The advantage of commissioning a custom ketuba is that you can combine any features you want with respect to text and design. For the text, you can use any combination of Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or English. There are a wide number of texts from which to choose, depending on the type of celebration you are planning.
You should always check with your rabbi to see if there are any guidelines he or she would like you to follow when selecting your text. If you are getting married by an Orthodox Rabbi, he will most likely require the traditional Aramaic text. If you are getting married by a Conservative Rabbi, and you are considering a contemporary text, you should check to ensure that it is okay. Some Conservative rabbis prefer the traditional text, often with the addition of the Lieberman Clause, and some are fine with whatever text you use.
When couples choose to use an egalitarian text for their artistic ketuba, they often decide to have two appropriate witnesses sign an inexpensive copy of the traditional text to store in their safe deposit box so they will have a ketuba that meets the most stringent standards in case one is ever needed.
Some of the practices regarding the use and signing of traditional and contemporary ketubot are described below. You might find the information useful before linking to the pages with the text examples listed below. This is the only page that provides links to specific ketuba texts
• traditional Orthodox text
• traditional text with Lieberman clause
• published contemporary egalitarian text
• self-written text (you'll need to come up with this on your own)
• interfaith text
• commitment ceremony text
• anniversary text
About the Traditional Text:
Until relatively recently, the only ketuba text in use was the 2500 year old traditional text, written in the language of Aramaic, though the letters are the familiar Hebrew forms. In its day, the traditional text was a revolutionary document, the first prenuptial financial contract to protect women. To learn more about its history, see my ketuba article, Of Ketubot and Connections. You can also view an English translation of the traditional text.
The traditional text continues to be used by many couples. It is the only acceptable text for an Orthodox wedding. Many Conservative couples also use the traditional text, either alone or in combination with an egalitarian English text (see Contemporary Egalitarian Texts below). While most Reform couples choose to use a more contemporary text, some maintain their ties to tradition by including the traditional text.
To be acceptable to the Orthodox, the text must be written with both left-and right-justified margins. If you have ever looked at a Torah, you may have noticed how certain letters can be elongated in order to achieve justification. The reason for having the text in a constrained shape is so there isn't space for someone to add a word that might negate the intent of the contract after it has been signed. When the margins undulate, there is no such guarantee. I have written justified traditional texts, including the signature lines, in the shape of a circle, square, and rectangle.
Many Conservative rabbis say they have found no halacha (law) that states that the margins need to be justified, and they are fine with having undulating edges. If you are leaning toward non-justified edges for the traditional text, you should check with your rabbi as to personal acceptability.
I always ask couples about their rabbi's orientation so I know what questions to have them ask to ensure that no red flags will be raised on the day of the wedding. It also gives me clues as to how to steer them away from designs that might be problematic. If I feel there may be potential issues, I make sure that I talk with the rabbi so we are all on the same wavelength.
Who Signs the Traditional Text?:
For most Orthodox ketubot, the only two signatures placed on the ketuba at the time of the signing are those of two witnesses. This practice dates back to Biblical times, when official contracts were signed by two witnesses who attested to the identity of the parties named in the document.
Orthodox rabbis, as well as some Conservative rabbis, require that the two witnesses meet all the criteria of being Jewish, male, unrelated to the bride or groom, and Shomer Shabbos (Shabbat observant). Many Conservative rabbis waive the Shomer Shabbos requirement, allow the bride and groom to sign, if they wish, and usually affix their own signatures to the ketuba as well. Many Conservative rabbis allow female witnesses, although some require that there also be at least two male witnesses. It is best to check with your rabbi to determine what is acceptable.
About Contemporary Texts:
The feminist movement helped to spawn a new approach to the language of the ketuba for couples who want to express their mutual feelings about an open, equal relationship instead of a contract about monetary issues. Many egalitarian texts, in which the bride and groom pledge equal vows to one another, have been published, as in Anita Diamant's helpful book on wedding rituals, "The New Jewish Wedding."
If you decide to commission a personalized ketuba from me, I will share with you a number of possible texts, many of which you will find on this web site. You can choose to use one of them as is, combine passages from various texts, tweak the wording, or use them as a starting place to write your own. You can view three of the contemporary texts in my packet, all of which can be written in any combination of Hebrew and/or English.
There are no restrictions about justified margins when using a contemporary text. Even the traditional text can be written with undulating margins for Reform and most Conservative weddings. There are also no hard and fast rules about wording, so couples can be creative and write a text that truly speaks to their hopes about their future together, their relationship, and their home life.
When a couple chooses to use only a contemporary text for their ketuba, I often suggest that they consider having an inexpensive print or photocopy of a traditional ketuba that two males sign at the same time as their artistic ketuba. Because young people from the United States sometimes move to Israel and find themselves making wedding plans there, it becomes necessary for them to prove that they are Jewish. This can be difficult for someone whose parents do not have a traditional ketuba. Since couples don't have a crystal ball and don't know what their children may choose to do one day in the future, or how the laws in Israel will evolve, it can be a matter of prudence to be prepared for unknown possibilities.
Some couples whose Conservative rabbi requires the traditional text, though they prefer an egalitarian text, are quite happy to learn they can satisfy both needs by signing a copy of a traditional text as well as a personalized artistic ketuba with their text of choice to hang on their wall. Of course, they need to discuss this possibility with their Rabbi to ensure that the Rabbi agrees.
My long experience in creating ketubot tells me when I need to counsel clients to check about potentially problematic decisions with their rabbi. I feel that my job is to get all possible issues on the table and resolved long before the ketuba signing takes place, so there will be no last-minute surprises. If I think it will be helpful, I sometimes contact the officiating rabbi to ensure that we're on the same wavelength.
Who Signs the Contemporary/Egalitarian Text?:
Most couples who use a contemporary text sign their own ketuba, along with at least two witnesses and the rabbi. Reform and Conservative rabbis usually require that the witnesses be Jewish and unrelated to the bride or groom. Some allow witnesses to be either male or female. If two male witnesses are required, and the bride and groom have female friends they would like to include, it is possible to have four witnesses, two male and two female.