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The Honor of Reading the Kesuba
“Witnesses Sign Only After Reading…”
(Kesubos 109a)



As part of the wedding ceremony, two witnesses are invited to officially observe. They may not be relatives of one another, nor relatives of the chasan or kalla. In addition to witnessing the kiddushin and nisu’in, they also testify to the kesuba, in which the chasan accepts upon himself several monetary and marital obligations towards his wife.


Do the Witnesses Read the Kesuba

Perhaps some witnesses trouble themselves to actually read the kesuba before they sign it, but there are certainly many witnesses who do not. How can we accept this practice in light of our Gemara, which states: “Witnesses do not sign on a document unless they have read it”?


The Document Is Read for Them

Elsewhere, the Gemara (Gittin 19b) tells us that witnesses need not read the document themselves. It is enough for someone else to read it for them in order for them to sign it. However, this is true only on condition that the person reading it is fearful of the people he reads for, and would thus not dare lie.

We find this law stated in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 45:2), in the context of court procedure for Beis Din, when they are asked to acknowledge a document: “If the head of the Beis Din knows where the document is from, his clerk may read it for him. Since he trusts the clerk, and the clerk is fearful of his superior, he may sign the document even though he did not read it himself. No one else may sign a document unless he reads it word by word.”


Reading the Kesuba Under the Chuppa

We can understand why the witnesses at a chasuna do not always read the kesuba before signing it. They rely on the custom to honor a guest to read the kesuba aloud under the chuppa. The person reading it will certainly not dare to deceive the witnesses by misreading the kesuba, since there is an audience of guests present, many of whom are listening carefully for conformity.

This reason is cited by the Ravya (4:819) and other Rishonim (see Kesuba K’Hilchasa: Shvivei Eish 4, p. 81). Furthermore, the Hagahos Ashri (Gittin, ch. 2) writes that witnesses need not listen as the kesuba is read. It is enough that the contents of the kesuba are publicized. The witnesses can confidently sign on something that has become common knowledge. This answer is sufficient to explain the custom [of some] for witnesses to sign under the chuppa, after the kesuba is read. However, more common is the custom for the witnesses to sign first, before the chuppa. Nevertheless, how can they sign on a kesuba whose contents might be unknown to them?


Standardized Kesubos

Kesuba K’Hilchasa (ibid) explains that today there is a standard formula for all kesubos. The witnesses can therefore rely on the assumption that the kesuba they sign is identical to all other kesubos. They need only ascertain that the names of the chasan and kalla, and the date of the kesuba are correct. Among Ashkenazim, there is no difference between one kesuba and the next. Even the tosefes kesuba, which is optional, has a standard amount. However, if there is any unique detail of the kesuba, the rav who presides over the wedding must inform the witnesses before they sign. Rashi writes in a responsa (193), “The witnesses must see the kesuba to be informed of its conditions. If they do not have time to read it, they may ask the chasan how much money he committed, make an act of acquisition, and sign.”


Pausing Between the Kiddushin and Nisu’in

When the kesuba is signed before the chuppa, it is not read immediately. Rather, it is read under the chuppa, in order to create an interposing pause between the kiddushin and nisu’in (Tosafos, Pesachim 102b). However, when it is read and signed under the chuppa, it serves the additional purpose of enabling the witnesses to sign without having read it themselves.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.