From The Expert: Ketubah Shopping

Since The Wedding Yentas launched about two months ago, many brides have asked us to do a post devoted to the process of selecting a ketubah. After much research and info gathering, we decided it would be best to hear it from the talented ketubah artist’s mouth! She’s so talented, that she was Yenta Alison’s ketubah artist! We love her work and we are so excited to present a guest blogger this week who is the expert in all things ketubah! Thanks, Rachel Deitsch of New World Wedding, for sharing your expertise:

One of the things that dawned on me when I started making ketubot was that pretty much everyone who needs a ketubah is a first-time customer! There are many many variables, which can be dizzying, but fortunately there are people (like me) who do this every day who can help guide you through the process. I’ve broken this guide into chewable chunks for easier digestion; please wait an hour before swimming…

How do you find the right ketubah design for you?
Deciding on the right ketubah design an extremely personal process- it’s the one factor that will depend solely on your own taste and gut. Traditionally the ketubah belongs to the bride, but of course today both parties decide together what speaks to them. There are so many styles of ketubah- from formal and florid to minimal and modern- that is something you as a couple will have to choose.

I’ve found that couples look for something in the design that speaks to their story. That is a very exciting part of the ketubah business- when something I’ve made has an entirely new meaning for the person choosing it.

There is a traditional visual vocabulary in ketubah art that you will become familiar with as you explore different artists’ work. They are generally fairly easily interpreted- plants, trees, fruit and flowers for growth and fertility; birds are blessings, as is water. I also use a few non-traditional motifs- ladders speak of aspirations, cottages of the home you build together. As you poke around you’ll find the style and image you really connect to.

Custom Artwork
Commissioning a custom ketubah can be a very expensive proposition. Some artists specialize in custom ketubot, but most sell prints of existing work. Keep in mind that commissioning a ketubah is like commissioning any other artwork- it’s expensive and you are not 100% in control of the end product. Of course, that can be very exciting and gratifying- knowing you have the only one of its kind in the world, but be prepared to give up some control and to trust the artist.

If you like an artist’s style, one option to consider is asking if an existing design can be modified. I don’t generally accept commissions for custom work, but I always try and figure out a solution to a clients’ request. We creative types can be surprisingly, well, creative- so ask!

Where to Buy?
You can find pretty much every ketubah artist and style imaginable online of course, and I think that’s how many ketubahs today are sold. Most ketubah artists will sell both through a ketubah reseller — a site that carries many artists — and their own personal site. There are good reasons to go either way. With a reseller you have a variety of artists right in front of you. An artist’s site will get you in touch with the person actually making your ketubah, so if you have a special request, it can be more easily accommodated. Most web sites will offer to send a free paper-print sample so you can feel the weight of the paper and see the true color before you buy- if you don’t see that offer — just ask.

There are still many people who prefer to buy at a brick and mortar store, either to support local businesses or because they want to see the print before purchasing. Many customers will research online then go to their local store to make the purchase. Even if the store carries the artist you like, they probably don’t have every design sample on hand, but they can usually get any design by an artist they carry. It’s a bit trickier if they don’t carry the artist at all. Some artists will sell a la carte to a store that contacts them, but many will prefer the customer buy directly through them if there is no prior relationship with the store.

The Text
This is where it can get tricky for a lot of people. The design you choose of course says a lot about you as a couple, but the text literally spells it out, doesn’t it? It can be daunting to choose the right words to express what you are thinking and feeling.

Traditional Texts
If you are Orthodox or Conservative and/or are being married by an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi, you will have pretty firm instructions on what the rabbi will accept on the ketubah.

I am often asked about including an English translation of the traditional Aramaic text… until I show the bride and groom the translation. It’s a pretty dry legal document and I’ve yet to have any couple wish to print it on their ketubah. What many couples using the Orthodox/Conservative texts will do instead is add a paragraph either of their own or, since those text are pretty lengthy, one that simply states the basic facts of the wedding: names, date, place.

Orthodox, Conservative: What’s the Difference?
I’m often asked about this. The difference between those two texts is an additional paragraph (in Hebrew, not Aramaic) called the Lieberman Clause, which was added by the Conservative movement in the 1950s.

Other Texts

Here’s where it gets wild and woolly. If you are not going to opt for a traditional text, the world is your matzoh ball. Most modern ketubah texts are written or commissioned by the ketubah artists and reflect the sentiments of a contemporary couple, emphasizing mutual understanding and support. There are a great deal of interfaith and non-denominational texts as well, which are respectful of both parties’ traditions. As you read through them, you’ll likely be inspired to discussions about what your expectations and hopes are for your marriage. It’s a wonderful exercise!

