This morning I received this wonderful email from one of my customers:
(Our ketubah) is so beautiful! Mike and I read it to each other and it took everything I had not to cry on it. Thank you so much for adding so much beauty to our wedding and our lives.
— Lauren and Mike
What a great way to start the week!
I get asked by a lot of interfaith couples how they can make their ketubah reflect both of their traditions. Often the best way is to write your own text. Writing your own words gives you the chance to have your ketubah express a very personal statement about who you are, and what your wedding represents to you. My wife and I did this for our own ketubah. We began by doing a lot of research, examining the traditions of our religions and reading books on other wedding vows and blessings. We collected everything that “resonated” with us, and expressed what we believed. We then worked together to combine these into one very personal and unified statement.
By going through this process, we learned a lot about each other and about ourselves. This was one of our first tasks as an interfaith couple, were we really had to think about what being “interfaith” would mean. Since we came from different religions, we couldn’t casually rely on our traditions, safely assuming that we both had a similar understand about marriage. Instead, we actually had to think hard about what marriage meant to us. We had to learn what our different traditions said about love and marriage, and discuss how they were similar and how they were different. By having to explain our own traditions, I believe we learned more about what they actually meant to us. We learned about what was important, and what didn’t really matter. We often discovered that some traditions we had never though of before actually held great meaning for us, while others just didn’t matter. We learned how to listen to the other, learn from each other, and see both the similarities and the differences. It made us stronger as a couple, and more prepared for our wedding.
I received another wonderful email from a customer of mine:
My husband and I just wanted to thank you for the beautiful ketubah. We were using your ketubah for our renewal of vows, as we had never signed a ketubah in our original interfaith wedding ceremony. The rabbi thought the ketubah was so beautiful that she incorporated it into the service! Rather than have it signed in a private room as is usually the case, she called all of our guests onto the bimah to see it, read it aloud, and had a public signing. Your ketubah was one of the most complimented parts of our special day and will serve as a beautiful reminder of our renewal for years to come. Thank you. It was a pleasure to work with you from beginning to end and if the rave reviews were any indication, we may be sending some future customers your way!
Kristen and Adam
I went to an interfaith wedding this past weekend. After the ceremony, I was struck by the differences between the styles of the two officiants, how one’s words turned me off while the other’s resonated with me. The first officiant was a very energetic man, grabbing the mike and working the audience. The second officiant was calmer, more mild, and spoke directly to the couple. The first officiant was a “God man” — every other word out of his mouth was “God bless this” and “thank God for that.” I kept getting the impression of a teacher’s pet who compliments the teacher even on the playground, just in case she’s listening. I don’t think the second officiant mentioned God more than a couple times, but his words and manner clearly expressed the holiness of the event.
But the difference between the two really became clear at the final blessing. The first officiant kept stressing that the best way to avoid divorce was to attend church/temple together and to pray together. First of all, I hate wedding ceremonies that discuss divorce statistics — it’s pretty tacky. But while the first officiant kept harping on the format of the couple’s spirituality, he never once mentioned its content. To him, as long as you pray, or mention God a lot, you’ll be fine — regardless of what you pray about or why you are praying. Compare this to the second officiant, who made no mention about services or prayers or traditions. He instead concluded his blessing by reading aloud the words the bride and groom had used to describe each other. Unlike the other officiant, he did not stress the format of their commitment, but instead focused on its content. It was the simplest and most beautiful part of the whole ceremony.
So when you are chosing your officiants, be sure to talk to them about what they plan to talk about. Make sure that their idea of spirituality and ceremony resonates with yours.
A question I often get asked is “How much Hebrew should my ketubah have?”. This party depends on the type of ceremony you are having, and partly on your attitude towards the ketubah. If you are having a Conservative or Orthodox ceremony, your Hebrew text is pretty much set. There is a traditional text used for the Orthodox ketubah (often referred to as the “Aramaic text”). Conservative ketubot use that Orthodox text, and add a paragraph called the Lieberman Clause. This is a text added in the 1950s to clarify the rules about divorce. (Sentimental, no?)
If you are having a Reform or an interfaith ceremony, you have many more options. A Reform ketubah just needs to contain the text: “On the ___ day of the ___ month of the year ___ in the community of ___, the groom ___ son of ___ and the bride ___ daughter of ___ were wed according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” Beyond that, you could add anything you want. An interfaith ceremony often includes the same text, just leaving off the part about “according to the laws of Moses and Israel”, since technically speaking, an interfaith ceremony doesn’t adhere to those laws.
Beyond that basic text, a Reform or interfaith couple can add as much Hebrew as they like. Some people prefer to have little to no Hebrew. The idea is that since the ketubah is a contract between the bride and the groom, and they want the language to be something they can read and understand. Other people like to have a balance between the Hebrew and the English. For them, I offer what I call the “Egalitarian Hebrew”. This is a full translation of my Standard English text, creating a ketubah that is truly bilingual.
