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.