KETUBBAH (Heb. כְּתֻבָּה), a document recording the financial obligations which the husband undertakes toward his wife in respect of, and consequent to, their marriage, obligations which in principle are imposed on him by law. For the ketubbah of a betrothed woman (arusah) see *Marriage.
In talmudic times in certain places it was customary to dispense with the writing of a ketubbah deed, relying on the fact that the said obligations are in any event imposed by law (Ket. 16b), but the halakhah was decided to the effect that a ketubbah deed must always be written, since it is forbidden for the bridegroom to cohabit with his bride until he has written and delivered the ketubbah to her (Maim. Yad, Ishut 10:7; Sh. Ar., EH 66:1). On the other hand, they are allowed to cohabit only when they are married, and so the ketubbah deed must be ready for delivery to the bride when the betrothal blessings (berakhot ha-erusin) are recited and before the recital of the marriage blessings (berakhot ha-nissu'in; see *Marriage). Since in modern times it is customary in practically all communities to celebrate the kiddushin and nissu'in at the same time, the deed must be ready at the commencement of the recital of the berakhot ha-erusin. At the present time a standard form of ketubbah deed is normally used, which is read before the bridegroom and the witnesses and signed by them (for a standard ketubbah deed, see A.A. Rodner, Mishpetei Ishut, 179f.).
The ketubbah was instituted for the purpose of protecting the woman, "so that he shall not regard it as easy to divorce her" (Ket. 11a; Yev. 89a; Maim. loc. cit.), i.e., in order to render it difficult for the husband to divorce his wife by obliging him to pay her, in the event of a *divorce, the sum mentioned in the ketubbah, which generally exceeded the sum due to her according to law. As this is the object of the ketubbah, some scholars are of the opinion that since the ḥerem of Rabbenu *Gershom, which prohibited the divorce of a wife against her will, the same object is achieved in any event; it is therefore argued – on the analogy of Ketubbot 54a concerning the ravished woman who is thereafter married by her ravisher and, according to pentateuchal law, cannot be divorced – that there is no longer any need for a ketubbah to be written. However it has remained the halakhah that a ketubbah is to be written (Rema EH 66:3, concl.).
The amounts specified in the ketubbah deed are those of the "main" ketubbah and its increment (ikkar ketubbah and tosefet ketubbah) and those of the *dowry and its increment, which amounts the wife is entitled to receive upon divorce or the death of her husband (Sh. Ar., EH 93:1).
The "Main" Ketubbah and its Increment
The "main" ketubbah specifies the amount determined by law as the minimum that the wife is entitled to receive from her husband or his estate on the dissolution of the marriage (Sh. Ar., loc. cit.). According to some scholars the liability to pay the main ketubbah is pentateuchal law (Ex. 22:15–16 and Rashi thereto; Mekh. Nezikin 17; Ket. 10a and Rashi thereto), but the halakhah is that the ketubbah is rabbinical law (Ket. loc. cit; Yad, Ishut 10:7; Ḥelkat Meḥokek 66, n. 26). The minimum amount, as laid down in the Talmud, is 200 zuz in the case of a virgin and 100 zuz in all other cases (Ket. 10b; Sh. Ar., EH 66:6). Since in all matters concerning the ketubbah local custom is followed, the equivalent of the main ketubbah is fixed in accordance with custom and with the kind and value of the currency prevailing at the respective place (Ket. 66b; Yad, Ishut 23:12; Sh. Ar., EH 66:6, Rema EH 66:11). The said minimum amount is an obligation imposed on the husband
If the husband so wishes, he may add to the minimum amount of the ketubbah, an increment known as the tosefet ketubbah. Here, too, local custom prevails: i.e., if by virtue of local custom or rabbinical regulation it is customary for an increment to be made, the husband will be bound by this and cannot stipulate less (Sh. Ar., EH 66:9–11). The general custom at the present time is to grant the increment, and this is also reflected in the standard form of the ketubbah deed. It is not required that the two amounts be separately stated in the deed; they may be fixed as an aggregate amount, provided that this is not less than the minimum locally determined for the main ketubbah (Rema EH 66:7). In 1953 it was laid down by the chief rabbinate of the State of Israel that the minimum amount of the ketubbah – i.e., for the main ketubbah and its increment – must not be less than IL200 for a virgin and IL100 for a widow or divorcee. The law regarding the increment is generally the same as that regarding the main ketubbah, unless the halakhah expressly stipulates otherwise (Maim. Yad, Ishut 10:7; Sh. Ar., EH 66:7).
