Generating a Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah) in One Step
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse , San Francisco



1. Why do you present two English translations?

The ketubah contains some archaic information, such as how many zuzim the bride is worth, and also indicates if the bride is a virgin.  Some of this is information that the couple would rather not put on display.  For this reason, the English text that appears on a ketubah is not necessarily a complete or accurate translation of everything that is written in Hebrew.

How accurate or complete the English translation is, is totally up to the couple.  It can be a literal translation of the Hebrew.  Or it can be vows that the couple themselves have written, having nothing to do with the Hebrew text.  It is the Hebrew text that determines the validity of the ketubah, and the English text can be changed to whatever the couple desires.

The first translation that I present is a fairly accurate and complete English translation, so that the couple can see what it is that they are really agreeing to.  Such a translation is rarely included on the ketubah.  Following that is an alternate English text, having the flavor of what is said in the Hebrew, but sparing some of the details.  My alternate text, or something similar, is what is typically included on the ketubah.


2. Do I have to indicate on your form whether or not the bride is a virgin?

No you don't.  My form is set up so that you can leave that field blank.

There are several places in the Hebrew text that the status of the bride is mentioned.  Typically there are four choices for the status of the bride -- virgin, divorcee, widow, or convert.  It is assumed that if the bride has not been married before, she is a virgin.  That is, virgin is not taken in the strict biological sense.  Many rabbis will simply ask if the bride has ever been married, and if not will enter the word "virgin."

If you find none of the four choices to your liking, just don't select any of them and the non-descript word "bride" will be inserted into both the Hebrew text and the English translation at the appropriate places.  Sorry, harlot is not a choice.  ;-)

It should be pointed out that there is an advantage to being designated as a virgin.  Specifically the amount of money that the groom sets aside for the bride is traditionally doubled.


3. What date should I enter if the wedding is performed after sundown?

Just enter the true secular date and check off the "after sundown" box.  My program will correctly compute the Hebrew date that starts at sundown on the day you entered.


4. Who signs the ketubah?

The only requirement is that the ketubah be signed by two witnesses.  The bride, groom, and rabbi are not required to sign, but they of course can do so if they like.

Basically a Jewish wedding ceremony consists of the groom asking the bride to be his wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel, and the bride consenting to do so.  In effect, the bride and groom are marrying themselves.  All that is necessary to make this religiously valid is for there to be two people who have attested to the fact that this has occurred.

There are several requirements on the witnesses.  For one, they must be male and Jewish.  For another, they must be unrelated to each other and unrelated to the bride or groom.  And relationship is broader than just a blood relationship -- for example, it includes in-laws etc.  And if this isn't restrictive enough, the witnesses must be sabbath-observant.  Frankly I doubt if that last requirement is often adhered to.

With all these requirements, it is sometimes hard to find two people who qualify.  And the couple might have a strong desire to honor someone as a witness, even though that person might be a relative or might be female.  Fortunately there is a simple way around that.  The two witnesses that the couple has chosen can sign their names below the English text, and two qualified witnesses can sign their name in Hebrew below the Hebrew text.  There is no requirement that the English and the Hebrew texts have the same witnesses, and it is the witnesses on the Hebrew text that count.


5. What is the ketubah really saying?

A ketubah is really a pre-nuptual agreement on the part of the groom.  It is stating how much he will give to the bride if the marriage is dissolved.  However it never says that outright, but rather does so in wording that needs to be interpreted.  So all the zuzim that the groom accepts and agrees to increase are in effect his divorce settlement.  And he agrees to mortgage everything he owns, even the shirt off his back, in order to pay that settlement.  Now re-read the English translation and you'll see this "hidden" meaning buried in the ketubah wording.


6. Are there variations in the Hebrew text of the ketubah?

No.  The same basic text has been used for several thousand years.  The Hebrew wording on your ketubah will be the same as the wording on your parents' ketubah, and on their parents' ketubahs, going back through the generations.  Phrases or sections may be added to the basic Hebrew text (see Lieberman Clause, question 7) but nothing may be deleted.  The text produced here is the basic Hebrew text with nothing added.


