Who signs the Ketubah?
The funny thing is, you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask…
- Orthodox Jews will tell you one thing
- Conservative Jews will tell you another
- Reform Jews will say something else entirely
As the old joke goes: two Jews, three opinions.
But who’s “right”? (SPOILER: It’s not a question of “right” or “wrong”)
In this post, we’ll demystify it once and for all… we’ll walk through the Ketubah signing process, the witness requirements according to each group, and most importantly – who you should choose as your witness?
Table of Contents
Who Signs the Ketubah?
Traditionally, only the witnesses are required to sign the Ketubah.
But recently, it has become increasingly common for the Rabbi, and even the bride and groom to sign the Ketubah as well – particularly in Reform and Interfaith/secular weddings.
Example: You can easily spot the differences when you compare the different Ketubah text versions (notice the signature area).
This leads us to the most burning question: who qualifies as a witness?
Ketubah Witness Requirements
According to Jewish law, a witness has to meet the following requirements to be able to sign the Ketubah:
- Jewish: In Orthodox communities, they have to be observant Jewish as well. Certain Reform Rabbis may also accept a non-Jewish witness.
- Male: In Reform, Reconstructionist, and even some Conservative communities, women are also accepted.
- Adult: The witness has to be above the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah – 13+ for men and 12+ for women (13+ in Reform communities)
- Not biologically related to the couple. Some Reform communities are more lenient with this requirement.
Note: Interfaith and secular couples don’t abide by these requirements.
Here it is in a table for you visual folks:
Orthodox Conservative Reform Interfaith or Secular Ethnicity Jewish (observant Jews) Jewish Jewish (sometimes non-Jews are allowed) No requirements Gender Male Male (sometimes Females as well) No requirements No requirements Age 13 and older 13 and older 13 and older No requirements Relationship to the couple Not biologically related Not biologically related (some are more lenient) No requirements (some are more strict) No requirements
Who Should You Choose as Your Witness?
Knowing who can sign the Ketubah is the easy part. Choosing who will sign the Ketubah is the hard part.
Choosing one person (the bride and groom usually pick one each) means not choosing many others. That means potentially offending quite a few people.
That’s one of the good things about the strict Ketubah signing rules: they disqualify many candidates for you. That’s a huge weight off your shoulders right there…
But for many couples, that’s not enough… there are still many friends whom you’d like to honor, but unfortunately, you can only choose one.
So how do you choose “the one”? (and I’m not talking about your spouse… too late for that!)
For some of you, the answer might be obvious. For others, picking one witness sounds like an impossible task.
If you belong to the latter group – here are a few questions you can ask yourself that’ll help you decide when choosing your witness:
- Who is your best friend? Or, to put it in teenager lingo: who’s your BFF?
- Which friend would you like to cherish for all that they’ve done for you? Who has been there for you through the good times and the bad?
- Which of your friends have you known the longest? While duration alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a good friendship, many of our great friendships are the ones that go “way back”.
- Which friend would you like to stay in touch with “forever”? Friends come and go; that’s the reality of life. But the best friendships are ones you’d like to keep “forever”. Picking that person as your witness speaks volumes, and makes it more likely that you’ll stay “best friends forever”.
- Who is going through a hard time? Do you know someone who’s gone through a rough time lately? Someone you’d like to put a smile on their face? Someone who could use a few acts of kindness? This question might not apply to most people, but it’s a great one to consider if you know someone who fits this description.
The Ketubah Signing Process
Traditionally, the Ketubah signing ceremony takes place at the Tisch, before the wedding ceremony. The groom is accompanied by his Rabbi, the two witnesses signing the Ketubah, and the groom’s close (male) friends and family members.
In non-Orthodox weddings, it’s common for both the bride and groom to attend the Ketubah signing.
Note: While some couples do invite their guests for the Ketubah signing; others prefer a more intimate setting – with only the Rabbi, the witnesses and maybe a handful of close friends and family members present.
The Ketubah signing process goes like this:
- The Rabbi initiates the Ketubah signing by first reviewing the Ketubah to make sure it’s valid.
- The groom then agrees to take on the responsibility of providing for his wife, as stated in the Ketubah.
- The Rabbi hands the groom a handkerchief. The groom raises the handkerchief in front of the two witnesses – a sign of consent and acceptance of his responsibilities, as stated in the Ketubah. He then returns the handkerchief it to the Rabbi
- The Rabbi completes the Kinyan Chalipin (also known as Kinyan Sudar) – a symbolic form of transaction that doesn’t involve currency – by adding the Aramaic word v’kanina (or “transaction completed”) to the Ketubah
- The two witnesses sign the Ketubah to finalize the process and confirm that the groom has accepted the agreement (In non-Orthodox communities, the bride and groom sometimes sign the Ketubah as well)
Tip: If you’re matting and framing the Ketubah before the wedding, its best to leave the glass cover out before the ceremony, and then put it on after the witnesses sign it (make sure the ink is dry before putting the glass back on, or better yet – use a fade-resistant pen).
Once the Ketubah is signed, it is put aside until the wedding ceremony starts.
At the ceremony, the Rabbi reads the Ketubah right after the first stage of the wedding ceremony (Kiddushin) and before the start of the second stage (Nissuin). The groom then publicly agrees to take on the responsibilities mentioned in the Ketubah.
After the Ketubah reading is over, the Ketubah is passed on to a family member (often the bride’s mother) who keeps it safe until the end of the wedding.
The Ketubah signing ceremony is one of the most meaningful parts of the Jewish wedding ceremony. It’s a moment the couple, and their witnesses – never forget.
But knowing who can sign the Ketubah is only half the battle (and it’s the easy half, too). The other half is choosing your witness… which, I’m afraid, is a decision you’ll have to make all by yourself.
To quote Morpheus from The Matrix: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
Consider this guide to be your “door”. The rest, my friend, is up to you.
Mazel Tov 🙂
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