Every man who has ever married is familiar with the moment. The excitement has reached a peak, music is playing, you are in a banquet hall, all your family and all the friends you have ever had are surrounding you, and the woman that you love is already waiting for you under the Huppa. You are with the rabbi to decide on the amount of the Ketubah. The rabbi says its necessary to fill in the missing amount and you, jokingly, say: “Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa” – that is of course NIS 555,000 (five hundred and fifty five thousand NIS).
You have no conception of what you are signing. You think it’s just a nice wedding tradition. After all, this is the happiest moment of your life and the amount is meaningless. Everyone is excited and laughing at the Aramaic words for “Be thou my wife…”. That’s all.
But that is not all.
My dear friend, once you have filled in the sum and signed the Ketubah you need to decide – either to be the best, most loving, most forgiving and most sensitive husband in the world, or to start saving up…
Let me explain:
The Halachic concept underlying the man’s Ketubah obligation appears in the Babylonian Talmud that was written approximately 1500 years ago stating: “so he will not take it lightly to remove her” (Bava Kama 89 71).
In other words, the Ketubah is intended to make the woman feel confident in her marriage and to ensure that the man will not be able to cast her out at his whim.
And, if he does wish to do so, he will be obliged to pay her the amount promised in the Ketubah.
It is a common mistake to assume that the liability for payment of the Ketubah amount is created or comes into effect on the improper conduct of the man and that it constitutes a kind of penalty for his guilt.
The Ketubah liability derives from the man’s desire to dissolve the marriage and to get a divorce.
In other words, the mere fact that the man files for divorce while the woman does not wish to divorce is sufficient to oblige the man at law to pay the Ketubah amount without any regard to fault or blame on his part.
In light of the above, it is clear that only when it is the woman that initiates the divorce is the man not liable to pay the Ketubah amount.
Thus the document that the man signs at the wedding ceremony can oblige him in practice to pay huge amounts of money only because of his wish to divorce his wife.
This is a legally binding contract for all intents and purposes.
There is no doubt that the fact that the Rabbinical Court enforces the payment of the Ketubah promise is problematic in our day and age, since there is no connection between the reality of the times when the Ketubah was instituted and the reality of today.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that the text of the document is somewhat anachronistic, especially in its inequality as it only imposes an obligation on the man in favor of the woman. The question is why there is no similar obligation on the woman in favor of the man?
It is also problematic that the man is compelled to pay compensation just for wanting to end the relationship. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court does not currently intervene in Rabbinical Court Ketubah rulings, and allows sanctions for non-performance while blatantly disregarding the problematic nature of this.
There is no doubt that the Ketubah issue is alive and kicking today; that is regarding whether it is justified or not.
The Ketubah contract can be implemented and enforced just as any other contract. This being the case, it is essential that every man or woman going through a divorce proceeding plans his/her steps well in order to achieve the optimal outcome regarding the entitlement to, or release from, the Ketubah amount.
And now, some tips for friends who, despite all, promised incredible amounts in the Ketubah:
Do not rush to institute divorce proceedings in the Rabbinical Court. Even if you are enraged and if the misery of being with your wife is unbearable, be sure to obtain good advice before filing for divorce because the mere filing, without any connection to any fault may be sufficient to land you with a huge liability of hundreds of thousands of Shekels even if you are the perfect, faithful, devoted and loving husband and father.
If things don’t work out between you and the woman who was once the love of your life, do not hurry to leave the house – leaving the house constitutes grounds for enforcing the Ketubah, even if your wife files for divorce, because she can say that you initiated the separation and therefore she had no choice.
Not to mention the fact that when one of the spouses leaves the house without an agreement to do so and without properly preparing the children for it then this will be a traumatic event for all the family.
If you have decided to separate, it is best to seek advice regarding the right way to do this and at what stage.
Your eagerness to get divorced could be bad for you. Rabbinical Courts always suggest that you first get divorced and then discuss the Ketubah. If you do get divorced before settling the matter of the Ketubah then prepare yourself to write the check. Think of the divorce as buying a ticket to a movie (and believe me, the process plays out like a movie). Once the ticket is bought there is no going back on it. With a Ketubah too you are obligated and there is no way back, no cancellations and no refunds.
Most importantly, remember that you got married, you committed yourself and now you want to separate, while the woman you once loved wants to continue trying to work things out. Perhaps you should give love another chance.
On second thought, maybe that’s the true objective of the Ketubah.