The ketubah is the wedding contract which states the husband's various obligations to his wife. The focal point of the document is the financial compensation due to the wife in the event of the marriage's dissolution through divorce or widowhood. The ketubah even includes provisions which place liens on the husband's different assets. The document is signed by kosher witnesses, but not necessarily the same witnesses who observe the betrothal beneath the chupah.

According to most halachic authorities, the ketubah is a rabbinic ordinance. The sages were troubled by the relative ease whereby a man could divorce his wife. They therefore instituted that no man may be married to a woman unless he obligates himself to pay a substantial imbursement in the event that he divorces her.

The sages were troubled by the relative ease whereby a man could divorce his wifeWhen a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman he automatically obligates himself to his wife in ten areas; some are Torah mandated and others by rabbinic decree. A number of these obligations are mentioned specifically in the ketubah and others are implied:

He must 1) feed his wife; 2) clothe her; and 3) provide her conjugal needs. His estate is obligated to 4) pay her a lump sum in the event that he divorces her or dies before she does. He must 5) pay her medical bills if she falls ill; and 6) ransom her if she is taken hostage. If the wife passes away before the husband, he must 7) pay her burial expenses, and 8) after he dies, her children inherit their mother's ketubah money before the rest of the estate is divided amongst all the heirs. In the event that the husband dies before the wife, 9) she is entitled to live in his home and live off his estate until she dies or remarries, and 10) her daughters, too, are supported by his estate until they marry.

Today, the standard ketubah is a printed form which has blanks for the date and the names of the bride, groom, and witnesses. Before the wedding, the officiating rabbi fills in these blanks and supervises the signing of the document by the witnesses. Also available today are customized ketubahs which are genuine works of art.

It is forbidden for a couple to live together, even temporarily, without a ketubah. In the event that the document is lost or destroyed, or if a serious error is found in its text, the couple must immediately obtain a replacement ketubah from a rabbi. This rule applies for the duration of the marriage. Hence it is wise to store the ketubah in a safe location.

Click here for the actual text of the Ketubah document.