7. What is the Lieberman clause?


Traditionally a Jewish marriage can be dissolved by the groom applying for and obtaining a "get" from the appropriate religious authorities.  The bride does not have to give her consent.  (Of course this applies to the religious marriage only -- the rules for dissolving the civil marriage would be different.)

If the bride wishes to dissolve the religious marriage (because she wants to remarry for example), she needs to ask the groom to apply for  the get.  And that's where the inequality exists.  The groom might use this as a bargaining point, and say that he'll apply for the get only if she pays him a certain amount of money or agrees to certain conditions.  Whereas the bride has no such leverage over the groom when the groom is the person wanting to dissolve the marriage.

The Lieberman clause is a clause inserted into the ketubah that prevents the groom from refusing to apply for the get.  It has become a required part of the ketubah by most conservative rabbis, but is not permitted by most orthodox rabbis.


8. How do I obtain the Hebrew spelling of my city and/or country so I can enter it on the ketubah?

An easy way to do this is to go to translate.google.com.  Enter the languages (from English to Hebrew), type the name of the place, and it will tell you how to spell that place in Hebrew.  For example, if you type Philadelphia, you will get פילדלפיה and if you enter United States, you will get ארצות הברית

By tradition, North America rather than United States is entered as the country on the ketubah.  I have no idea why this is done.  The Hebrew for North America is אמעריקא הצפונית

[Second thoughts: I've added a pair of buttons on my form that say TRANSLATE CITY and TRANSLATE COUNTRY.  If you enter the English name of the city and/or country and press one of these buttons, you will be taken to translate.google.com with the Hebrew name of the locality dislayed.  You can then copy-and-paste that result into the appropriate field on my form.]


9. Is the Hebrew text of the ketubah normally subdivided into paragraphs?


No, the Hebrew text isn't even subdivided into sentences (there are no periods).  The lack of paragraphs prevents anyone from taking advantage of short lines to add words later.  But it makes it  hard to understand what the ketubah is really saying.

For that reason I provide you with the option of adding paragraph breaks to the text.  If you select that option, I insert the breaks into both the Hebrew text and the English translation.  Frankly I think that makes for a cleaner-looking text.

For the same reason, the Hebrew text is justified on both the left side and the right side (block justified).  That too prevents anyone from adding words later.  I provide you with the option of either block-justifying, right-justifying, or centering the Hebrew text.  It makes no sense to left-justify the Hebrew text since Hebrew is read from right to left.  I provide similar options for the English text.


10. What language is the ketubah written in?

Although I have been referring to the language as Hebrew, the ketubah is really written in Aramaic.  But Aramaic and Hebrew use the same character set, and the words in the two languages are often similar.  So referring to the language as Hebrew is not that far off.


11. Why do you need to know if the bride's parents are living?

There is one place on the ketubah that mentions where the bride brought her property from.  The wording is traditionally "from her father's house" if her father is living, and "from her own house" if her father is not living.

In modern times, women are given equal weight to men, and the mother's name as well as the father's name can appear on the ketubah.  For that reason my form allows you to specify if the bride's mother is living.  If both parents are living, the wording "from her parents' house" will be used, and if only her mother is living the wording will be "from her mother's house."

Of course if you prefer the traditional wording of "from her father's house" even though her mother is still alive, you simply don't check the box about her mother being alive.  Don't worry -- that does not affect any other wording.  It is only used to determine whose house will be specified on the ketubah.

There are other situations that you might want to consider as well.  For example, the bride's parents might be divorced.  In that case the property would not be coming from her parents' house, but instead is coming from either her mother's house, her father's house, or neither.  You can control this wording by which of the boxes on my form you check.


12. How do I make my own ketubah?

The first step, of course, is to generate the Hebrew and English texts.  That's what my Ketubah generator is for.  Then you'll possibly want to modify the English text to be to your liking.  You can use any text editor or word processor to do that.

Next you'll want a blank high-resolution ketubah background onto which you can paste (using photoshop or equivalent) the text.  A background that I like is here as well as here.  For a very large selection of other high-resolution ketubahs, go to the Jewish National and University Library website.  Most of these are not blank but already contain text.  However it's simple to use photoshop to remove the existing text and paste in the new text.

