Interfaith couples find meaning in the ketubah

Kirsten and Jonathan Sidell pause after signing their ketubah in October 2015 Photo provided

Kirsten and Jonathan Sidell pause after signing their ketubah in October 2015
Photo provided

At their 2014 wedding, Jessica and Drew Ginsberg served focaccia as an homage to where they met —a California Pizza Kitchen in Bethesda. Jessica and Drew, now 30 and 28, said they wanted the details of their wedding to have significance.

The Ginsbergs focused a good amount of thought on one item in particular — their ketubah, or marriage contract. Like many interfaith couples, they chose to customize this ancient document and give it personal meaning.

“We wanted to design our ketubah so that it was a reflection of us and our relationship,” said Drew Ginsberg.

Other couples opt for reproductions of historic ketubot, like this one from 1614 from Venice, Italy. Courtesy of Ketubah.com, an authorized reproduction from the permanent collection the Jewish Museum of New York

Other couples opt for reproductions of historic ketubot, like this one from 1614 from Venice, Italy.
Courtesy of Ketubah.com, an authorized reproduction from the permanent collection the Jewish Museum of New York

The Ginsbergs’ ketubah includes the line “our home will be built on the foundation of our faith and values” and is surrounded by a colorful watercolor design.

Rabbi Sarah Tasman, the director of InterfaithFamily in Washington, said she sees the desire to personalize ketubot as part of a larger trend of couples customizing their weddings. Increasingly, couples are choosing nontraditional kiddush cups and modifying the customary seven blessings recited during the ceremony, she said.

“The biggest trend I see in the weddings I do is that people want the Jewish tradition to feel personalized,” said Tasman.

Traditionally, the ketubah is a pre-nuptial agreement that establishes a husband’s obligations to his wife and protects her in the case of divorce or the death of her husband. Today, while some couples stick to the traditional Aramaic text and Jewish designs, others choose to modernize their ketubah with new versions of the text and artwork that doesn’t contain Jewish imagery.

With interfaith marriages becoming more common — a 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that 39 percent of Americans who married since 2010 had a spouse who belonged to a different religion than they do — people are seeing the ketubah as a means of consecrating their marriage, even if they aren’t Jewish.

A contemporary ketubah by Fairfax artist Shell Rummel Courtesy of Ketubah.com

A contemporary ketubah by Fairfax artist Shell Rummel
Courtesy of Ketubah.com

An article in The New York Times stated that “such sentiments have been reshaping the market for ketubot in the past decade.”

Tasman believes that deviating from the conventional Aramaic text reflects “a more ancient tradition of variation among ketubah texts.” The earliest extant ketubah is from around 440 BCE and was found in Egypt, according to ketubah.com.

Tasman said the standardized version of the ketubah didn’t appear until several hundred years later and that the artwork on ketubot has also changed throughout history.

“I see the variety of ketubot available as an example of the longstanding tradition of innovation and creativity within Jewish ritual and Jewish liturgy,” she said.
Michael Shapiro, the founder and CEO of ketubah.com, said that more people are choosing artwork for their ketubot that isn’t directly connected to Judaism.

“Twenty years ago, the designs that sold best had very specific Jewish imagery,” he said. “Now it’s common to see couples focusing on designs because they are beautiful art.”

Shapiro’s site offers a wide range of texts, including Orthodox, Reform, egalitarian and secular humanist versions, as well as the option to write a custom text. The site offers designs that range from “zen coloring” to reproductions of 17th- and 18th-century ketubot found in the Jewish Museum of New York City.

Ketubah.com also offers interfaith texts, and Shapiro said that interfaith ketubot now account for approximately one third of his sales.

Interfaith couples choosing between adaptations and writing their own document face the same questions as all couples who decide to deviate from the traditional Aramaic text: whether to mention  God in their text, how much of their personal vows to include, what type of artwork to choose and how many witnesses they want to sign the document.

But interfaith couples also face other decisions, like whether to state that they intend to create a Jewish home, how much to emphasize Judaism, and whether or how much of the non-Jewish partner’s faith tradition to include.

Another interfaith couple, Jonathan and Kirsten Sidell of Silver Spring, chose to include the phrase, “We shall strive to build a home that honors our families’ unique stories and weaves our commitment to the Jewish faith into the fabric of our lives.”

Jonathan Sidell, 33, said they based the text of their ketubah on “Jewish texts, secular faith and an emphasis on us agreeing to support one another.”

“In looking at all of the sites that are available online, it became apparent that it’s not something that has to be done a certain way,” said Kirsten Sidell, who is 30.

Like the Sidells, the Ginsbergs borrowed from what they found online, but ultimately felt free to make the text their own.

“A big theme of our wedding is that we wanted it to be ours,” said Jessica Ginsberg. “Some people don’t like to get too caught up in the details, but we wanted it all to feel like us.”

galtshuler@midatlanticmedia.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *