Monday, April 28, 2014

Ginnifer Goodwin's Missing Wedding Ketubah

As I reflect on my first ten years of being a rabbi (it's amazing how time flies), I have to put wedding officiation at the top of my list of favorite things to do. In fact, I consider wedding officiation as more of a perk of being a rabbi rather than a task. Standing with couples under their wedding chuppah as they begin their married life together is truly a highlight of my rabbinate.

As an art lover I also enjoy seeing the beautiful ketubah (wedding contract) that a couple selects. These ketubahs are usually the first major art purchase a young couple makes and they hang with pride in the couple's home. Before affixing my signature to the ketubah I always take a few moments to look at the creative design, which tells me quite a bit about the couple.

Actress Ginnifer Goodwin explains what a wedding ketubah is on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Last week the ketubah went mainstream with more than just a passing mention on national TV in a video clip that is going viral. Ginnifer Goodwin, the actress known mostly for her role on HBO's former series "Big Love," appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Wednesday night. Goodwin, the Jewish actress from Memphis who was a member of the Jewish teen youth groups BBYO and NFTY, was asked by Jimmy Kimmel if she's Jewish. Goodwin, who last year explained that she only recently reconnected with her Jewish faith, explained that she is Jewish (her mother's Jewish, but not her father) and that her husband Josh Dallas is not Jewish. The couple stars together in the TV show "Once Upon a Time." The pregnant Goodwin told a very funny story about how her wedding ketubah went missing the day of the couple's wedding two weeks earlier on April 12, 2014.

Goodwin explained that her wedding planner called her crying on the morning of the wedding saying that her car has been robbed. "What could be in the car that actually would matter?" Goodwin recalls thinking. The wedding planner told her that the ketubah was missing and she started making phone calls to Israel.

Even though a ketubah is a big deal for Jewish couples as it's the first step in the process that makes the wedding kosher (valid), Goodwin wasn't anxious about the fact that her ketubah was stolen. She quickly explained to the wedding planner that the rabbi could just write a new one on hotel stationery if necessary, which is correct. (The rabbi who officiated at the wedding was Goodwin's childhood rabbi who also officiated at her bat mitzvah).

The rest of the story gets interesting as the ketubah was actually found and thanks to Ginnifer Goodwin's congressional representatives it made its way to her wedding.

"By the time we get off the phone," Goodwin told Kimmel, "I have messages from my representatives who say – this sounds like a joke – two Jews were walking down the street in Hollywood, found a piece of paper in the middle of the street, read Hebrew, knew that like the 13th of Nissan was like the 12th of April, and that it therefore might be important that we get this piece of paper back with my name on it."

So the guys who found the ketubah searched Google for Ginnifer Goodwin's representatives and managed to return the lost wedding ketubah to the couple hours before their wedding. It's an amazing story and now millions more people know what a ketubah is. Here's the video clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live:


Anonymous said...

there is absolutely no reason for a ketubah unless both parties are jewish. a marriage between a jew and a non-jew is not recognized by jewish law (halachah) and a ketubah accomplishes nothing

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

That is true in this case because it's an intermarriage. My point was that ketubot are generally more important than Ginnifer Goodwin alleges in the interview on Jimmy Kimmel. However, even in cases where both partners are Jewish, there are other ways of satisfying the Halakhic requirements of the wedding even if the ketubah is found to be pasul (invalid): Namely, kinyan (the husband giving a ring to the woman with the formula stated) and bi'ah (sexual intercourse).

Michael said...

R' Jason,

You said in your response to anonymous that "there are other ways of satisfying the Halakhic requirements of the wedding even if the ketubah is found to be pasul "

My understanding was always that the ketubah is not necessarily a part of the marriage ceremony, but that it is definitely a halakhic requirement of marriage.

As I recall, the kidushin (sometimes translated betrothal) does not require any contract, and is, in fact, accomplished by the giving of the ring. (It can also be effected by contract, but as I remember, the kidushin contract (as opposed to the ketubah) can be as simple as writing on a paper “you are betrothed to me” without any other text. And, as you say, relations can also serve for kidushin, though the rabbis discouraged that.)

Nisuin (the second stage of the ceremony, often translated as marriage) is effected by the seven blessings, the entering of the chupa, or the entering of the yichud room. Thus, it also does not require a ketubah.

But I also remember learning that one is required to give his wife a ketubah, and is otherwise not permitted to live with her (though they would, as you point out, still be married). A ketubah is a contract where the husband promises to support his wife, and where a lien is placed on his estate to provide payment to the wife upon divorce or if he pre-deceases her, and this was established by the rabbis to provide for and protect the wife in a society where women generally (but not always) did not have property or the wherewithal to provide for themselves.

I suppose one could argue that today, when women are better able to provide for themselves and the enforceability of the ketubah may be more difficult, that it should no longer be necessary (has the CJLS said anything on this?), but in such a case, why bother at all?

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

@Michael, thanks for your question:

Kiddushin equals the Jewish wedding which today has both Erusin (Betrothal) and Nissuin together. In past generations the Erusin blessings were done months before the Erusin ceremony under the chuppah.

For a halakhically valid wedding to take place there should be a kosher ketubah signed by two witnesses BEFORE any ceremony takes place (both witnesses must be at the ceremony).

Kinyan (acquisition through a ring) during the ceremony and Bi'ah following the ceremony are both necessary components as well.

B'deiavad (after the fact), if the ketubah is found to be invalid (pasul), the marriage would still be kosher by way of kinyan (with intent to marry) and bi'ah (consummation of the marriage through sexual intercourse).

Michael said...

OK, just trying to follow the flow of thought here.
You said in response to anonymous “there are other ways of satisfying the Halakhic requirements of the wedding even if the ketubah is found to be pasul”
I said “My understanding was always that the ketubah is not necessarily a part of the marriage ceremony, but that it is definitely a halakhic requirement of marriage.” To make the idea more clear, I mean to say that the wedding and marriage may very well be valid without a ketubah, but I thought that there is still a halakhic requirement that a married couple have a ketubah, notwithstanding the fact that the marriage is valid without one. (Here is an analogy: One is required to put a mezuzah on the doorpost of one’s home, but no one would say that a home without a (valid) mezuzah is an invalid home; the home exists, only it is missing a halakhic requirement.)
However, to restate the latter part of my post, taking into account what a ketubah actually is and why the rabbis required it, one could argue that it should no longer be necessary. What do you think? Has the CJLS said anything on this?
P.S. While linguistic translations from mishnaic terminology are often problematic, I would argue that kiddushin = erusin and not the entire wedding ceremony. Here is why: The erusin (kiddushin) is effected by the words “Haray At Mikudeshet Li”, from the same root as kiddushin. Also, the erusin/kiddushin blessings state “asher kidshanu” while the nisuin blessings do not mention kedusha. Additionally, the root koof-dalet-shin, while generally relating to holiness, also has a connotation of separateness, which is what erusin does – it separates the woman from being permitted to have relations with any other person other than the husband. Nisuin, from the root for lifting up, changes the relationship from separateness/restriction (she is no longer permitted to anyone else) and elevates it to permit the couple to live with one another and have the joy of life together. Hence the nisuin blessings conclude with simcha – joy – something not explicitly mentioned in the kiddusin blessings. Of course, to one with the appropriate sensitivity, the greatest simcha is actually in the erusin blessings – m’kadesh et amo yisrael. Who can listen to that bracha and not feel immense simcha! Ashreinu, ma tov chelkaynu!