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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Filling in a Copy of the Ketuba Late

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: A mistake was made in filling out my ketuba and the identical copy for the certifying beit din. We had a spare ketuba but not an additional one to use as a copy. Now, several days after my wedding, can I ask the witnesses to sign a copy with the same information, including the date of the wedding? (The mesader kiddushin and witnesses are talmidei chachamim but not poskim, and they encouraged me to ask this shayla.)

Answer: It is best, if feasible, to ask the beit din in charge of authorizing your marriage how they want it handled. However, we can understand why the parties involved apparently want to avoid that headache, and we will inform you of the halachic issues on your preferred plan. Your description hints that you did not use the Israeli Rabbanut, as the ketuba copy they provide is a special form which is different from a regular ketuba, including that it says it is a copy, which has advantages.

The ketuba must be a valid financial document. If the first ketuba was invalid (not every mistake invalidates), it was necessary to write a new one as soon as possible, although it could be done after going into the yichud room (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. III, H-2). The copy of the ketuba is a contemporary idea and not a halachic obligation. It primarily serves to keep information on the wedding and ketuba in the State of Israel apparatus, which can prove valuable in several ways. There is a machloket among poskim whether a woman who lost her ketuba can secure payment based on this copy (see our Ask the Rabbi column, Balak 5774). This in turns impacts on the question of whether a couple can continue living together in the fullest sense when the couple’s ketuba is lost or disqualified and the Rabbanut has a valid copy, prior to arranging a replacement ketuba (see ibid.).

Can one predate a standard ketuba so that it can serve as a duplicate for the ketuba? One of the things that disqualify a document is if it is predated (Shvi’it 10:5). This is because of the laws of liens, which enable extracting payment from one who bought real estate from one who owed money. One could misuse a predated document to seize property from someone who bought land before the obligation found in the document, in which case the lien did not take effect on it. Therefore, a predated ketuba is invalid. If we accept the view that the copy cannot be used for payment but just provides information, then it might not be viewed as a financial document that must not be predated.

According to the opinions that the ketuba copy can be used for payment, it is generally forbidden to predate it even if the chatan requests it. This is because a debtor cannot authorize a predated document, as it can potentially harm others (i.e., those who bought real estate from him). Witnesses who signed a document which got lost may not write an identical replacement because their authority ended with the writing of the first document (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 41:1; S’ma ad loc. 4; Shach ad loc. 3). Even with the debtor’s reauthorization, they can only write it with the date of the reauthorization (Shach ibid.).

However, if the witnesses did not carry out their job validly, they can sign a new valid document (ibid. 4) with the date when the document was to have been properly signed. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 39:3) discusses the case of one who becomes obligated to his friend with a kinyan (as a chatan does) in front of witnesses. He says that the witnesses can write the subsequent document with the date of the kinyan even if they delayed doing so for a long time. In our case, while the witnesses signed a new valid ketuba, they did not finish their job with that since their kinyan on the terms of the ketuba was designed to result in a ketuba copy as well. Therefore, they can finish their job by writing the copy with the date of the time of the kinyan/wedding. Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg shlita agreed with this analysis and recommended that you explicitly ask the witnesses to sign the copy, which you can easily do.

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