Dowry (Aram. נְדוּנְיָא, nedunya)
In addition to the above-mentioned amounts, there is also fixed in the ketubbah deed the amount which the husband – of his own free will and by virtue of his undertaking under the ketubbah deed – renders himself liable to return to his wife, when he pays her the ketubbah, as the equivalent of her dowry (within the restricted meaning of term). This amount is called nedunya, and the husband's liability to return it becomes a monetary debt and a charge upon his estate (Rema EH 66:11). The question of whether, in the event of a fluctuation in currency values, the wife is entitled to recover the dowry to the amount specified in the ketubbah deed or according to its equivalent at the time of the recovery is greatly influenced by local law and custom concerning the repayment of a regular debt in such circumstances (Resp. Ḥatam Sofer, EH 1:126). Since the husband is permitted by law to trade with the dowry, it is the accepted custom for him to undertake liability for an increment to the dowry, i.e., to pay his wife an additional amount over and above the amount specified as the dowry; this is known as the dowry increment (tosefet nedunya), and all laws of the dowry are applicable to it. The usual custom, from early times, is to fix this increment at one-half of the sum specified as the dowry. As in all matters concerning the ketubbah, local custom is followed, this custom has become obligatory on the bridegroom; thus he undertakes in the ketubbah deed to pay the main ketubbah and the dowry, together with their increments (Sh. Ar., EH 66:11).
The Custom Concerning Consolidation of all the Ketubbah Amounts
As it is not required that the component amounts of the ketubbah be stated separately, an aggregate amount may be fixed, but it is also customary in some countries to enumerate them first separately and then state the aggregate amount (for the custom in Israel, see Rodner op. cit.). If, therefore, separate amounts for the component portions are not expressly stated, they are deemed to be included in the aggregate amount specified in the deed (Rema EH 66:7, concl.). Since, generally speaking, the possibility of divorcing a wife without her consent is precluded by the ḥerem of Rabbenu Gershom, and in practice she may make her consent conditional on the satisfaction of her pecuniary claims, it is customary in many countries of the Diaspora to specify a nominal amount only for each or all of the ketubbah components (e.g., 200 zekukim kesefẓaruf: see Baḥ EH 66). If, however, the wife is able to establish that the amount was written as a mere formality and not with the intention of limiting her rights, and that in fact the value of the property brought by her to the marriage exceeded the amount specified in the ketubbah deed, there is no legal obstacle to her obtaining satisfaction of her claims as far as she may prove them due to her. In the State of Israel it is the custom to specify in the ketubbah a realistic amount according to the specific respective facts.
In cases where the wife "forfeits" her ketubbah, the effect, in general, is that the husband is released from his liability to pay her those portions of the ketubbah which had to come out of his own pocket, i.e., the main ketubbah and its increment; in the absence of any express halakhic rule to the contrary, the wife does not forfeit the dowry or its equivalent, which is regarded as her own property, even when she is obliged to accept a bill of divorce with forfeiture of her ketubbah (see, e.g., Sh. Ar., EH 115:5).
