Central to the Jewish wedding ceremony and to Jewish marriage is the ketubah, a legal document detailing the husband’s obligations toward his wife. So important is the ketubah that a couple may not live together without it. Want to know more? Read on for 12 facts about the ketubah.

1. It Dates Back (at Least) to the Second Temple

The ketubah is an age-old document dating back to the Second Temple era (and perhaps even earlier).1 The sages of that period understood the heightened vulnerability of women, especially during pre-modern times, and their greater need to be protected from neglect or mistreatment. They therefore enacted the ketubah with the purpose of ensuring that a woman is cared for during and after marriage.

Read: The Jewish Marriage Contract

2. It Outlines 10 Obligations

The ketubah is a legal document following the stipulations of Jewish law, outlining 10 specific obligations the husband has toward his wife. These include providing her with necessities such as food and clothing, providing her conjugal rights, covering her medical expenses during illness, and should she pass away, bearing the costs of her burial.2 Additionally, a recurring theme in the ketubah is the husband’s duty to honor and respect his wife.

Read: Why Is Jewish Marriage So One-Sided?

3. It Safeguards the Woman Against a Hasty Divorce

The ketubah also delineates the husband’s obligation to pay his wife a substantial sum in case of divorce. This makes it harder for the husband to divorce his wife without appropriate reflection and consideration.3 The sum is also disbursed if the husband dies before his wife, leaving her a widow.4

Read: What Is the Ketubah?

4. The Monetary Obligations Are Considerable

Depending on various halachic particulars, the ketubah obligation is either 200 or 100 zuzim (sing. zuz, a Talmudic-era coin).5 When measured in silver, this sum equals 960/480 grams (34/17 ounces),6 valued at about 750/375 USD at the time of this writing.

While this base sum is relatively inconsequential, in reality, the ketubah also includes the commitment of the groom toward an added payment7 potentially valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.8

Read: Post-Divorce Financial Obligations

5. It Is Written in Aramaic

The ketubah is written not in Hebrew or Yiddish but Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Levant for hundreds of years.9 (That’s the same language as much of the Book of Daniel, as well as the bulk of the Talmud and Zohar.)

Read: Why Is the Ketubah Written in Aramaic?

6. A Rabbi Fills in the Blanks

Today, a standard ketubah is a printed form with blank spaces for the date, location, sums of money, names of the bride and groom, and the witnesses’ signatures. Before the wedding ceremony, the officiating rabbi fills in these blanks and supervises the signing of the document by the witnesses. The ketubah must be filled out by a rabbi well-versed in Jewish law, especially since the document’s nuances can vary greatly depending on the particulars of the couple in question (e.g. if the woman is a widow, convert, or divorcee).

Read the text of the ketubah

7. Two Witnesses Sign It

After the rabbi fills in the details, two Jewish adult male witnesses sign the document. These witnesses testify that the husband has committed to uphold the responsibilities outlined in the ketubah, and that the wife has agreed to marry him. They also affirm that a kinyan—a symbolic act of acquisition that reinforces the stipulations detailed in the ketubah—was performed.

Read: The Jewish Wedding Witnesses

8. It Is Read Under the Wedding Canopy

One of the rituals performed at a Jewish wedding ceremony is the reading of the ketubah after the groom places the wedding ring on the bride’s finger. This serves as a separation between the two distinct ceremonies performed under the chuppah—the betrothal (kiddushin) and the nuptials (nisu’in).10 After the ketubah is read, the groom presents it to his wife for safekeeping.

Read: Why Read the Ketubah at the Wedding?

9. It Is Forbidden to Remain Together Without It

The ketubah document is so vital to marriage that a couple may not live together without it.11 If it is lost or stolen, or if a mistake is noticed in the text (such as the incorrect spelling of a name), a competent Orthodox rabbi must immediately be consulted to fix or replace it.

Read: Guide to a Jewish Wedding

10. There Is a Tractate Named for It

One of the tractates of the Talmud is Ketubot, the plural form for ketubah, which discusses at length a couple’s marital obligations according to Jewish law. This tractate is famous for its foundational Talmudic discussions and is a staple of study in many yeshivas.

Study Tractate Ketubot in English

11. Some Are Works of Art

While many ketubot are straightforward printed documents—indeed, there is no halachic need for anything beyond that—others are works of art, with elaborate borders and ornate calligraphy penned by skilled professionals. Note, however, that the completion of the blanks within the ketubah is a task reserved solely for the officiating rabbi.

12. Check Before You Buy

The basic rubric of the ketubah is pretty much the same in all traditional Jewish communities. However, the exact wording differs slightly. In addition, some artists’ ketubahs are not ketubahs at all, but flowery declarations of love and dedication, which are not valid. As such, check with the officiating rabbi before commissioning or purchasing a ketubah for your wedding.

Read: What Is the Function of the Officiating Rabbi?