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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5774

Ask the Rabbi: A Fading Ketuba

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: In our ketuba, the witnesses’ names have faded over the years to the point that they are barely legible. Is this a problem (we got married in Israel, so the Rabbanut has a copy of the ketuba)? Can I (the husband) ask the witnesses to resign their names? If not, what should be done?


Answer: It is forbidden for a couple to be together without the husband’s basic ketuba obligation to the wife, which includes a lien on his property so that the wife can feel a certain level of security (see Ketubot 39b & 56b). While ideas are raised to minimize the need for a ketuba document in our days (see Rama, Even Haezer 66:13; Shulchan Aruch, EH 66:1), practically we require that a valid ketuba exist.

The Rabbanut’s practice to hold a copy of the ketuba makes one’s “home ketuba much less critical, but it was not intended to be relied upon by itself l’chatchila. The existence of two documents for one obligation is problematic, as it may enable one to collect double. While some thus opposed making “copy” documents (Shut Harosh 68:21), others permitted it if proper precautions are taken (Shut Mahari Ibn Lev 55 based on Sefer Haterumot), as Rav Z.N. Goldberg rules (Techumin XXVI). A copy document probably only prevents a full denial of the obligation, but without the original document, the debtor could still claim he already paid (Urim 41:28). Likewise, one could not extract payment via the lien.

If so, does the Rabbanut ketuba give the woman the level of protection that permits the couple to live together? Indeed, some say that if the main ketuba is lost, the one at the Rabbanut is insufficient (see Teshuvot V’hanhagot, I:760; Ketuba K’hilchata, p. 163, in the name of Rav Elyashiv – no convincing reason is provided). Nitei Gavriel (33:6) argues cogently that since it is rare in our days (certainly in Israel) for the wife to be paid her ketuba without beit din’s involvement, the husband cannot make that claim, and the Rabbanut ketuba is effective. Therefore, he and Nisuim K’hilchatam (11:225) say that one may rely on the Rabbanut copy until the couple has an opportunity to remedy the situation, and we concur.

There is a special document called a shtar ketuba d’irchasa that a couple can ask a rabbi to create when a ketuba is lost. It tells the story of the past obligation and the loss of the ketuba, and the new document replaces the lost one from the time of its issuance. This is done with the husband’s involvement. The gemara (Bava Batra 168b) and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 41:1) discuss a replacement document produced by beit din for one who possesses a document that has become (or is becoming) illegible. Even the witnesses themselves of the original document may not reissue an identical copy of the old one (Shulchan Aruch ibid.) because their authorization to produce a document ceased when they signed the first one (see S’ma ad loc. 5). Even with the lender’s (or, in this case, the husband’s) reauthorization, the lien stemming from a new document would be valid only from the time of the reissuance (Shach, CM 41:3).

Your idea of resigning the document (which is parallel to rewriting other parts of the ketuba that faded) is interesting, but since it is not raised in all the discussions of the parallel cases, it is apparently not feasible. If the rewriting replaces something that is illegible, it is like writing a new document, which, as stated, cannot be done with the old date (a predated document is invalid – Shvi’it 10:5). Even if it is legible, it is still apparently a problem to write over it because people will be reading the new writing that covers the original (making it different from the discussion in Gittin 19a).

We suggest you find an opportunity to ask a rabbi with experience with such documents to prepare an appropriate new ketuba. In the meantime, you can rely on the Rabbanut ketuba. (If your wife is troubled by the situation, you should act immediately.) If you want to fix the old ketuba, you can make any changes you like after you mark clearly (if discreetly) as not for payment.

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