During the glorious Shabbat Nachamu 5777, when Rav Shlomo Amar joined us at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, I had the opportunity to discuss a wide variety of halachic issues with him. Among the issues we discussed was the necessity of a Sephardic couple using the Sephardic text for their ketuba.
A leading American Sephardic rav had told me that the only crucial difference between an Ashkenazic and Sephardic ketuba is the term “mi’d’Oraita” (from the Torah) which appears in an Ashkenazic ketuba for a bride’s first marriage and should not appear in a Sephardic ketuba (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 3 Even HaEzer 12). Ashkenazic Jews since the time of the Rishonim have incorporated the word mi’d’Oraita in their ketubot describing the base amount (ikar ketuba) due to the bride from the Torah.
Ashkenazic Rishonim such as Tosafot (Ketubot 10a s.v. Amar Rav Nachman) and the Rosh (Ketubot 1:19) have struggled to explain this phenomenon in light of the Gemara (Yevamot 89a, Ketubot 10a and 11a) that explicitly states that the ketuba is a rabbinic enactment designed and intended to prevent impulsive divorce. Rabbeinu Tam explains that Ashkenazim follow the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who argues that the ketuba is of Torah origin (Ketubot 110b). The Rosh explains that the phrase “d’chazi lichi mi’d’Oraita” (that the Torah entitles you) refers to the value of the coins to be used in case of collection of the ketuba. It is teaching that the payment must be made in higher-value coins (i.e., kesef tzuri and not kesef medina) used in payment of Torah-level obligations (such as pidyon haben).
Hacham Ovadia, on the other hand, insisted that however the Ashkenazim explain their usage of the term mi’d’Oraita in the ketuba, the Sephardim Rishonim such as the Ramban did not include this word in the ketuba. Thus, Hacham Ovadia insists that the word mi’d’Oraita has no place in the ketuba text of a Sephardic couple. Accordingly, the American Sephardic rabbi told me that as long as the word mi’d’Oraita is removed, the remainder of the Ashkenazic ketuba is acceptable for Sephardic Jews. There are also significant differences in the spellings of names and transliteration of foreign words such as the location of the wedding (if it occurs outside of Israel). In addition, the Sephardic custom is for the chatan to sign the ketubahin addition to the witnesses.
I presented this insight to Rav Amar, who strongly disagreed. He noted three additional reasons why a full Sephardic text is necessary for a Sephardic couple. First, a Sephardic text includes, toward the beginning, the phrase “anan sahadi,” we are witnesses, a phrase that does not appear in the Ashkenazic version. Rav Amar notes that the Sephardic text is much more reasonable, noting that the witnesses are the “voice of the ketuba.” The ketuba in essence is the witnesses’ account of how they witnessed the groom accept with a kinyan the obligations set forth in the ketuba. In order to indicate this, the ketuba should state “anan sahadi” toward the outset of the document.
A second advantage is the set amount mentioned in the Ashkenazic ketuba for the tosefet ketuba (added amount of the ketuba) and nedunya (bridal dowry) for a first marriage is 200 zekukim kesef. Rav Amar notes the wide range of opinions of the contemporary equivalents of this monetary sum (Rav Yonah Reiss summarizes the views at http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/KETUBAH.pdf).
By contrast, Sephardic ketubot do not have set amount for the tosefet ketuba and nedunya. Instead, each couple decides the amount using a realistic amount appropriate for them. I noted the prevalent problem of exaggerated amounts and heated arguments that emerge regarding the designated amount. Rav Amar responded that this is among the responsibilities of the officiating rabbi to guide the couple to use a reasonable amount. He noted that Hacham Ovadia typically would advise couples to use the amount of $52,000, which is a reasonable amount for an Israeli couple, and that the Hebrew word ben (son) is the numerical equivalent of 52.
A third advantage is based on the fact that, essentially, the cherem d’Rabbeinu Gershom, the 10th-century ban on polygamy, is not binding on Sephardim. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 5: E.H. 1) notes that either Sephardim never accepted it or have accepted the opinion (presented as authoritative by Rav Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch E.H. 1:10) that the cherem expired at the end of the fifth millennium from Creation (i.e., 1240 C.E.). Instead, Sephardim accept upon themselves in the ketuba not to marry more than one wife. Accordingly, if Sephardim utilize an Ashkenazic text, the husband has failed to accept upon himself the cherem!
Accordingly, Rav Amar insists that Sephardic Jews should use the Sephardic ketuba text rather than merely omitting the word mi’d’Oraita from the Ashkenazic text. We look forward to continuing, be’ezrat Hashem, in the coming weeks to present more of the rich and manifold lessons gleaned from Rav Amar during the wonderful weekend he recently spent in Teaneck.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.