What is a ketubah?
A ketubah (plural ketubot) refers to a Jewish marriage document. Traditionally it denotes a particular prenuptual contract that stipulates how the husband would support the wife and to what she was entitled in the event of the dissolution of the marriage. Nowadays the term is used more loosely and can indicate anything from a Jewish legal contract to a personal oath or statement of values between the people getting married and it may not have any religious content at all. Geek Calligraphy offers four different text options: Traditional Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi with Lieberman Clause, RA Gender Neutral Lovers’ Covenant, and Secular English Marriage Covenant. We can also calligraph a custom text of your composition.
How do we get a ketubah with our names on it? or; how does the personalization process work?
For the four texts that we offer, most of the text is pre-printed together with the artwork with blank spaces left for the names, date, and other information. When you check out, you will be asked to supply the basic information for your wedding. Ariela fills in the information you enter on the form using the same pen and the same calligraphic alphabet she used to create the original text proof for a seamless look.
Where does the ketubah come from?
The marriage contract was introduced to the Jewish marriage process approximately 2,500 years ago. In a patriarchal (and heteronormative) society, the ketubah was designed to protect the wife, who could be otherwise vulnerable. The ketubah stipulated that the husband must provide three things to his wife: food, shelter, and conjugal relations. It also lays out explicitly the money to which she was entitled in the event of the husband’s death or a divorce. At the time the ketubah was adopted, the Jews were mostly speaking Aramaic, and that is the language in which most ketubot are still written, though there is no legal requirement to do so.
According to Jewish law, a ketubah is necessary for spouses to be allowed to live together. If a ketubah was destroyed or irretrievably lost, they would have to obtain a replacement (ketubah d’irkasa, frequently mis-termed as ketubah d’irketa).
The Ashkenazi community (Jews from Eastern Europe) has adopted standardized ketubah payments based on the status of the bride at the time of the marriage, and the language of the ketubah is largely the same throughout most Ashkenazi communities. Sephardic communities (Jews from the Middle East, Spain, Portugal, and other places) have more variation in language and most do not have a standardized system of ketubah payment amounts. While it was a progressive move to protect the wife legally at the time the ketubah was introduced, many couples today find the idea of contractually binding themselves in a power imbalance unacceptable. Some add clauses to balance those already in the ketubah, while others decide to forego the traditional marriage structure – and the corresponding ketubah structure – entirely.
The ketubah document has attracted artistic adornment since the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance and has become a notable form of Jewish art.
Which text should we choose?
Geek Calligraphy offers four different texts, as well as the option to compose your own. Look over the text options and, if getting married in a Jewish ceremony, consult your officiant – some have mores specific requirements for a ketubah than others.
Traditional Ashkenazi: This is one of the standard variations of the Ashkenazi text. It is a prenuptial agreement between the groom and the bride. The groom promises to support the bride and that she will receive a certain sum of money in the event of divorce or of his death. Geek Calligraphy requests that anyone purchasing this text affirm that they are also signing a measure against iggun such as the RCA Prenup. (What's this?)
The text is all in Aramaic and Hebrew and in the public domain. Two witnesses are the only signatories.
Ashkenazi with Lieberman Clause: The core of this text is the same as the Traditional Ashekenazi, serving as a prenuptual contract in which the groom promises to support the bride and provide a certain amount of money to her in the event of his death or a divorce. The change is the additional of an arbitration clause composed by Rabbi Saul Liebermanl z”l. In the event of a civil divorce, the Lieberman clause stipulates that either spouse can appear before the Joint Beit Din of the Conservative Movement and request a get, a Jewish divorce document, and initiate a religious divorce; without this clause, only the man can initiate religious divorce proceedings. (Learn more)
This text is all in Aramaic and Hebrew and in the public domain. Two witnesses are the only signatories.
