Signing the Ketubah
One of the main proceedings at the tish is the signing of the ketubah. The traditional ketubah is essentially an agreement between the bride and groom outlining, for the most part, the groom's obligations within the marriage and in case of a divorce. Since the ketubah is an agreement between bride and groom, both must agree to the terms. This is especially true for the groom since he is obligating himself to most of the terms within the ketubah.
Names and Places
The ketubah may be written on plain paper and can be preprinted with all the necessary information, such as the names of the bride and groom, the city in which the wedding is taking place, and the date of the wedding. If the ketubah used is one that has blank spaces for the names of the couple and the place and date of the ceremony, these will need to be filled in by the rabbi at this point in the tish before the groom accepts the terms of the ketubah and the witnesses sign it.
Some cities have various ways in which their names can be spelled in Hebrew. The rabbi should check whether the city has a traditional spelling for its name in a ketubah. This information can usually be obtained from a local rabbi who has performed weddings in that city before.
If the ketubah is fully preprinted, the names of the parties and the city and date of the ceremony will not need to be filled out at the tish, and only the signatures of the witnesses will be required. Sometimes ketubahs are left with a word, a letter, or part of a letter missing so that the ketubah may be completed just before it is signed. The word usually left incomplete is the word v'kinyanah, which translates as “the kinyan” or “the agreement” and appears close to the end of the ketubah text. If this is to be filled in by the rabbi at the tish, be sure to bring an appropriate pen that has the same color ink as the ketubah text itself. If only a letter or part of a letter is to be left out, this is usually the letter kof in the word v'kinyanah.
There is a class of acts in Talmudic law called kinyan. A kinyan is a symbolic way of facilitating a transaction, usually monetary in nature. If one buys a field it is not truly the buyer's until he has performed a symbolic act of acquisition upon it, for instance, built a fence around it or walked its width and breath.
Since the ketubah is truly a contract, the methods used to confirm the groom's agreement to undertake what is outlined in the ketubah come from the section of Jewish law having to do with business contracts. As such, if the ketubah is one that conforms to the traditional Talmudic ketubah contract, the bride and groom do not actually sign the ketubah. Instead, it is signed by two witnesses who have witnessed the groom formally agreeing with the bride or her agent to undertake the obligations of the ketubah.
In Judaism there is not really a bifurcation between ritual and civil law. They are both commanded in the Torah and are equally important. Nearly a quarter of practical Jewish law is business law, from torts to acquisitions to the details of contract law such as a ketubah.
The kinyan used here to signify the groom's acceptance of the terms and obligations of the ketubah is called a kinyan chalipin. Such a kinyan is actually an exchange. The bride or her agent, usually the rabbi, takes an object and gives it to the groom. In exchange for the object, known as consideration in common law, the groom assumes his obligation to the terms of the contract before him, in this case the ketubah. The kinyan object is passed to the groom from the rabbi or the bride, and he lifts up the object, thus “acquiring” it. Usually the kinyan object is not kept by the groom but promptly returned. The witnesses who have watched the act of kinyan then sign the ketubah, signifying their testimony.
The concept of kinyan as an exchange is derived from the following verse in the book of Ruth, “This was the ancient practice in Israel … to confirm all things, a man would remove his shoe and give it to the other party. This among the Israelites would create a confirmation.” Though in biblical times a shoe was used, today we usually use an object such as a handkerchief or a pen.
A variation of the kinyan of the ketubah was recently suggested by Rabbi Dov Linzer, head of Chovivey Torah, an Orthodox rabbinical school in New York City, and has been used by some Orthodox couples who wish to be sure the bride, as well as the groom, is fully engaged in each part of the ceremony.
If the bride and groom will not see each other until the bedekin and the bride would like to make the kinyan over the ketubah herself instead of relying upon the rabbi to be her agent, she can give the kinyan object to the groom herself under the chuppah, just before or after the start of the wedding ceremony.
Some Sephardic Jews such as those of Syrian ancestry do not make the kinyan with the groom at the signing of the ketubah but later under the chuppah just before the giving of the ring. In addition, though Ashkenazi Jews all read the ketubah under the chuppah, not all Sephardic Jews do this.
The ketubah witnesses, of course, need to be present under the chuppah at this time to watch the kinyan and promptly sign the ketubah. If the bride wishes, the kinyan object that she might give to the groom, instead of a handkerchief, pen, or shoe, might be a wedding ring for him to wear ever after or a silver kiddush cup for Sabbath and holiday use.
The Witnesses' Signatures
If your ketubah is written in Aramaic with Hebrew letters, the most common practice is for the witnesses to sign the ketubah with their Hebrew names followed by the name of their father, mother, or both. The Hebrew word used for son is ben meaning, “son of” and for daughter, bat, or “daughter of.” According to Jewish law, the witnesses on the ketubah should be males who are observant of Jewish law. At observant weddings the witnesses usually sign their names, for purposes of ketubah signing, using the word ben after their name and then writing their father's name. At the end of each of the witnesses' names, if it is not preprinted, the work ayd, witness, in Hebrew, should be written.
Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis will allow women as well as men to sign the ketubah and will almost always use the witnesses' mothers' names in addition to their fathers' names. In traditional Jewish law, the use of anyone other than an observant Jewish male would pose a problem. What is considered observant for this purpose is the subject of some legal debate, but most traditional opinions would require the witnesses to be at least Sabbath observers. Be sure to consult with your rabbi regarding what kind of witnesses would be appropriate and to inform your rabbi prior to the ceremony who the witnesses will be.
During most of Jewish history, people did not have last names. They were called by their given name and their parent's name. In Orthodox synagogues, some rituals, such as calling to the Torah, utilize a person's father's name; other rituals, such as blessings for recovery, utilize their mother's name. In non-Orthodox circles, father's and mother's names are usually used together.
According to halacha, Jewish law, since the act of witnessing the ketubah is no different from being a witness in a court of law, the two witnesses must not be related to each other or to the bride or groom, neither directly nor by marriage. The requirement of not utilizing fewer than two witnesses comes from the verse in Deuteronomy, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses is a thing established.” According to Jewish law, the rabbi or wedding officiate, if he is not related to the bride or groom, may also be counted as one of the witnesses.