubah and used some texts from modernketubah.com as a rough draft. Then, we changed words and altered sentences until it felt right. At one point Jacob said, "Those sentences don't sound right," and both of us together said, "Could we use a colon?"

I suppose that we should have made a list of everything that we wanted to be included and written from scratch since I do claim to be a writer. However, that seemed a little daunting and I wasn't sure that I could get the right feel of a spiritual contract. It probably would have turned out more like a family mission statement. Using someone else's structure to build upon was very helpful.

As it was, we found that as we were adding and subtracting, each of us actually did have a list in our heads. Jacob pointed out that one draft didn't say anything about the children we hope to have. I really needed to have the hard work of marriage specifically committed to. After we thought we had a final draft, I realized in a frenzy that nowhere was our love for each other mentioned, even though both of us believe strongly that love is a deliberate action in addition to being a feeling. It was a good process and not very much stressful. The conversations stretched over two or three session over several weeks. I think the only contentious moment was when I wanted to include the name of Jesus. The name itself is really threatening to Jacob (and other Jewish people that I have met) and it took awhile for us both to calm down enough to include it.

When issues like that came up, we asked, "What do we want our children to get out of this document?" In that case, we decided that it was important that the document be undeniably interfaith.

Jewish tradition states that whenever a commandment is being fulfilled through a physical object, it should be made as beautifully as possible. To that end, many ketubot are gloriously illustrated, framed and hung in prominent places of the house. Ours will be no different. Our friend from church is both fluent in Hebrew and a stunning artist. She has agreed to create our ketubah for us. I couldn't be more pleased.

So, here is the text:
This ketubah witnesses before God and all present that on the sixth day of September in the year 2009 in the community of Chicago, IL, the holy covenant of marriage is entered into between R. and J. This agreement into which we are entering is a holy covenant like the ancient covenants of our people, made in faithfulness to stand forever. It is a covenant of protection and hope like the covenant God swore to Noah and his descendants. It is a covenant of devotion, joining hearts like the covenant David and Jonathan made. It is a covenant of mutual loving kindness like the wedding covenant between God and Children of Israel. It is a covenant of grace and peace like the covenant made between God and all humanity in the story told about Jesus. Because of this covenant, we will celebrate the flow of the seasons: in times of happiness we will cherish each other and in times of trouble we will protect each other. We will create a home built on the foundations of our traditions, and nurtured by the values of our families. We will love our children and teach them to embrace gratitude, humility, tolerance and forgiveness. We will love each other and do the hard work necessary to stay compatible. We commit to following God’s commandments and to working together toward the task of mending the world. Surrounded by family and friends, we affirm our commitment to each other as partners.

Pretty stinking cool, isn't it? This makes me even more excited to marry this man.


Anonymous said...

Oh man, I love our ketubah text so much that it gave me a little flutter to read that you'd borrowed some of it! Your text is beautiful--I am impressed that you were able to write words with such articulate gravity yourselves. I can imagine how amazing it feels to read this thing, this promise you are going to make to each other, so perfectly written. Love it.

ABG said...

Thank you for sharing this, R. It is beautiful.

Daniel Sroka said...

What a beautiful text you two wrote! I'm glad some of my language was helpful to you in getting started. If you don't mind, I'll have to think about adding some of your heartfelt ideas into one of my own texts.


Daniel Sroka
Modern Ketubah

Jessica Young said...

I've seen several of these now in people's homes: they're always so lovely, guilded and colorful. I'm delighted that you two could create a contract that reflects you both. Tasty.