RA Gender Neutral Lovers’s Covenant: This is a text composed by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement of North America. While it was designed for same-sex marriages, many couples who are not same sex find it meaningful as well. It references Torah and Talmudic passages to create a vow of partnership and exclusivity between the couple. The text is in both Hebrew and English, the English being a direct translation of the Hebrew, and is the property of the Rabbinical Assembly. Two witnesses sign as well as the couple being married.
Secular English Marriage Covenant: With no mention of religion or god, this text is suitable for a wide range of couples. It promises equal partnership between the two parties while recognizing the autonomy of both in matters emotional, practical, familial, and financial. The text is gender neutral and makes no mention of sexual exclusivity, making it appropriate for a primary partnership within a polyamorous relationship. This text is entirely in English and is the property of Rachel Berkson, all rights reserved. Two witnesses sign as well as the couple being married.
Can we write our own text?
All of the Geek Calligraphy’s ketubah designs are also available blank so that we can individually calligraph your own custom text into the design of your choice. You will need to type the English portion of your text exactly as you wish it to appear on the ketubah. If you want Hebrew on your custom text, you will have to have the Hebrew portion either typed in Hebrew, or written out very neatly by hand.
Please allow 6 to 8 weeks to complete. The cost of custom texts is $1.50 per word, plus a layout fee that varies from design to design. Custom texts are labor-intensive, so if you need one sooner than 6 weeks, there are rush charges: an additional 10% for under 6 weeks, 20% for under 4 weeks, and 40% for anything under 3 weeks. If you have any further questions, please feel free to email us or call.
Do you have an Orthodox text?
The one you want is the Traditional Ashkenazi. The Ashkenazi rabbis standardized their ketubah text relatively early, but there was considerable variation in Sephardi ketubot up until very recently. We call it Traditional Ashkenazi to make it clear what you are getting. If your rabbi insists on something else, we can write a custom text for you.
Do you have a Conservative text?
The Conservative Movement will use either the Traditional Ashkenazi with a t'nai b'kiddushin and/or a Lieberman Clause.
Do you have a Reform or Reconstructionist text?
Neither the Reform nor the Reconstructionist Movement has a single approved ketubah text, so we do not carry anything that can be called such. Check out the Gender Neutral Lovers’ Covenant and the Secular English Marriage Covenant, as they may suit you.
Will you write a same-sex text?
Sure! Feel free to consult the Gender Neutral Lovers’ Covenant text and see if that meets your needs. If it doesn’t, we will be happy to write something especially for you.
Will you write a ketubah for a poly wedding?
You bet. The Secular English Marriage Covenant does not promise sexual exclusivity, so it may be appropriate for a primary partnership. And you can always commission a custom text, if you want different terms or wish to include more than two partners in the document.
Is there anything you won’t write?
We will not write any hate speech. Also nothing about pledging to sacrifice kittens or anything.
What happens if my name is too long to fit?
Ariela leaves a large amount of space for names, and she can generally contract her writing to fit most names. In cases of extremely long names, she may have to use a smaller pen to fit the entire thing. Alternatively, if your officiant agrees it is permitted, your surname might be omitted.
What happens if my name is really short? Will there be a gap in the text?
Nope. Many Hebrew letters are wonderfully stretchy, and Ariela can also increase the spacing between words and between letters to make sure there are no gaps. In the cases of extremely short names, or in English (which does not lend itself to stretching like Hebrew does), decorative flourishes will be added to ensure that there is no visible gap in the text.
How should we enter our Hebrew names on the ketubah form?
There are two options for entering your Hebrew name. You can use Hebrew ASCII characters cut-and-pasted from an appropriate source, such as Magictyper . Please bear in mind that this is an LTR text field, so you will need to reverse it. (We hope to change that soon, but for now, please bear with us.) You can also transliterate your Hebrew name. If you are concerned about getting it right, please feel free to send us an email after placing your order. Please reference your order number when doing so.
What if I (or my parents) don’t have a Hebrew name?
If you are ordering a Secular English Marriage Covenant text, you can feel free to ignore these fields, as there is no Hebrew in your text. For the other three, if you or your parents don’t have a Hebrew name, please write “transliterate” in the appropriate box and we will write your English name in Hebrew letters.