The Ketubbah Conditions (Heb. תְּנָאֵי כְּתֻבָּה)
The financial obligations imposed on the husband by law (see *Husband and Wife) and specified in the ketubbah – in addition to the amount the wife is entitled to receive on divorce or the death of her husband – are called the " ketubbah conditions" (Maim. Yad, Ishut 12:2). The rule is that "the ketubbah conditions follow the law applying to the ketubbah itself " (Yev. 89a); i.e., insofar as the wife is entitled to the main ketubbah, she is also entitled to the rights due to her under the ketubbah conditions. On the other hand, her forfeiture of the right to the main ketubbah also carries with it the loss of her rights under the ketubbah conditions, such as her maintenance (Yev. loc. cit.; Rashi and Asheri thereto; see also Sh. Ar., EH 115:5).
Loss of the Ketubbah Deed
Just as the bridegroom is forbidden to cohabit with his bride after marriage unless he has written and delivered the ketubbah
For recovery of the ketubbah, see *Divorce, *Widow, and *Limitation of Actions.
In the State of Israel
The wife's rights under the ketubbah are unaffected by the laws of the State of Israel. However, according to the Succession Law 5725/1965, whatever she receives on the strength of her ketubbah must be taken into account against her rights of inheritance or of maintenance from the estate of her deceased husband (sec. 11 (c); 59).
[Ben-Zion (Benno) Schereschewsky]
Status of the Ketubbah in Modern Times
POLICY OF THE RABBINICAL COURTS
In general, when a divorce suit reaches the rabbinical courts, the court recommends to the couple that they arrive at a consensual agreement regarding the division of their joint property, and only afterwards does the court transact their get (bill of divorcement). In most cases, division of property involves, inter alia, the wife foregoing all rights entailed in the ketubbah deed. The courts tend not to enforce the commitments included in the ketubbah owing to their concern that enforcing the additional debts included in the ketubbah's increment (tosefet ketubbah) would trigger additional disputes between the husband and wife. As a result, the husband might find himself in the position of being forced to give the get, and the get would thus become a get me'useh, a coerced get. Moreover, the reason for the ketubbah's enactment – "so that he shall not regard it as easy to divorce her" (Ket. 39b) – has lost much of its significance, given that Rabbenu Gershom's enactment prohibits a man divorcing his wife against her will. In most cases, therefore, the parties come to an agreement on monetary matters before the divorce, in order to expedite their agreement on the divorce per se.
THE KETUBBAH'S PRACTICAL RELEVANCE
In some, albeit not many, cases, a ketubbah has practical legal relevance, and the rabbinical courts, and even the civil courts, do obligate the husband to pay the ketubbah. Alternatively, they may impose a different obligation, while relying on the sum recorded in the ketubbah. It should be noted that Israeli law recognizes the ketubbah as a binding document (Section 17 of the Monetary Relations (Spouses) Law 1973; as well as in various sections of the Succession Law, 1965).
For this reason, in recent years prominent halakhic authorities have exhorted the public not to ridicule the sum recorded in the ketubbah, not to fix exaggerated sums for the ketubbah and the increment, and not to treat it as a purely ceremonial document (Resp. Iggerot Moshe, EH 4:92). This is the legal situation in the State of Israel.
By contrast, in civil courts in the United States, the ketubbah is related to as a purely ceremonial document, with no legal force attaching to it. The commitment of civil courts in Israel to the ketubbah and its laws is similarly limited. Inter alia, this matter finds expression with respect to imposing a lien on the property to secure the ketubbah. In a recent case, a husband transferred title on his apartment to his father's name before his own death. The rabbinical court ruled that, as there was no other property from which to collect on the ketubbah, the wife was entitled to collect from the apartment that had been transferred to her father-in-law's name. Yet the Supreme Court annulled this ruling, since the rabbinical courts lacked the authority to adjudicate the case between the wife and her late husband's father, who did not consent to the rabbinical court's adjudication of the case (HC 2621, Levi v. Rabbinical Court, 54 (3) PD 809).
