Raziakov Family Ketubbah

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Raziakov Family Ketubbah


By: Anonymous

Date: 1863

Source: Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

About the Author: The Jewish Theological Seminary, based in New York City, is a center of Conservative Judaism and serves as the preeminent institution for the academic study of Judaica outside of Israel.


A Jewish marriage contract, or ketubbah, spells out the economic responsibilities of the husband toward his wife. For centuries, the ketubbah has been an essential part of traditional Jewish marriages. It must never leave the possession of the wife for the marriage to remain valid.

The ketubbah apparently dates back two millennia to the Talmudic period in Jewish history. The main purpose of the document is to protect the married woman in the event of divorce or widowhood. Because biblical law permits the husband to divorce his wife at will, the rabbis established that prior to the wedding the husband is to undertake a written obligation to pay his wife a certain minimal sum upon the dissolution of their marriage. This financial obligation was originally termed "ketubbah," or "that which is written." The marriage contract in which the ketubbah amount was recorded was generally referred to as "sefer ketubbah" or "book of the ketubbah." In time, the entire contract became known as the ketubbah with the financial por-tion constituting the main part of the contract. A bridegroom is forbidden to cohabit with his bride following the wedding without having a ketubbah written and delivered to her before marriage. In case of the loss or destruction of a ketubbah, the husband must obtain a new one immediately.

A man who married a virgin paid twice as much as a man who married a divorcee or widow. The money amount was apparently deemed sufficient to discourage impulsive divorce and to support the divorcee or widow for a reasonable period of time. In reality, the minimum amount was often voluntarily increased in accordance with the standing of the families involved. Noble and priestly families customarily doubled the ketubbah. In addition to the financial clause, the text of the ketubbah outlined other obligations of the bridegroom. These obligations included basic traditional conjugal rights such as food, clothing, and shelter. Provisions were also made for the husband to pay all medical expenses in case his wife should be taken ill and to bear the costs related to her burial.



See primary source image.


The Raziacov family kettubah is a rare hand-decorated document. Most American kettubah were printed on standard, small sheets, which were often accompanied by miniature, printed pictures of wedding scenes. The change in kettubah design reflected a weakening of the close-knit Jewish communities that had existed for centuries in Europe and the Middle East. As Jews emigrated to the United States, and acquired a legal status equal to that given to non-Jews, the civil courts took precedent over Rabbinic courts. Jewish marriages were placed under the authority of civil courts.

Since the 1960s, more and more young couples affiliated with either the Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist movements have started to use an entirely new text as their marriage contract. In this text, which theoretically can be composed even by the couple themselves, both the bride and the groom take personal vows to love, cherish, and respect each other, to raise their children together, and so forth in accordance with their personal beliefs. Even in these texts, a more or less unified formula began to emerge. However, the new texts omit the financial stipulations that sparked the original creation of the ketubbah.



Sabar, Shalom. Ketubbah: The Art of the Jewish Marriage Contract. New York: Rizzoli, 2000.

Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum. Ketubbah: Jewish Marriage Contracts of the Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum and Klau Library. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990.