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Thursday, May 19, 2011 | return to: supplement, celebrations


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Signing on to tradition: More and more non-Jewish couples are getting a ketubah

by renee ghert-zand, correspondent

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When a couple’s wedding and honeymoon are over, the focus shifts to setting up a home together — which includes deciding on the best spot in the house to hang the ketubah.

And sometimes that holds true even for non-Jewish couples.

One couple in Foster City proudly displays their black-and-white calligraphic ketubah in their family room, where visitors to their home can also enjoy it.

Another couple in San Francisco’s Noe Valley had theirs hanging over their bed, “which I think is a perfect symbolic place for it,” the wife said. “But my husband was too nervous after the last larger earthquake … so now it’s in the office.”

Neither of these couples is Jewish — nor are they interfaith — as there is a growing trend among non-Jewish couples to incorporate a ketubah into their weddings. The New York Times wrote about the phenomenon recently, mainly profiling evangelical Christians who view the ketubah as a way of connecting them and their marriage to the Jewish roots of their faith.

But a non-Jew need not be religious to desire a ketubah. Take the couple in Noe Valley, for example.

CELnonjewish ketubah Jessica Kraft ketubahWhen Brooke Wheeler, 38 and her husband Jez Hildred, 42, got married in England in July 2003, they sat and signed the marriage register in front of the guests and civil servant officiant right after their wedding.

“But then you’re signing a civil document,” Wheeler explained. “My husband and I aren’t religious, but we liked the idea of having a document that served the more significant emotional aspects, like we were signing a bond to each other to share our lives.”

So they ordered a ketubah from Daniel Sroka, a fine arts photographer and ketubah artist who used to live in Redwood City. He now resides in Morristown, N.J.

“When you’re not religious people, you don’t have all the lovely ceremonial aspects of various religions, so making new traditions is kind of a wonderful way to feel the same kind of significance and wonder,” Wheeler continued. “I mean, we weren’t going to frame our marriage certificate  — it’s too plain and governmental-looking. But this was something we could choose and make our own, and make it special.”

Wheeler and her husband had first seen a ketubah at a Jewish friend’s wedding — which is also how Lawren Wu, 40, and his wife Ei-Mang, 38, of Foster City were first introduced to the tradition.

Ei-Mang’s friend was marrying a Jewish man, and she was impressed by the fact that she and other friends were asked to sign the ketubah as a means of supporting the couple as they embarked on a new life together.

“We decided to imitate what we had seen, so we commissioned ketubah artist Melissa Dinwiddie of Mountain View to create a calligraphic piece of art using the original vows that we composed for our ceremony,” Ei-Mang said. “The text is in a circular shape, and the members of our wedding party signed around the outside edge of the text.”

“It fit into the overall approach of our wedding,” Lawren added as he spoke about their October 2003 nuptials. The couple also had a Chinese poem written by his father turned into a piece of artwork incorporated into their ceremony.

CELnonjewish ketubah Ei-Mang and Lawren Wu**
Ei-Mang and Lawren Wu of Foster City hold their ketubah, designed by Mountain View ketubah artist Melissa Dinwiddie.
“We explained to our guests the importance of both pieces, but I can’t at this point, many years later, recall exactly whether we referred to the ketubah as a ‘ketubah.’ ”

Indeed, what non-Jewish couples, religious or secular, are seeking is not an actual traditional Jewish ketubah, which in essence is a legal contract between a Jewish bride and the groom that outlines each party’s duties and responsibilities. Instead, they are seeking a permanent, visual representation of either their actual wedding vows, or their sentiments about love, marital commitment and the building of a life together.

“It’s an emotional thing, not a legal, contractual thing,” Dinwiddie said of

what her non-Jewish clients are seeking.

Then again, that’s pretty much what many Jewish clients are seeking, as well.

“The No. 1 choice in terms of text among my Jewish clients is the egalitarian one, not the Orthodox or Conservative ones,” reported Naomi Teplow of Oakland, one of several local ketubah artists interviewed for this

article.

It is now common for Jewish couples, like non-Jewish and interfaith ones, to want either all-English ketubahs, or ones that include minimal amounts of Hebrew.

Sroka said he is contacted via his website by several non-Jewish couples — Baptists, Scientologists, evangelicals and messianic Jews, among others — every month seeking to include a ketubah in their weddings.

“A state marriage license just states that you are married to one another. It has no depth to it,” he reflected.

But he’s in New Jersey, where exposure to Jewish culture is more commonplace.

Bay Area ketubah artists report that non-Jewish clients account for only a tiny percentage of their business — and that most of them come from non-religious backgrounds.

Still, the artists are supportive of this non-Jewish interest in ketubahs and would be happy to see it grow.

“I’ve always wanted the ketubah tradition to spread,” said Jessica Kraft, a ketubah artist in San Francisco. “A bride and groom commissioning an artwork to represent their union is beautiful.”

Teplow sees the ketubah as a way of helping others partake in the beauty of Judaism.

“We have so much to give the world,” she said. “If they want this tradition, we should share it with them.”


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