Ketubot and civil marriage documents both serve to certify and legitimize a marriage; they simply recognize different authorities. A ketubah is a vital element of a Jewish wedding; this marriage contract outlines the groom’s responsibilities to the bride, describes the couple and the event in a way that leaves no room for confusion, and must be signed by two witnesses in order for it to be binding. The bride should keep the original, as it proves her wedded state.
Technically a ketubah has little room for variation: it should be in Aramaic, and use the prescribed halachic wording. However, as with many other elements of a Jewish wedding, it has been adapted over the centuries. Today a couple can choose not only the ornamentation of a ketubah but also their preferred language and phrasing, from Traditional to Modern, Egalitarian to Feminist, Interfaith to Same-Sex, and many other options.
Artistic ketubah for Sandra Ruth Dean and Ivan Scott Fried, who were married in Baltimore on June 8, 1975. The couple purchased this ketubah in Israel several years after the wedding; their names and some details have been filled in, but it was not signed by witnesses.
Gift of Faith Dean. JMM 2010.39.1, 2
State marriage certificate, 1915. Roseline Hyman and Robert Blacher were married by Rabbi Schaffer of Shearith Israel (an Orthodox congregation) on June 20, 1915.
This snapshot of Roseline Hyman and Robert Blacher is thought to date from their wedding day.
Gift of Steven Blacher. JMM 2008.118.1, 9
Ketubah, handwritten, 1837. Ze’ev Dov, son of Joseph, married Leah, daughter of Moses, in Baltimore on 8 Kislev, 5598 (corresponding to December 6, 1837). This traditional Aramaic ketubah was signed by two witnesses, as required, and also by the groom (only in recent years does the bride sign as well). T
Though relatively plain, the couple’s names are written in the circles at the top, and the central star contains an abbreviation meaning “Mazel Tov.” The happy couple may have been Bernhard Himmelrich and Leah Rice.
Gift of Samuel Himmelrich. JMM 1989.101.1
Ketubah, 1915. Roseline Hyman and Robert Blacher were married by Rabbi Schaffer of Shearith Israel (an Orthodox congregation) on June 20, 1915.
This printed ketubah, likely published in New York, was a common one in the early 20th century; both it and their state certificate were pre-printed documents, making things easy for the clerk and officiant.
Gift of Steven Blacher. JMM 2009.39.1
Marriage certificate, 1884. Tillie Kleineibst and Adolf Hirsch were married by Rabbi Henry Hochheimer of the Eden Street Synagogue (Oheb Israel/Fells Point Hebrew Friendship Congregation) on December 14, 1884.
In the late 19th centuries, many American Reform congregations used this type of certificate; it has more in common with a civil certificate than a ketubah, but it includes the key phrase “in accordance with Mosaic law”, and the congregation’s name is pre-printed on the bottom.
Gift of Richard Hirsch. JMM 1990.151.1
Framed marriage certificate, State of Maryland, for Mollie Lehman and David Newhoff, married by Rabbi Szold on October 17, 1888.
The frame is modern, but the original mat (now damaged) indicates it was framed at some point by the family.
Gift of Judith Newhoff Silverman. JMM 2011.1.1
Framed ketubah belonging to Joy Freedman and Lisa Gilden, who were married by Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Oheb Shalom on September 18, 2011; three months later, when same-sex marriages became legal in New York (they were not yet legal in Maryland), they had a civil ceremony in that state. Their ketubah was designed and painted by Lisa’s mother, Anita Carrico.
On loan from Joy Freedman and Lisa Gilden . JMM L2017.16.1