Why are you asking for our parents’ names?
The tradition of Hebrew naming predates surnames. People were identified as “Jess, child of David” rather than “Jess Davidson,” or, to use the Hebrew placeholder name, “Ploni, child of Moni.” The tradition has persisted. Many people now prefer to list both parents, so that option is provided as well. If you wish to omit one or both of your parents’ names on a text with Hebrew, please consult with your officiant and let us know.
I have a step-parent/adoptive parent I want to include on my ketubah; can I do that?
Absolutely. There is a formula for naming a non-biological parent which identifies them as m’gadel/m’gadelet, which literally translates as “the one who raised [person].” This is popular for step-parents or adoptive parents who were formative. Please consult with your officiant and let us know if you have extra parents whom you need to list in this manner.
I am a convert; is there a way to put my biological parents on my ketubah?
Absolutely. There is a formula for naming an additional parental figure which identifies them as m’gadel/m’gadelet, which literally translates as “the one who raised [person].” This is popular for the parents of converts, whose official Jewish parentage is listed as the Patriarch Abraham and the Matriarch Sarah. Please consult with your officiant and let us know if you have extra parents whom you need to list in this manner.
I don't want my parent's/parents' name(s) included; can they be left off?
There are many reasons why you might want to omit a parent's name from your ketubah. For the Secular English text, please just write "omit" in the name field. For texts with Hebrew, there are a number of mechanisms by which they can be elided, but they are not accepted by all Jewish legal authorities; please discuss this with your officiant before requesting that we omit a parent's name to make sure we use a method approved by your officiant.
Will my ketubah look exactly as I see it on my screen?
Your ketubah will look very similar, but not exactly the same. Screen technology is great these days, but different screen settings cause different devices to display differently. And no matter how good the display, paper is a very different medium than a screen.
Why are you asking what time the wedding is?
What is this רגל הקוף/regel hakuf thing you are asking about filling in? (Traditional Ashkenazi and Lieberman Clause only)
Many have a tradition of completing the ketubah at the wedding itself. Over the years, after the text became standardized, the tradition developed of always completing the same letter in the same word, to avoid having to hunt for the missing letter. That letter is the ק (kuf) in the word וקנינא. See the little straight line at the bottom left? That's called the regel, or leg, and it is very simple to complete. If you are unsure as to what your tradition is, consult your officiant.
How long does it take to fill a ketubah order?
From the day we receive your completed form, please allow at least 6 weeks for us to personalize a standard text and ship your ketubah. If you need it sooner, please let us know, though rush charges will apply and you will be responsible for any rush shipping charges. For a custom text (a text that you have written and want us to calligraph into one of our designs), please allow 6 to 8 weeks to complete. If you wish to commission custom art, please allow 6 months of lead time. Please understand that Ariela and the proofreaders are employed full time elsewhere, and our schedules cannot always accommodate faster turnaround.
What happens if there is a mistake on our ketubah?
Please fill in your form carefully and have the rabbi or officiant approve it. We cannot be responsible for any mistakes you make in filling out the form or for anything your officiant decides later is unkosher. Please make sure that you have provided the best phone number and email address at which to reach so that we can ask you any questions we might have. If we make a mistake (it is very rare, but it does happen) we will redo your ketubah immediately at no charge to you. If, however, the mistake is yours, you will be responsible to pay for return shipping and correction, or a new ketubah if the mistake cannot be mended easily. Helpful Hint: Check with all parents to make sure their names are correct.
Can we see a proof of the ketubah?
While many artists now use giclee printers to print ketubot with a computer-generated text, Ariela works old-school with pen and ink. We can provide a computer-generated text with your information filled in for you or your officiant to approve, but we cannot provide a proof of hand calligraphy, as that is done in the real world. Please note that if you require a signoff on a digital proof, that may delay shipping of your finished ketubah. Please email us if you wish to view a digital proof prior to filling in your actual ketubah.
