Love and reality make for a good marriage. The wedding ceremony celebrates the beauty of love. The ketubah addresses the reality of life. It tells us how to sustain an existing marriage. It also tells us how to deal with a terminated marriage. All marriages end. Some die by themselves. Others die with the death of a spouse.
The ketubah that is read under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, focuses on the obligations of the husband during the marriage. In order to preserve the happiness of the moment, the obligations of the husband to his divorced spouse or to his widow are not included in the ketubah document that is recited under the chuppah. Neither are the obligations of the wife toward the husband included in that document. Yet these obligations form part of the ketubah. They are incorporated by reference from rabbinical legislation.
When a man marries a woman, the ketubah imposes upon him certain obligations and benefits.
The obligations are as follows: to provide mezonot, food, for his wife and small children; to provide clothing, ornaments, and furnished lodging; to engage in regular conjugal relations; to pay his wife a lump sum that is stipulated in the written ketubah in lieu of support in the event of a divorce (this lump sum is known as ikar ketubah); to pay for his wife’s medical expenses; to pay ransom money to free his wife from captivity; to pay for her funeral and burial expenses; after the husband’s death to have his estate pay for his widow’s food, clothing, and furnished lodging expenses until the widow sues for the lump sum payment of substantially all of her ketubah money in court or until the widow remarries; after the husband’s death to allow the widow the right to continue living in her deceased husband’s house until she remarries; after the husband’s death to have his estate pay for the food and furnished lodging expenses of his young unmarried daughters.
In Talmudic times, in the event Yaakov had more than one wife and he died after their death, to have the sons of each wife inherit the specific amount of money written into each wife’s ketubah before inheriting the remainder of his estate. Thus if Rachel’s ketubah amount was $1,500 and Leah’s ketubah amount was $1,000, Yosef, the son of Rachel, would inherit $1,500, and Reuven, the son of Leah, would inherit $1,000 and then Yosef and Reuven would share equally in the remainder of Yaakov’s estate.
The benefits are as follows: in return for providing his wife and small children with mezonot and in order to maintain peace in the house, the husband is entitled to any earnings his wife generates during the course of the marriage (the wife may elect to keep her earnings provided she waives her right to mezonot; the husband may not make this decision for his wife); any unclaimed lost property found by the wife belongs to the husband; in return for committing to ransom his wife if she is captured, the husband has the right to the income from property that the wife brings with her into the marriage; in return for paying her funeral and burial expenses, the surviving husband inherits the property of his deceased wife.
The wife’s right to regular conjugal relations, her right to the ikar ketubah money, and the husband’s right to inherit his wife are inalienable rights and cannot be waived (the Rosh is of the opinion, however, that the husband’s right to inherit his wife can be waived). All of the other obligations mentioned above can be waived in a pre-nuptial agreement.