Recently, a number of halakhic authorities have related to the ketubbah as a document designed to provide a woman with minimum sustenance during the initial period following divorce. The background to this is as follows: the Sages fixed the sum of the ketubbah as an amount that in their times was considered sufficient to support a person for a year, even if this was not the main purpose underlying its institution. Therefore, today, in wake of our above comments, we should view this as its primary purpose. Accordingly, rabbinical courts occasionally rule that the debt owed by force of the ketubbah be treated as a debt for the non-payment of alimony, i.e., mezonot after the get. In terms of Israeli law, the significance of this distinction is that, in execution proceedings, a debt for mezonot has priority over all other debt, and in contradistinction to a regular debt, the debtor can even be imprisoned for failure to pay a mezonot debt. In this manner the ketubbah can be utilized for collecting payments from a husband who attempts to evade payment.
The ketubbah may also be resorted to in cases of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give a get. When the rabbinical court rules that the man is obligated to give a get, he can be compelled to pay the ketubbah and to return the dowry even before the giving of the get. If the ground for divorce is the husband's behavior, then even the ketubbah's increment can be included in this sum. These means can also serve to pressure a recalcitrant husband into giving the get (Resp. Ketav Sofer, EH 100; Resp. Even Yekarah no. 53). The Rabbinical Court of Appeals recently ruled that payment of both the ketubbah and its increment may be imposed independent of the completion of the divorce proceedings. (See *Divorce).
THE SUM OF THE KETUBBAH
In the regulations enacted by the Chief Rabbinate of Ereẓ Israel in 1944, a minimum sum was fixed for the ketubbah. In today's terms, that sum sufficed to fulfill the Sages' intent of preventing the husband from viewing divorce lightly. This sum was increased in regulations enacted in 1953. Obviously today, after so many years, and extensive inflation, these sums are meaningless, and each couple decides on a generic amount when the ketubbah is written.
In some cases, pressure exerted by family members, or the couple's excitement over their approaching wedding, leads to the stipulation of exaggerated sums in the ketubbah. In such cases, rabbinic authorities and dayyanim are divided over whether these sums are binding. One view is that, so long as the groom does not swear to the amount of the sum when signing the ketubbah, it should not be given binding force. Rather, the husband should be obligated to pay the primary sum of the ketubbah (ikkar ha-kettubah) without the increment, i.e., the value of two hundred zuz. This view regards the original undertaking solely as an asmakhta (see *Asmakhta), i.e., the person assumed an obligation without really intending to be bound thereby, but was only exaggerating, or operated on the belief that the obligation would never actually take effect.
Another view is that, in principle, even a large sum binds the husband, in accordance with the ruling of Keẓot ha-Hoshen (264:4) that a person cannot claim "I was only joking with you," provided that he either swears or shakes hands on the agreement (see *Undertaking), and also because the undertakings included in the ketubbah are considered as essential preconditions for marital life.
Nevertheless, when a manifestly "astronomical" sum is involved, to the extent that it is obvious that neither party ever contemplated the possibility of the sum being binding, the husband cannot be compelled to pay it. In such a case, even according to the second view, the husband should be required to pay a ketubbah and increment "in accordance with accepted practice and the family's social level, whatever is accepted amongst families of that ethnic community in our day."
A third opinion is that, fundamentally, the husband is obligated by any amount he undertook, even if exorbitant. The mere fact of his having undertaken to pay that amount is tantamount to an acknowledgment that he has the sum at his disposal and, accordingly, the law of asmakhta does not apply to the sum of his ketubbah. In a ruling by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals (2128/48 PDR 15, 211), the majority of dayyanim ruled in accordance with the second opinion.
In 2000, the Chief Rabbinate issued a proclamation that there is no minimum sum for the ketubbah, but that the maximum sum of the ketubbah's increment is NIS 1,000,000.
Furthermore, when the sum stipulated in the ketubbah is only an expression of respect for the proceedings, or symbolic in some other way, the question of asmakhta also arises. Regarding cases in which the sum is not exorbitant, the Rabbinical Court of Appeals rejected the husband's claim that the sum has no binding significance, ruling that it is legally binding.