To me, that’s really the point of these texts; to make those conversations happen. The beauty of the ketubah is that it’s there every day to remind you of your intentions in your marriage. It’s the same as having a mezuzah on your door, which reminds you that your home is a place of your particular values.

It can be tough to set these ideals down on paper and most couples are very happy to have something the can choose out of the box.

There are lots of really beautifully written texts that absolutely fit the bill, but here’s something to keep in mind: you might like the design of one artist and the text of another. Most artists, especially when asked nicely, will readily allow their texts to be used in another’s artwork for one-time use. Some might ask for a small license fee. Also, if you are working directly with the artist, he or she will generally be open to tweaking their text. For instance, one of my popular texts refers to future children. Some couples know that this is not their plan and I’m happy to remove the sentence — no worries.

If you are blessed with a way with words and want to write your own, it’s a great way to go. Ask the ketubah seller or artist about the parameters for custom texts. There’s generally a word count limit. I offer a translation service as do most other ketubah sellers, if you want your text in both Hebrew and English. I’ve done Spanish, Norwegian and Chinese as well, so always ask if you have a special circumstance!


Personalizing Your Ketubah

When you order your ketubah you’ll have the option of personalizing, filling it in. That means your personal information — the wedding date, your and your parents’ names, the place of the ceremony — will be incorporated into the text. Some artists who are also calligraphers do this by hand on a pre-printed ketubah. I don’t calligraph (is that a word?) so I lay out the texts to order, then print everything — text and artwork — together. I like this approach because the whole text is laid out to fit perfectly in the space.

If you are personalizing, every ketubah seller has a form to fill out. It’s simply the names, date, and place of the wedding. You are asked for your full name, Jewish name, if you have one, and your parents’ first names.

Here are some issues that come up regarding the personalization info:

If you do not have a Jewish (Hebrew) name, what do you fill in?
If there’s no Hebrew name, I will transliterate the English name. I never make up a Hebrew name for someone; there is really no standard parallel between English and Hebrew names, although some, like David or Rachel, would seem obvious. I never assume or presume.

Do you need your parents’ FULL Hebrew name (including THEIR parents’ names, i.e. Rachel ‘bat’ Sara)?
No, that is only for the couple. The parents are just called by first names in Hebrew, and in English generally first and last.

What if for personal reasons I do not wish to include my parents in the ketubah?
Like everything else here, it’s your choice. You may want to consult with your rabbi for Orthodox and Conservative, but I’ve seen omissions there as well.

Why am I being asked if this is my first marriage or if I am a convert?
This is only applicable to the Orthodox and Conservative text (and only applicable to the bride). It has to do with the way the wording changes with the bride’s “status.”

Why am I being asked about my “tribe?”
If either of the couple’s fathers is a Levite or Cohen — something your rabbi would most likely know — then it is mentioned in the ketubah as part of their Hebrew names.

You don’t have to know the Hebrew spelling for place names or the Jewish calendar date of your wedding — that is all part of the fill-in service.


The Rest of the Process

Here’s where I can’t really speak for anyone but myself, but I’m happy to clue you in to my methods. I imagine others work pretty much the same way. I generally tell folks to allow about 4 weeks from order to delivery, but I’ve done a fully personalized ketubah in much less time. It’s mostly for your own peace of mind to leave plenty of time. Once you’ve settled on where you’re going to buy your ketubah and what the text will be, you’ll get your information form from the seller or artist. Many couples ask their rabbi to help with this. When you send it in, I use the form to fill out the text in Hebrew and English and send you a pdf to approve. It’s a good idea to run this past your rabbi or officiant. When any changes or corrections are made and the text is approved, I lay it out in the artwork and print.

As I said, it’s a lot for a first-time (or any) ketubah buyer to absorb, so give yourself plenty of time to look around and don’t be shy about asking lots of questions.

Please feel free to get in touch with me with any burning issue I may not have covered here.

Rachel Deitsch is the artist behind New World Wedding. She also creates beautiful jewelry, invitations, and home decor pieces. She can be reached at rachel@newworldjudaica.com or visit her >website for more information.

  • Stephanie says:

    Excellent & helpful information. Your ketubah designs are beautiful, colorful and would make a meaningful work of art on any married couple’s wall.

  • Casey says:

    Thank you for the helpful information! I’ve seen a lot of ketubahs that ask for the signature of the rabbi, but I will have an officiant who is not a rabbi. Is it possible on most websites or stores to have the word “Rabbi” changed to “Officiant”? Is that even necessary? Thanks in advance for the help!