The word ketubah literally means “writing” or “written” and refers to the traditional Jewish marriage contract, signed and read at the wedding to unite a couple by Jewish law.
In The Creative Jewish Wedding Book, author and Jewish educator Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer explains that the text of the first ketubah, written around 200 BCE, was an innovative document for its time, intended to protect the bride financially in the event of divorce or death, as well as to enumerate her ongoing rights in the marriage.
Examples of decorative ketubahs go back hundreds of years. This is an expression of the Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzvah, which calls for the beautification of ceremonial objects. Ketubahs are often hung prominently in the married couple’s home following the wedding, as both a daily reminder of the couple’s vows and responsibilities to each other, and as a work of art symbolizing their union. Some couples also choose to commemorate an anniversary or renew their vows with a ketubah.
Today, ketubahs and their texts reflect the great diversity of the Jewish community. Though the Orthodox community still uses the original text described above, other denominations and individuals have adapted this text to reflect their values, with many modern texts focusing on the spiritual and emotional needs of both partners. As ketubahs were traditionally written in Aramaic, which was once the secular language of the Jewish community, many people opt to write their ketubahs in the languages they speak, often English and Hebrew.