How should we handle the ketubah during the ceremony?
Since the ketubah is actually read during the ceremony, many couples like to display it on an easel. Your ketubah will be stiff enough to stand up on its own, or you can purchase one of our mounting kits that will allow you to put it on a piece of foam core and cover it with an acetate envelope to protect it from spills, sneezes, or light rain. Alternatively, you can bring it to a framer and ask them to mat it for you before the ceremony and cover it with a sheet of acetate. (Don’t ask them to frame it yet, or else you won’t be able to sign it! You can complete the framing process after the ceremony.) Everyone who touches the ketubah should have clean and dry hands (wet hands, even if clean, can cause the ink to bleed!). Helpful Hint: Appoint someone reliable at the wedding to be in charge of the ketubah on the day of the event. This way you will be sure that it is not accidentally left behind at the end of the celebration, or worse, trampled or lost. Read the full care and feeding instructions for your ketubah.
What type of pen should we use to sign the ketubah?
Please use a gel pen to sign the ketubah – we have discovered that other types have a stronger tendency to bleed. You can use any color, though black is the one that will match the rest of the text. (The exception is the SpaceScape ketubah, where you must use the white pen provided, or a similarly light-inked pen, in order for the writing to show against the black background.) Helpful Hint: Have your witnesses practice signing your Hebrew names on a different piece of paper before you sit down to sign the actual ketubah (English names also if you need to). If you will be signing the ketubah as well, do likewise.
Can we fill in the ketubah by ourselves?
At this time Geek Calligraphy does not sell ketubot without personalization.
How should we display the ketubah in our home?
We recommend taking the ketubah to a professional framer and asking for acid-fee matting and backing as well as UV protective or archival quality glass. Hang your ketubah in a place that does not receive direct sunlight, as that can lead to fading. We also recommend not hanging it in a very humid place, like in a laundry room or kitchen. Read full instructions on the care and feeding of your ketubah »
Get? Iggun/Agunah/Agun? What do these terms mean? What’s this about divorce?
The way divorce works within a traditional Jewish marriage, a man must give his wife a document called a get and she must accept it for the divorce to take effect. If he refuses to give her one, or she refuses to accept it, it's possible to hold the other party hostage - they are still married in the eyes of Jewish law, and cannot get remarried. Sometimes people refuse to give or receive the get until the other spouse agrees to different financial settlements or custody arrangements. The word for a person in that situation is agun/agunah, which literally translates to "one who is chained;" the word for the state of being is iggun. It is a profoundly nasty thing to do to someone. In America, it is by far more common to see a husband refuse to give the wife a get; in Israel, where secular marriage does not exist, the split is closer to 60/40. There are a number of precautions couples can take against iggun. One common one is a separate pre-nuptual agreement such as the one endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA, the Orthodox rabbinical body). The one endorsed by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA, the Conservative rabbinical body) is the Lieberman Clause written by Rabbi Saul Lieberman z"l, which is inserted into the traditional ketubah text as the penultimate clause. While it is not pleasant to contemplate the possibility of divorce while planning your wedding, we recommend thinking about it as a statement of values; even in the event that the worst should happen, you are committing to act in an ethical manner toward the other party. Geek Calligraphy will not fill an order for anyone purchasing a ketubah that is binding by Jewish law for anyone who does not have some sort of iggun-prevention.Learn more »
We already have art from somewhere else; will you do the calligraphy for us?
Yes, Geek Calligraphy can do that, but we will have a bunch of questions to ask before we can say yes, including:
- What is the date of your wedding?
- Is the art finished? If not, when will it be finished? (We need at least 6 weeks to complete any such order.)
- What sort of paper is your ketubah art drawn/painted on? What medium is your art?
- What are the dimensions of the paper and what are the dimensions of the area in which the text is expected to go?
- How many words is your text? Is it in Hebrew, English, or both?
Note: We will not write a ketubah on canvas or work with art done in oil paint.