The Ketubah: Not Just for Jewish Wedding Ceremonies Anymore

4:12 am - Posted by Rich

Garden Ketubah

Garden Ketubah

I know what you are thinking:  “Ketubah—it must be something like a tuba, right?” Well, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  A Ketubah (sometimes known as Ketuba without the ‘h’) is best known as a Jewish Wedding Contract.  It is a marriage contract that goes about 2000 years, essentially providing economic protection for the bride.  This fact alone makes a Ketubah “progressive.”  While photographs, invitations, and music might help you remember your wedding day, a Ketubah reminds you of the love and promises you have with one another.

A Ketubah Overview

A Ketubah (which is Hebrew for “marriage contract” and traditionally part of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony) is done in calligraphy and surrounded by decorative art that is as beautiful as the artist, or artists, can make it.  No matter how detailed and lovely the art may be, without the calligraphy, the Ketubah is merely ornamental, but with words, it is a contract between man and wife and should be taken seriously.

While there is a traditional Ketubah Text that you can use, the Ketubot (plural) I create normally have Texts that evolve to become the couple’s wedding vows.   In a short ceremony that precedes the normal marriage ceremony, the Ketubah text is carefully reviewed by both bride and groom and signed by the two people getting married, the officiate, and two witnesses.  I love this moment. Watching two individuals sign a Ketubah (they are usually nervous because they don’t want to mess up the art) and pledge themselves to one another through a contract creates a unique, warm, and lifelong memory.

Interfaith Ketubah combining Irish, Hawaiian, and Jewish cultures with a water theme.

Interfaith Ketubah combining Irish, Hawaiian, and Jewish cultures with a water theme.

The Ketubah Process

I usually meet with the prospective bride and groom 3-6 months prior to the wedding date.  Starting early provides us with plenty of time to help the bride and groom determine what is most important to them and identify what will and won’t be included in this art.  At our first meeting, I will show a few past pieces, ask some open-ended questions, and do a bit of sketching.  I then make a copy of the sketch for them to take home and review.

At our next meeting, we really begin to design the art, which includes the Ketubah’s overall shape, where the calligraphy will go, the content for the art and text (which is often quite personal), and the color scheme.  It’s most rewarding for me to witness their growing excitement as this piece, which is all about them, takes life.  Also, the couple will decide what is not important enough to include.  It is fascinating to watch this negotiation, which is always done with love.  To me, this is what a Ketubah is all about—distilling this couple’s love on to a 30” x 22” piece of watercolor paper.

Throughout the whole process, I take photos of the Ketubah in its various stages and send them to the couple.  This allows them to see its progress, and, most importantly, to refine and revise it along the way.  If they wish to come over to view its progress in person, they are welcome to do so at any time.  After my part is nearly or completely finished, I hand the art over to the calligrapher.  The calligrapher then scribes the couple’s chosen Text (which is often done in Hebrew and English) on the Ketubah.

You don’t have to be Jewish to have your own Ketubah

Most of the Ketubot I’ve done are Interfaith, meaning one person in the couple is Jewish and the other is not.  A good Ketubah illustrator can combine a couple’s different cultures or origins through the use of symbolism, color scheme, and Text and create a piece of art that truly reflects their everlasting union.   To me, a Ketubah is about two people’s love and not their religion, and I consider it an honor to create a Ketubah and to work with those couples in a “rarified state” leading up to their wedding day.


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