Gentiles Embracing the Ketubah

A Jewish wedding tradition with a growing following

Am I the only one who likes seeing wedding traditions from one faith or heritage embraced by people from other backgrounds? I know that there are some people who don’t like the co-opting of wedding traditions by “outsiders” but I my take is that wedding traditions wouldn’t have become traditions if brides and grooms didn’t find value in them. It’s not for me to say that so-and-so can’t do X, Y, and Z because those practices belong to another culture. Take the ketubah, a traditional and beautiful element of the Jewish wedding and marriage. According to a recent New York Times piece, more non-religious and Christian couples are embracing the ketubah in their own weddings.

“We wanted a permanent reminder of the covenant we made with God,” Mrs. Austin said. “We see this document superseding the marriage license of a state or a court.”

Such sentiments have been reshaping the market for ketubot (the plural in Hebrew) in the past decade. Michael Shapiro, an observant Jew from Toronto who sells artistic ketubot through the Web site, said he had seen the non-Jewish share of his customers rise from zero to about 10 percent. He is forming a spinoff site,, that concentrates on non-Jewish consumers.

The decade of non-Jews discovering the ketubah coincides with three relevant social trends: the rise of Christian Zionism, the growth of interfaith marriage, and the mainstreaming of the New Age movement with its search for spirituality in multiple faith traditions. As a result, an increasing number of gentiles have taken up Judaic practices: holding a Passover Seder, eating kosher food and studying kabbalah, the Jewish mystical movement.

What began as way to protect the bride’s interests in the event of a divorce and morphed into a beautiful and artful representation of specific contractural provisions for marriage had a resurgence of popularity in the 1960s Jewish counterculture. Suddenly the ketubah was back and once again something to display rather than something to be hidden away. And, like I said, the ketubah is now finding its way into non-Jewish weddings and onto non-Jewish walls. I’m cool with that – in fact, I think it’s very cool, especially for those Christians who want to give a nod to their religion’s Jewish roots.

How does it strike you, this flow of wedding traditions from one faith or background to another? Do you think it’s cool, or kind of weird and inauthentic?

6 Responses to “Gentiles Embracing the Ketubah”

  1. The Jananator says:

    I think it’s great! But then again, I think people should do whatever works. Jump the broom, sign the contract, have a money dance, do one of those weird things where they kidnap the groom and put feathers on him, whatevr.

  2. june says:

    I don’t like it, honestly. Bet that’s not the answer you were expecting! Stuff like this dilutes cultural traditions and that’s how cultural traditions get lost.

  3. Leah says:

    As someone who has designed artistic wedding contracts, I think it’s a rather nice part of the marriage ceremony. I find it much more meaningful than the candle-lighting, as I then become obsessed with watching the “Unity candle” for the rest of the ceremony just to see if it goes out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    So what do you do with a contract written in a language that’s been dead for thousands of years? (the Ketubah is written in Aramaic). Stick it on your wall? How does that make it more real or lower the divorce rate? I don’t think anyone has paused in mid-plate-throwing to say ‘oh HONEY! I forgot, we have this contract thingy. Let’s not fight anymore…’
    Then again, it does “stipulate the wife’s right to support, clothing, and sexual satisfaction.” (Source and text: Hmm, maybe eloping at the Justice of the Peace wasn’t such a wise move after all =)

  5. Dayton says:

    Sarah and Chris made the contract-signing an important part of their wedding ceremony, although I don’t think the word “ketubah” came up. I think it’s great, couples marry with needs and expectations and they should be literally spelled out, and probably tastefully framed and displayed at the head of the marital bed. Or next to the mirror in the master bath. Maybe both.

  6. I talked to my Presbyterian minister about a Jewish wedding tradition — smashing a “glass” (we used a light bulb) — and she was delighted to study the tradition and incorporate it into our ceremony along with an explanation to the goyim about various meanings that have been ascribed to the act. Our band struck up “Hava Negila” after I stomped that sucker, too.

    Reaction from our family? My aunt, who would later be so appalled by her own son’s non-Jewish wedding that she would refuse to attend, was deeply moved by the sincere gesture of including the Jewish part of my heritage in our wedding, and all the comments about it from the Jewish part of my family were positive. They respected the scholarly approach our minister took and her admission that she didn’t know as much as she’d like on the subject. The Christians in our family, even the ones who had been pressing Jodi’s mom to press Jodi to press me to have a Catholic wedding, declared the ceremony had been just right for the two of us specifically.

    Later on there was also an attempt to hoist me up on a chair, but I made it known from the outset that a chair has only four legs and my weight wouldn’t divide comfortably among only four legs, so Jodi’s tween brother Devin (A”H) rode the chair for me and enjoyed being the center of attention as usual.

    Of course, the original question was supposed to be about 100% goyishe couples who find beauty in a ritual they never experienced when growing up. Nu? They *shouldn’t* find beauty in it?