A Jewish woman is getting married to a non-Jew. Her Jewish mother died many years ago, and the woman was raised (but not adopted) by her Jewish father and this now beloved non-Jewish 2nd wife/mother figure. Can this stepmothers name go on the ketubah, or must it be the birth mother?
[Administrator's note: A closely related question can be found at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=152]
Allow me to applaud you on your decision to make Judaism a part of your ceremony. So many Jews unfortunately leave out the Judaism in their wedding ceremony these days, especially when someone makes the decision to marry a non-Jew. The ketubah is an especially important aspect of the Jewish ceremony, and is arguably the defining aspect of a Jewish wedding, given the fact that it lays out the concept of a Jewish marriage.
A ketubah, the marriage contract, is one of the most identifiable features of the Jewish wedding. The ketubah is so important that it is read under the huppah to delineate the two halves of the wedding ceremory: kiddushin (sanctification of the wife entering into an exclusive bond with the husband) and nissuin (the husband bringing the wife into his home.) Centuries ahead of its time, it is the first prenuptial agreement outlining a Jewish husband’s obligation towards his Jewish wife. It is a contract between the spouses whose primary purpose is to protect the wife’s rights to food, shelter, and marital obligations. In the event that the marriage dissolves, the ketubah specifies the amount of money that the wife is entitled to from the husband or his estate if he died.
The ketubah is important for issues of personal status. A ketubah is one of the best proofs that a person is Jewish since it has the names of their Jewish parents. The Israeli government accepts the ketubah as proof of Jewishness for the Right of Return. Clearly, it’s a very important document.
A person on a ketubah is identified by two people: their birth father and their birth mother. These people must be mentioned if they are known because this is how we know who the person is. Of course Jewish law is sensitive to the fact that people may feel more of an attachment to a step-parent or adopted parent so there is a language that can be inserted that goes something along the lines of “So-and-so who was raised by so-and-so”. This is not a problem as long as if, G-d forbid, if there is a divorce that the get (divorce document) mentions all of the people that were mentioned in the ketubah.
There is a qualifier: everyone on the document has to be Jewish. There is a very simple reason: non-Jews have no connection to the ketubah. It just makes no sense to impose Jewish marital obligations on a non-Jewish spouse. Besides for this, Judaism says that only a marriage between two Jews is a marriage. If in the tragic event of a divorce, if such as a ketubah were presented to a rabbinic court, the terms of the ketubah could not be enforced. In your case, this would be equally relevant to the non-Jewish maternal figure as the non-Jewish spouse.
Clearly, you want to have Judaism be part of your wedding and your marriage. This is an incredibly complicated balancing I’m happy to offer my own advice on how this should be done. You really should be having this discussion before you get married. Religious differences even between coreligionists of different religious commitments cause friction in relationships. All the more so when two differing traditions are at play. Something that doesn’t seem like a big deal now becomes a huge deal when you are trying to figure out how to raise your children and traditions to follow in your home. Religion is a fundamental piece of self-understanding and as a couple is a new self with a new identity. What identity will it be? If it’s going to be a Jewish identity, what does that mean? Where is the place of the non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish home? No one can answer these questions for you. All I can say is that by the fact that you’re asking the question this question will come into play in a way that it might not with other couples.
To answer this question, we need to set aside the issue of intermarriage. Since the bride is not marrying a Jew, from the perspective of the Conservative Movement this cannot properly be called a Jewish wedding; and, thus, a ketubah would not be required.
In order to answer the question, let us assume that the bride and groom are both Jewish. I appreciate why the bride might like to have her step-mother’s name on the ketubah. It is important to understand that the ketubah is a legal document that, along with the wedding ceremony, binds the couple to one another under Jewish law. It is, therefore, important that the bride and groom be correctly identified on the ketubah. It is preferable for the bride and groom to use the Jewish name they were given at birth including their original parentage. However, there is precedent in rabbinic literature for adopted children to use their adopted parent’s names, even on a ketubah.
The Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 13a) states, “If one raised an orphan, the tradition considers that person a parent.” In the 16th Century Code of Jewish Law known as the Shulchan Aruch, Moshe Isserles rules that an adopted child may use his adopted father’s name in contracts (Orach Hayyim, 42:15). There are other references as well in rabbinic literature where adopted children use their adopted parent’s name, even on a ketubah (see for example Shemot Rabbah 46:5).
All that being said, my preference as an officiating rabbi would be for the couple to use their original Hebrew names, so as to avoid any confusion in the future. However, I think it would depend on the circumstances and the feelings of the couple. You should consult with the rabbi officiating at your wedding before ordering a ketubah.
It seems to me that this is an issue of tremendous sensitivity. On the one hand, it's clear that there is a desire to honor the step-mother, who is loved and cherished. On the other hand, there is the sacred obligation ("mitzvah") to honor and revere one's parents. Normally when this question comes to me, it's because of a strained or non-existent relationship between the birth parent and the child getting married; functionally, that person is no longer the parent. There is no indication that this is the situation in your case.
I would look for a way to include the step-mother in addition to the birth mother. Perhaps the Ketubah can list the bride as daughter of both, plus dad? While this would be unconventional I can see no objection to it. Additionally, since the step-mom will be walking the bride down the aisle with her father, perhaps there should be some way to memorialize the mom (an empty chair, a single flower on the table under the chuppah, etc.) so that she can be 'present' as well.
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