The reading of the entire Aramaic marriage contract is an
honored tradition. Maimonides said, "The custom of our fathers is law, and
custom was to read the ketubah aloud."
The origin of the reading is probably the twelfth-century
scholar, Rabbenu Tam. He indicates that it serves as a separation between the
two distinct ceremonies of betrothal and nuptials. Because it is placed as a
divider, the blessing over the wine can once again be recited at the start of
the nuptial service.
The ketubah is written in the language of the
Talmud. The Rabbis were careful even about the sounds of the phrases as well as
their legal import. It is not respectful to play background music to the
reading, which would detract from its special significance. The reading is
difficult and unfamiliar to most people, and probably only rabbis and scholars
will be able to read it creditably.
After it is read, the document is given to the groom for
him to hand to his bride and for her to hold in her safekeeping for all the days
of their marriage.
It is probably wise for the bride to pass it to her parents
or maid of honor so that it should not be lost. As already indicated, Jewish law
is clear that husband and wife may not cohabit without knowing the whereabouts
of their ketubah. If the rabbi sees that the couple will not be able to
care for the ketubah in the midst of the hectic celebration, he should
hold it until a more sober time when he will give it to the wife. If the
ketubah cannot be located, the rabbi must draw up a replacement contract.
There can be no nuptial service unless the ketubah
is given the bride. Since the Rabbis forbade conjugal relations without it, the
lack of the ketubah makes the ceremony kiddushin she’einah
re’uyah le’biah—a marriage that cannot be consummated.