What ever you choose, I always recommend that you have your rabbi review the proof of your ketubah. Since he is the official signer of the ketubah, its important that he sees and approves what it says.
I just released the following press release about Modern Ketubah.
Artist Creates a Modern Twist on an Old Wedding Tradition: Fine art photographer Daniel Sroka creates unique wedding certificates that appeal to the tastes and sensibilities of modern couples.
Morristown, NJ (PRWEB) May 31, 2006 — Couples hoping to find a unique and meaningful way to celebrate their marriage now have a beautiful alternative founded in an old tradition – the ketubah, a wedding document symbolizing life ahead together as a couple and an artistic heirloom to pass down to generations to come. Rooted in Jewish tradition, the ketubah is a work of art that celebrates the vows of the bride and groom, and is signed by them during the marriage ceremony. The ketubah has been going through a creative resurgence, fueled in part by artists like Daniel Sroka. Mr. Sroka combines his talents in photography and graphic design to create fine art ketubot that both appeal to the tastes of modern brides and grooms, and meet the needs of modern, non-traditional wedding ceremonies.
Mr Sroka’s exquisite designs combine his photography of flowers and nature with traditional or contemporary texts, and are available through his own online store, Modern Ketubah.
Mr. Sroka got his start while planning his own wedding. Like all couples, Mr. Sroka and his fiancée were looking for the “perfect” ketubah, one that reflected their artistic taste and their contemporary ideas of marriage. “But every ketubah we found seemed to rely on the same traditional images and the same old-fashioned language,” Mr. Sroka explained. “They did not hold any special meaning for our wedding.”
Mr. Sroka decided to combine his skills at graphic design and photography to create his own ketubah. He found the perfect symbol for marriage in a photograph he took of an ancient rose bush in their garden. “Unlike the traditional images, we felt that this flower symbolized marriage to us. Even though its strong branches support and protect the plant, only constant care and attention enable it reach its full potential and beauty.” Mr. Sroka’s ketubah design was so well received that he decided to go into business for himself, creating ketubot for others looking for something out of the ordinary.
Since Mr. Sroka’s ketubah designs do not rely on traditional religious images, they are especially popular among interfaith couples, and non-Jewish couples. “All of my ketubah designs come from my fine art photography of nature. Flowers and leaves are natural symbols of life and joy, that give couples a more contemporary way to celebrate their wedding. My goal is to create ketubot which any couple, from any background or tradition can find meaningful to their own wedding.”
After three years, and hundreds of ketubot, Daniel Sroka has created ketubot for all kinds of wedding ceremonies: including Jewish weddings, interfaith weddings, non-religious ceremonies, and gay and lesbian weddings. He has also made fine art wedding certificates for anniversary celebrations, and as thank you gifts for the parents. “It’s been a special honor for me, being able create works of art that become a significant part of the lives of my customers.”
About Daniel Sroka and Modern Ketubah: Daniel Sroka is a fine art photographer and award-winning graphic designer. His photography offers a unique and intimate glimpse into the mystery of the natural world, exploring the interplay of light, form, and texture found within leaves and flowers. He has also worked as a graphic designer in Japan and the USA, and was Yahoo!’s first Creative Director. His photography has been in numerous shows, and can be seen on his website. Modern Ketubah is Daniel Sroka’s online store for his contemporary ketubah designs that showcase his fine art photography of flowers, leaves, and nature.
For more information, visit http://www.modernketubah.com/contact.php
In the Jewish tradition “hiddur mitzvah”, it is a mitzvah, a good act, to make religious objects as beautiful as possible. Beautifying these ceremonial objects heightens their spiritual quality, and reflects their importance and value. I believe that it also encourages people to make those objects an integral part of their lives. Here’s an example: we used to have a plain-looking menorah that my wife picked up in college. It was functional, but not that attractive, so it stayed in the closet most of the year. But after our son was born, we wanted to “upgrade” and find a new menorah for our new family, something that could become an heirloom. We found one made by a metalsmith from Vermont that was (to put it simply) gorgeous. Simple, pure, strong — a real work of art. Because of that beauty, an object that was once hidden now stays on our mantle all year long.
It’s a wonderful concept, and one that I find very compelling as an artist. It reinforces what many of us artists already feel at a gut level — that our work can serve a greater purpose than simply making “pretty things”. That making beautiful things can itself be a spiritual act. I think of this a lot as I make ketubot. My goal is to make this cermonial object as beautiful as possible, so that the couple who receives it will think of it not only as a wedding document, but a work of art that they will treasure.