To facilitate pasting the text onto the background, you'll first want to format the text so that the line length is consistent with the size of the background.  That is the reason that my form lets you specify the number of characters per line that you want.   Of course it's going to take a lot of trial-and-error to come up with values that work nicely for the background that you've selected.

But you cannot specify the number of characacters per line if you have indicated that you want the text to be block justified.  In that case you need to reduce or enlarge the width of your window in order to change the width of the lines.  If you already have your window set to take up the whole screen, you must then reduce the size of the window contents.  You do that by holding down the control key and pressing the minus (-) key.  To enlarge it you hold down the control key and press the plus (+) key.


13. What do I do if I want to use a special Hebrew font?

The simple answer is that you enter the name of your font in the appropriate place on my form.  But that doesn't always give the expected results.  So I need to give a more complicated answer.

First I need to explain character encoding.  The characters of all the major languages are encoded using a universal standard called unicode.  The low unicode values (below 128 decimal) are reserved for those characters that appear on a standard Latin-letter keyboard.  The characters in non-Latin alphabets as well as special characters in Latin alphabets are assigned higher values.

Next I need to explain what a font is.  A font is a mapping of a unicode value to a character shape.  There are two kinds of fonts, which I'll call universal fonts and local fonts (this is my own terminology).  A universal font maps all (or at least many) of the unicode values and a local font maps just the lower unicode values.

An example of a universal font is "Times New Roman."  It comes preinstalled on almost all computers.  The advantage of a universal font is that it supports a large number of alphabets.  The disadvantage is that you can't type all the characters that such a font supports -- you can type only the keys on your keyboard and those are the ones in the standard Latin character set.  A universal font is useful for displaying characters but not for entering characters.  If you don't specify any font, a universal font such as "Times New Roman" will be used by default.

A local font maps the lower unicode values (corresponding to the keys on a Latin keyboard), but it need not map these values to the Latin character shapes.  That is, it could map the "d" key on a Latin keyboard to a character shape in the Hebrew alphabet, such as "gimmel".  This is equivalent to changing the keycaps of the Latin keyboard (or putting an overlay on top of the keys) so that the user can type Hebrew characters using the standard keyboard.  Such a font has the advantage of allowing you to type characters of any alphabet using the standard keyboard.  But it has the disadvantage of not being able to display a document that is encoded using the unicode standard.  The Hebrew text that my ketubah-generator creates is encoded in unicode (actually utf8, which is a representation of unicode).

If you want to use a particular universal font, you simply enter or select the name of that font on my form.  The Hebrew text that I generate will have the name of the font embedded in it, and when your browser attempts to display the text it will use the designated font.  If that font is not installed on your computer, the default font will be used.

If you want to use a particular local font, the situation is a bit more complicated.  You would again enter or select the name of the font on my form, and I would embed the name of that font in the Hebrew text that I generate.  But in order for the font to display properly, I must convert each character having a high unicode value (as all the Hebrew characters do) to a low unicode value corresponding to a position on the Latin keyboard.  For example, I might replace all occurrences of "gimmel" with "d".  The problem is that different fonts have different conversion tables.  There is a standard conversion table that most fonts use, but some fonts have their own unique conversions.

The fonts in my drop-down list are fonts that my program is already familiar with, and it knows if the font is a universal or local font.  Furthermore, if it is local font, my program knows what conversion table to use for it.  If the font is one that you entered in the "other font"  field, I would have no way of knowing whether or not it is a universal font and therefore I wouldn't know whether or not it requires a conversion.  For that reason my form has a checkbox that you use to tell me if the font is universal.  If it is a local font and requires a conversion, I do not know what conversion table to use.  So I will use the standard conversion table since that applies to most local fonts.  If your local font requires some specialized conversion table, the font will not display properly.


DISCLAIMER

All of the above answers are based on my own understanding of what the ketubah is all about.  I do not claim to be a religious scholar, and I know I'll take a lot of criticism, especially from rabbinical circles, for some of the statements that I have made.

-- Steve Morse