Rabbi Moshe Har-Noy
Formoer Rosh Kollel in Detroit
There is a serious halakhic question which arises with regard to chuppah and kiddushin, the halakhic marriage ceremony. We know that the groom formally accepts the obligations which the ketubah places upon him by means of a kinyan (act of acquisition), and the witnesses attest to this acceptance by signing the ketubah. The question is: should the kinyan and the signing take place before the chuppah (wedding canopy), or is it preferable to do it all under the chuppah?
In this brief format we cannot treat the subject comprehensively, but we can provide a taste of the different opinions.
Some are of the opinion that the ketubah should be signed before the chuppah, because according to them the marriage takes place immediately with the kiddushin, the giving of the ring to the bride by the groom. Therefore, the prohibition of a couple living together without a ketubah also takes effect then. Accordingly, it is necessary that when the ring is given, the ketubah is already valid, having been previously signed by the witnesses.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern, may he live and be well, makes an additional argument in his book HaketubahKehilkhatah (p. 88). Because there is a lot of pressure under the chuppah, there is a high likelihood that the witnesses will sign their names in the wrong place or in a halakhically improper fashion. Therefore, it is preferable that the groom accept his obligations and the witnesses sign to that effect before the chuppah (and his revered teacher Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, shlita, told him this as well). Rabbi Stern adds that before the chuppah the witnesses will be able to sign clearly and legibly. In contrast, the logistical conditions at the chuppah itself are not conducive to such writing. This makes it possible that a signature will not be recognizable, and might even be rendered invalid.
On the other hand, those who are of the opinion that the kinyan and the signing should take place at the chuppah claim that otherwise “it looks like a lie.” This is because the ketubah says “Vekanina – the groom performs an act of acquisition . . .” If there is no kinyan under the chuppah that corresponds to this line, it appears as if it is a lie.
They reject the claim that the ketubah is immediately necessary upon the giving of the ring, because they maintain that the prohibition of a couple being without a ketubah is limited to their being alone together. Since the couple will not be alone from the giving of the ring until after the chuppah is over, the prohibition does not apply.
I do not see myself as worthy to determine which of these positions is correct. However, as someone who performs marriages, I have had no choice but to adopt one position to follow in practice.
My custom is to have the kinyan and signing done before the chuppah. Then, in order to avoid the appearance of a lie, and following the ruling of my teachers, when I reach the section of the ketubah which speaks about the act of acquisition I emphasize that “The kinyan took place before the chuppah.”
I would like briefly to touch upon one other point which is relevant to the pre-chuppah process. In the ketubot of the Sephardim, there is an additional line which states that the groom solemnly swears to carry out everything that is written in the ketubah. Some decisors wish to eliminate this line, because it is quite possible that, due to the permissiveness of today’s society, grooms will not be careful to carry out everything written in the ketubah. Since we may be causing them to swear in vain, we may be transgressing the prohibition of “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.”
However, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi, has come out harshly against those who dare to change theketubah which Sephardic Jewry has used for generations.
This last issue is a tremendously difficult one, which is left for the gedoleihador (the great rabbis of the generation) to decide. Theketubah also contains other lines which may be out of place today. This raises the question of whether we need to write an updated ketubah which would omit these lines. Such questions are already under discussion by the gedoleihador. Anyone who is interested in exploring these topics further is advised to study HaketubahKehilkhatah.