The husband's argument that he did not understand the ketubbah's wording, or the implications of specifying such a large sum when he signed it, is unacceptable. After all, there is also the testimony of the witnesses who are signed on the ketubbah, and "for it is presumed that they did not sign without their first having orally testified (i.e., orally explained the document they were signing) in his presence, for without this presumption, there would be no possibility of obliging the ignorant … to comply with their obligation under the kettubah … for they would all raise this claim" (Resp. Rashba 1:629; Rema, Sh. Ar. EH 66:13).
REVALUATING THE KETUBBAH AMOUNT
When the bet din or the court rules on the husband's obligation to pay the ketubbah, the question arises as to how to revaluate the ketubbah. This is particularly relevant during inflationary periods, when there is liable to be an immense discrepancy between its value at the time it was signed and its value at the time of divorce or the husband's death. The Israeli rabbinical courts have adopted various methods for revaluating the ketubbah. The ketubbah cannot be reassessed unless it explicitly states how it should be reassessed. The possibilities for revaluation include linking it to the American dollar; linking it to the consumer price index; leaving the original sum but obligating the husband in accordance with the currency used at the time of payment; arbitration (Takkanat Ra'anaḥ – i.e., the Enactment of Rabbi Eliyahu ben Ḥayyim; see Resp. Maharit EH 2); linkage to the silver standard; reevaluation of the sum so that it does not fall below the amount needed to support the wife for a year.
Given that in most instances the ketubbah does not actually fulfill its purpose of regulating the couple's financial relationship at the time of the divorce, in recent years there has been a growing tendency to use prenuptial financial agreements between the couple for that purpose. Besides serving a monetary role similar to that of the ketubbah, these agreements also assist in preventing refusal to grant a get, as within the framework of these agreements both parties undertake a legal or financial commitment which spurs them into giving a get in the event of the marriage failing and one of the parties desiring to terminate it. These agreements raise a number of problems in the context of the laws of divorce, such as the risk of a "coerced get " (get me'useh), questions with which halakhic authorities have dealt extensively in recent years (see Bibliography; see *Divorce).
In addition to the wife's ketubbah rights, the rabbinical court sometimes rules that the husband must pay her compensation. The roots of this compensation award are found in a number of responsa from the last few hundred years, and in the mid-20th century the matter became a binding minhag, conferring on the wife a right to receive part of the joint property. This compensation, which can be viewed as a quasi "equitable right," is similar in purpose and source to the joint property presumption (see *Matrimonial Property).
Originally, the Israel Supreme Court distinguished between divorce compensation and the joint property rule, explaining that the latter is based on the legal presumption that, when the couple wed, their intent was that their property be shared between them equally. By contrast, the law of divorce compensation does not derive from any presumption. Rather, "its source lies in the principle of justice and fairness, for it is fitting for the wife to be compensated in accordance with her efforts in raising and nurturing the family unit … in order to enable her reasonable subsistence after the divorce" (CA 630/70, Lieberman v. Lieberman, PD 35(4), 373, per Justice Menachem Elon). However, in recent years the Supreme Court's justification for the joint property rule has changed, and it is now similarly regarded as deriving from principles of justice and fairness, and a number of halakhic authorities have noted the similarity of the logic behind the presumption regarding joint property and the logic guiding a Rabbinical court to award divorce compensation. (For an elaboration on this point, see *Matrimonial Property).
Some halakhic authorities, however, oppose giving the wife divorce compensation, because it has no halakhic basis. In their view, such compensation can only be awarded as a means of effecting a divorce when a problem arises in attaining the wife's consent.
In recent years, in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Court, even rabbinical courts are obligated to divide the property up equally in accordance with the joint property rule (regarding the way the halakhah relates to this, see *Dina de-Malkhuta Dina). This division of property does not apply to obligations deriving from the ketubbah. Hence, the Rabbinic courts need to proceed with caution, lest a situation be created in which a woman receives double rights.
[Menachem Elon (2nd ed.)]
