Thursday, February 11, 2010

Authentic Traditions

1Ms. Awesome, who is now Miss Stripes, posted a little while ago about traditions and whether they are important, and I mentioned that one thing that has come up which is a "tradition" which we would like to do, but that isn't ours to do, is a ketubah. I wrote about this early on in the process because it has always been something that I wanted. And my sister and I had a conversation recently that went something like this:
"You know you're not Jewish, right?" - her
"I'm not planning to get a Jewish ketubah." - me
"You're making light of something that is sacred, and that's offensive." - her
"The ketubah isn't sacred. It's a social and legal contract." - me
"But it's something that Jews do. You're not a jew." - her
"65% of the American male population is circumsized. Nobody seems to find that offensive." - me

It continued to grate at me though. If my Unitarian sister, who married a Jewish guy, was offended that I wanted a ketubah, what the hell would my Orthodox cousins think!?! What would my much-more-Jewish family members think? I didn't want to offend anybody, but at the same time, having a ketubah was important to me. Having taken a Jewish history class, and studied marriage as an institution, I know more about the origins of the ketubah than most of my Jewish friends.

With every tradition related to this wedding, I like to break it down to three parts: "What are the origins?" "Why do I need it?" "Who will be upset if I don't have it?" For example, with bouquets - people used to bathe only once, maybe twice a year. Flowers covered the stench of a bride who hadn't washed herself in months. I shower daily. Therefore I do not need a bouquet. However, it will upset the moms if I don't have it. So I'm sucking it up.

With the ketubah, the origins, you can read about on Wikipedia - and while it's no longer necessary to have a document that spells out the dowery that Mark will give me if he divorces me, I do want to take that time to spell out our commitment, to have our vows written up and on our wall for the rest of our lives. I want our promises down on paper, so we are reminded of them. I want a constant reminder of what I will be giving up if I choose not to work at our marriage. The tradition of "what will I give you in our marriage" still remains, as a promise from both partners. It also will give us that moment on our wedding day, to read over the document and remind ourselves of what we are about to do. Truthfully, I think everybody needs a ketubah.

But how do I have one without offending people? The first step? Remove the hebrew and design our own art. The hebrew has no meaning for me, and we can't read it. (Neither can a lot of Jews, but that is their business.) I'm not signing a legal document in a language I can't read. Designing it on our own also makes it cheaper, so win-win. The second step? This one is harder. Stop calling it a ketubah. I've tried to come up with another term - either marriage contract, or vow art, or something. I need a word that I can say, and then say, "similar to the Jewish Ketubah, the Mvemjsnup is a marriage contract." (2 points to whoever gets that reference.) So brainstorm with me here - what can I call our non-Jewish marriage document? Are you going to have one? And if you're Jewish, am I offending you?


  1. How about calling it a marriage contract?
    If you really want to do this, do it. If anyone is offended because you are using one of their beautiful traditions respectfully, that is his or her problem, not yours. Come on, you have a caterer to decide on and bridesmaid dresses to shop for!

  2. This is such a lovely tradition and anchored in realism.

    Not being at all religious, I don't have ties to any religious conventions. I'd never heard of a ketubah before reading wedding blogs. But the more I hear about Judaism, it just seems like such a sensible religion.

  3. I'm so glad you posted this.

    Frankly, why does anyone use any sort of tradition? Because it is important to someone - be it the bride/groom or family. Most of these "traditions" have deep rooted meaning and just because it's a Jewish tradition, doesn't mean the thought and purpose behind it isn't equally as important to the next person. Jewish or not.

    I thought the same thing when I learned about the Ketubah. What a COOL idea. How thoughtful and meaningful! There is NO reason you should not have the same thought put into your marriage just because you're not Jewish.

    I also love the Chuppah! Many of them have such a simple, rustic look that really hits home with our style. Should I NOT have a Chuppah-esque structure at our ceremony because I am not Jewish? I think as long as you're not making FUN of others traditions and you find some sort of value in it then do whatever you want! People should be flattered you see so much meaning and value behind the traditions that many others just "go through the motions" with.

  4. There are also quaker marriage certificates - which kind of fit that description (ie no Hebrew, pretty).

  5. In fact, Jews do not have a monopoly on the marriage contract! Arabs have a similar document; Quakers have a certificate that everyone signs as the wedding as witnesses; and as a ketubah artist myself, I've done plenty of wedding artworks for couples from ALL backgrounds.

    I call them "wedding artworks," "wedding certificates," "illuminated wedding vows," "marriage covenants"... What you call it is really insignificant. The point, as you put it, is to have your commitment to each other "written up and on your wall for the rest of your lives," and as you say, everyone should have that!

    I don't understand how anyone could be offended by that. But in the end, that's *their* problem, not yours. (And I suspect that simply calling it something other than a "ketubah" may eliminate most of the problem...)

    Melissa Dinwiddie
    aka The KetubahDiva

  6. I hate to say it, but when your sister said "You're making light of something that is sacred", she was wrong. You are are not making light of something, you are respecting it, and embracing it.

    A ketubah is a sacred thing, but it is sacred to the couple. Each ketubah is a personal document, a statement of vows between the bride and the groom. Because of that, no one else can come in and say if it is valid or not. Their opinions do not apply.

    The ketubah may have its roots as a Jewish tradition, but it is quickly gaining popularity with people from all traditions and cultures. I make many ketubahs for interfaith couples, multicultural couples, same-sex couples, and so on. They all fell in love with the idea of the ketubah, and made it their own.

  7. HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    i believe that is the phonetic spelling of Screech's mnemonic device for remembering the planets!

  8. I'm Jewish (and athiest so some may dispute the point) and am not offended but annoyed at your sister. I think using the language "Moses and Abraham" etc. would be a bit strange but I see no reason people of all faiths shouldn't have kettubahs and plenty of reasons they should. You could just call it your marriage contract but I think calling it your kettubah is perfectly fine.

  9. Go for it and call it whatever you want! I think only the most narrow-minded Jews would be offended if you called it a ketubah, especially after you explain why it's important to you.

    I'm getting married and my fiance's sister (an awesome artist) will be making our ketubah. We're not using Hebrew and we're making up our own text. In addition we're incorportating the Quaker idea of having everyone who was at the ceremony sign the document to remind us how many people love us and want our marriage to succeed. I can't wait to hang it on our wall!

  10. I'm weighing in as another ketubah artist who thinks it's wonderful that you want to incorporate the idea of a ketubah into your wedding. Yes, the original purpose of the ketubah (which comes from the word "to write") was to give the wife property rights and make it harder for the husband to desert her (it happened). Orthodox and Conservative Jews still adhere to the ancient formula, but a lot of Jews now use it as a chance to make a beautiful and lasting piece of art out of their vows. I think it's a great idea and have done several for non-Jewish couples. It's such a great tradition. Go for it!
    Miriam Karp

  11. I had never heard of this before, either, but it's such a nice idea now I kind of want to do it too! (in my mythical future wedding, that is..)

  12. Yeah, the Jews don't care. At least not the ones I know. And I know a lot. I highly doubt you'd be offending anyone.

    I do agree that a different name would be helpful though. I think you should go with Mvemjsnup because it's awesome. You could plot an entire fake history of the Mvemjsnup which would be even more awesome.