Traditional and Nontraditional Texts
Though the traditional ketubah text is a fairly businesslike document written in ancient Aramaic and mostly describes the husband's obligations to his wife, having one is a Jewish law and tradition many thousands of years old. Besides the traditional text many alternative ketubah texts are also available. Most nontraditional ketubah texts come in Hebrew, English, or both and can be purchased from any number of online ketubah retailers. Some alternative ketubah texts are egalitarian and outline both the bride and the groom's obligations to each other during the marriage and in case of divorce. Others do not dictate the obligations of bride and groom in case of divorce and describe only their sentiments of emotional and interpersonal support to each other.
Whichever ketubah text and translation you plan to use, be sure to consult with your rabbi or wedding officiant first. Depending on their Jewish affiliation they may require a certain kind of ketubah text and may or may not have a preference or requirement with regard to translations.
Orthodox and Traditional kitubot always include the Aramaic text, though there is some slight variation in textual style, phrasing, and content even among these traditional Aramaic kitubot. Often a couple using this type of ketubah will choose to include an English translation of the Aramaic text in a separate paragraph. This translation can be literal, though often it is more poetic.
Though artistically fashioned decorative kitubot have become very popular among all Jews today, a traditional Aramaic ketubah can be obtained for only a few dollars, often copied by machine since there is no reason that the ketubah be handwritten or decorated if you do not plan to hang it on your wall.
The English translation can be purchased as part of the ketubah, or you can choose to write one yourself and give it to the ketubah artist or company to print or write in calligraphy. Though a traditional Aramaic ketubah text has only space for the two witnesses to sign, often the English translation will include a space for bride and groom and sometimes the rabbi to sign.
Many kitubot today are highly decorated. Though in many religions religious texts were often elaborately illuminated in order to communicate their lessons and stories to those who were illiterate, Jewish religious texts such as prayer books and bibles were rarely illuminated with drawings. This was probably due to the Jewish opposition to rendering images, especially of God. The two exceptions to this, beginning in the Middle Ages, were the Passover Haggadah, the book used for the Passover Seder, and the ketubah.
There is a wide array of nontraditional ketubah alternatives. Almost all of these kitubot are available in Hebrew, English, or in both languages side by side. Some couples, especially from Conservative or Orthodox families, choose to use a traditional Aramaic Hebrew text along with an alternative English translation. Other Conservative and some Reform Jews opt for a traditional-style ketubah in Aramaic Hebrew written with egalitarian language. These egalitarian kitubot outline both the bride and groom's equal obligations to each other but utilize the traditional Aramaic phrases adapted from the traditional ketubah text to do so. Egalitarian kitubot of this type can come in Aramaic or more Modern Hebrew language.
Reform kitubot can be purchased in Hebrew, English, or both languages and do not usually refer to provisions in case of divorce or separation. If your Reform ketubah is to have a Hebrew language section it will most likely be in Modern Hebrew, not Aramaic. Reform ketubah texts are always egalitarian.
Some conservative, reform, or Reconstructionist couples have chosen to use a document called a brit ahuvim, or a lovers' covenant. This document was written by Rachel Adler in her 1998 book Engendering Judaism. It is not a ketubah but rather a Jewish legal document that creates a legal partnership. It is written in Hebrew with an English translation. Some liberal couples find it appealing because it is an egalitarian text and binds the couple to a legal partnership, but it does not fit the halachic, the traditional Jewish legal parameters of a ketubah for kiddushin, the classic Jewish marriage ceremony.
Humanistic Jewish kitubot are written in any language and sometimes translated into Hebrew. They focus exclusively on the bride and groom's aspirations to build a harmonious family together. Nontraditional kitubot usually provide space for the bride and groom to sign but will sometimes provide spaces for the signature of witnesses and the rabbi to sign, while some do not require any signatures at all.