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Signing the wedding license

The Modern Day Ketubah

January 27, 2021

Have you ever been to a Jewish wedding? As with many religious ceremonies, it is steeped in tradition. One of those traditions is the signing of a Ketubah.

The Ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. Basically, it contains the specifics of the wedding itself like the date, the name of the couple and the promises the couple makes to each other. Historically, the document detailed the financial and conjugal responsibilities of the bride. Today, Non-Orthodox couples generally use modern texts which focus on love and equality. Many couples choose to write their own texts much like personalized vows.

The Ketubah Signing Ceremony is Very Personal

I walked into the Ketubah signing ceremony as someone who had never seen one before. Over 200 guests started to gather for the wedding as we stepped into a more intimate room at the venue. The Ketubah signing had about 15-20 people, mostly immediate family and close friends (think, the people you’d invite to your Thanksgiving dinner).

The bride and groom stood next to a table that contained their Ketubah as the Rabbi read aloud the words on that document (generally written in Hebrew and English). The couple then signed the document along with their Jewish witnesses (who were different than the Best Man and Maid of Honor since they were not Jewish). After the signing, the couple then smashed a glass wrapped in a napkin. Everyone clapped and shouted “Mazel Tov!” as the couple was now married!

Now, it was off to do a similar ceremony under the chuppah outside for the rest of the guests!

Determining the Style and Message of the Ketubah

The final Ketubah is displayed at the future home of the newlyweds which means finding or creating the right one is a personal experience for every couple. Not only in what it says, but in the colors that are used and the style that it exudes.

Michigan-based artist, Michelle Sider creates one-of-a-kind, hand painted Ketubot (plural for Ketubah) with personalized wording for couples. Sider created a triptych mosaic for Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, rabbi emeritus at Troy’s Congregation Shir Tikvah, and his husband Robert Crowe. She detailed aspects of their relationship, heritage and background all in a mosaic. The middle section was then professionally photographed and the couple’s own words were imprinted upon it to create the treasured keepsake.

“It’s magnificently beautiful,” Sleutelberg says of both the mosaic and matching Ketubah. “It’s a scene of a triple window that opens up onto our lake.”

Sider included many significant touches – incorporating daffodils and tulips for their personal ties to England and the Netherlands respectively. And because the couple met in New Zealand, she included a Koru, that country’s symbolic unfurling fern, throughout the work. In addition, before the mosaic was completed, the couple invited their parents to place final pieces of glass into the artwork.

Is a Ketubah Right for You?

The Ketubah was originated for the Jewish wedding ceremony but in modern day, it truly is a document that can be used by all.  It’s a beautifully illustrated manuscript that celebrates any milestone in a special and unique way.

“What I love the most about creating Ketubot is to experience the couple’s reaction when they see the final piece,” Sider says. “I also enjoy walking into a client’s home to see their hand-painted Ketubah hanging in a prominent place, knowing that it is a very important piece of art carrying thousands of years of tradition.”

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