Web uncovers wealth of ketubah lore

It's not too often you find a legal document that is also a stunning work of art illustrating love and commitment. The ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, has for thousands of years detailed a husband's obligations to his wife during marriage and his responsibilities in the case of divorce. Beyond that, the ketubah has become a prized piece of Judaica, which artists have elevated to become a document of devotion.

If it's time to choose the design for your own ketubah, then first of all, let me wish you mazel tov on your engagement! To see the very best ketubot, you could travel through dozens of homes and art galleries. But you're probably too busy for that. You can see what the world has to offer right on your computer's desktop. And even if you're NOT getting married, you still can enjoy a tour of one of Judaism's most interesting and beautiful documents.

According to the Ohr Somayach site — www.ohr.org.il/judaism/articles/wedding.htm — "this contract is ordained by Mishnaic law (circa 170 C.E.) and according to some authorities dates back to biblical times. The ketubah, written in Aramaic, details the husband's obligations to his wife: food, clothing, dwelling and pleasure. It also creates a lien on all his property to pay her a sum of money and support should he divorce or predecease her.

The traditional ketubah is written in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Jews. You can find an English translation at the information page on Jewish Family Law — http://users.aol.com/agunah/family.htm

At the e-judaica Web site — http://store.yahoo.com/ejudaica/huppaketubah.html — you'll find an explanation of the ketubah variations available. For more on the history of the ketubah, visit the Jewish Encyclopedia, at www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=187&letter=K

There are many Internet sites where you can browse (and even order) contemporary ketubot. If you are looking for an artist, I suggest that you visit the Maven wedding site — www.maven.co.il/subjects.asp?S=502&ID=1&T=0 — or simply type the word "ketubah" or "ketubot" into a search engine like Google — http://google.com

After the wedding is over and you have hung your ketubah on your wall, Anita Diamant says don't just admire your ketubah, read it regularly — www.ujafederation.org/content_display.html?articleID=9356 Diamant quotes the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of Chassidism who "advised couples to re-read their ketubah whenever they were fighting. It would remind them, he said, of how they felt as brides and grooms, hopeful, smitten, surrounded by good wishes."

But Diamant says it shouldn't take a fight to get couples to re-read their ketubah. "It ought to be one of those health-and-safety habits, like checking your smoke detector when you change the clocks for daylight savings. Likewise, on every wedding anniversary, Jewish couples should sit down and read the contract they signed with stars in their eyes… Even the most exquisite ketubah is never simply a work of art. A ketubah always signifies the Jewishness of a love story, a marriage, a home, a family, a past and a future."