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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5772

Ask the Rabbi: A Mistake in a Ketuba

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: A friend of mine, who was recently married, noticed that in their ketuba, one of the times that it says the kalla’s name, it is written as “Sarah ben (son of) Avraham,” instead of bat (daughter of) Avraham. Is the ketuba kosher, which, I understand, determines whether they can live together?

 

Answer: There are two elements to a ketuba. One is that it is a binding monetary document, which obligates the husband or his inheritors toward the wife. Additionally, there is a religious requirement for the woman to possess a valid ketuba, without which the couple is forbidden to live together (Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 66:1- see there a machloket on what is included in living together). The reason is that a wife must have at least a minimum level of security that her husband cannot leave her without monetary consequence (Ketubot 39b). Thus, it is critical to be confident that she has a ketuba. (There is basis to say that if the woman believes that the ketuba is valid, even if a mistake unknown to her invalidates it, it is permitted for them to live together (see Minchat Yitzchak IX, 139). There are other elements of leniency to consider allowing living together without a valid ketuba document (see EH 66: 1-3), but these have problems and are beyond our present scope).

The two elements of the ketuba are connected. If it can be used as a valid legal document, it also serves the religious function. Although we try to make it as complete as possible, and some try to invoke some of the stringencies of a get, the basic need is that the ketuba can stand up to review in beit din.

Does the mistake that you raise invalidate a ketuba or another document? There is a rule regarding documents that distinguishes between different types of mistakes. A ta’ut d’muchach (a mistake where it is clear from the context what was intended to be written) does not invalidate a document (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat 49:2). There are few clearer mistakes than writing “son of” instead of “daughter of” in the place of the ketuba that relates to the bride. There is additional reason to validate the mistake, as the name of the bride, including her father’s name appears elsewhere in the ketuba. Thus, assuming the same mistake did not repeat itself, it is clear how the name should have been written (see Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 29:4).

The Itur (cited in the Beit Yosef, EH 126 and the Beit Shmuel 126:30) does say that a minor mistake in the names in a document needs to be corrected. However, it appears that this is because a name could be anything and it is harder to know what was meant to have been written. The word “ben” or “bat” could be confused in a regular document because of the possibility of a bi-gender name, but this does not apply to a ketuba where there is a distinct place for the groom and for the bride. Also the Shut Harosh (68:32) confirms the validity of a clear mistake regarding names.

Therefore, the ketuba is valid and the couple can continue to live together with the ketuba as it is. Usually, there are ways of fixing mistakes (this is too detailed to discuss here), but they become more complicated the later in the process they are discovered. The mesader kiddushin, who apparently made the mistake (as we all do, at one time or another) can be contacted regarding the proper steps to take. There is a possibility of replacing the ketuba with a new one. However, in general replacement ketubot have an altered text, at least when done on a later date than the first one was done (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 41:1 and Shach ad loc.:4). This both makes things more complicated and will look strange for those who read the new ketuba’s content. Your friends and the mesader kiddushin can discuss what to choose from among the different options. However, the couple has the halachic right to decide to leave things as they are.

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