Conservative and Reform
To meet and resolve the problem presented in Jewish law by the *Agunah, the Rabbinical Assembly of America (Conservative) in 1953 adopted a takkanah ("enactment") proposed by Saul *Lieberman. The enactment went into effect in 1954 and the modified form of the ketubbah into which it was incorporated is currently widely used by Conservative Rabbis. The additional clause in both the Aramaic and English versions of the ketubbah provides that both bride and bridegroom "agree to recognize the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America … as having authority … to summon either party at the request of the other in order to enable the party so requesting to live in accordance with the laws of Jewish marriage …." By mutual agreement, the "Beth Din" is authorized to impose such terms of compensation as it may see fit for failure to respond to its summons or to carry out its decision. The clause is aimed to compel a recalcitrant husband or wife divorced by civil law to agree to the writing and acceptance of the traditional get. At the time of marriage, the ketubbah is filled out in duplicate by the officiating rabbi and the copy is forwarded for filing at the marriage registry established by the Rabbinical Assembly.
Reform Judaism has dropped the use of the traditional ketubbah. Instead, most Reform rabbis issue a marriage certificate drawn up by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform). The certificate makes no reference to the halakhic formulations of the traditional ketubbah.
Most Jewish communities have followed the custom of decorating the ketubbah. An Ashkenazi ketubbah from Krems. Austria, dated 1392, shows that illumination was usual among Ashkenazi communities during the Middle Ages. However, the best-known illuminated ketubbot, which date from the 16th century onward, were from Italy, certain Sephardi communities, and from Near and Far Eastern Jewry.
Richly illuminated ketubbot, which date from the 17th and 18th centuries, are from Italy, Corfu, the Balkans, and Gibraltar. They are written on parchment and the text is usually bordered by an illuminated frame, depicting a variety of decorative themes in many bright colors. The frame, which is sometimes divided into a diptych, is often illustrated with biblical or mythological motifs, portraits of the bride and groom in contemporary costume, family coats of arms, symbols representing conjugal bliss, and even nude figures. Typical Jewish symbols were used, such as the hands forming the priestly blessing, a sign that the groom was from a family of kohanim, or a ewer and basin indicating a levite. Sometimes, the biblical figures represented in the ketubbah symbolize the bride or groom's name; thus a scene from the life of Joseph might mean that the groom's name was Joseph, a scene from the Book of Ruth that the bride's name was Ruth.
Dutch Sephardi ketubbot of the same period are distinguished by their delicate ornamental engraving. They were mainly executed on parchment and are in the best Dutch copper-engraving tradition. An outstanding example is a 1658 Rotterdam ketubbah, executed by Shalom Italia, a copper engraver from Mantua who emigrated to Holland. This ketubbah is rich in biblical motifs. Another famous copperengraved ketubbah, dating from the late 17th century, is decorated with flowers and allegorical figures in the typical Dutch-Jewish contemporary manner. The border contains the date 1693, commemorating the year of the death of the renowned Amsterdam rabbi, Isaac *Aboab de Fonseca.
Ketubbot from the Near East and countries bordering Israel are decorated in a manner different from the European ones. They are mostly on paper and are decorated with plant motifs, mainly flowers, or geometric patterns similar to carpet patterns. The best-known examples are from the Persian community of *Isfahan, which
Although the Yemenite ketubbot were mostly undecorated, an occasional gaily-colored example is to be found. Human forms, as well as flower motifs, appear in the Sanʿa ketubbah of 1793 in the Israel Museum. Ketubbot from North Africa are illuminated with multicolored decorations, but are mainly distinguished by the exquisitely written text. Sometimes the frame is decorated with black-white arabesques. Indian ketubbot, from Calcutta and Bombay, are written on parchment and decorated with colored ornamentation. These ketubbot are heavily influenced by Indian art motifs, such as gateways and animals. Those from *Cochin bore above the text a circle with verses of good omen, the whole in a floral border. The typical 19th-century Jerusalem ketubbah, although belonging geographically to the Arab countries, shows no evidence of this in its decorative style. The most commonly used ornamentation is a garland of flowers over the text, with palm or cypress trees on either side.
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Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.