January 17, 2020

Finding the Perfect Ketubah

Photos courtesy of Anna Abramzxon

The ketubah has always been an integral part of a Jewish wedding. The marriage contract details the husband’s obligation to his wife and is designed to protect her if they get divorced or he dies. Couples present the ketubah at their wedding and often display it in a prominent place in their home afterward. 

While the ketubah used to be a simple legal document, today, ketubah-making has exploded into an international business. When searching for ketubahs, couples can choose from an array of handmade, custom ketubahs in a number of different styles and prices. They can get a papercut, hand-painted, handwritten, giclee, canvas or letterpress ketubah, ranging in price from $15 to over $1,000.

In Los Angeles, couples have the option of buying from a Judaica store or ordering a custom ketubah from a local artist like Anna Abramzon, who makes colorful ketubahs painted in watercolor, gouache and ink. In addition to creating ketubahs for the wedding, she offers free replacement ketubahs if they are lost or destroyed in a natural disaster. 

“Nowadays, people really love to showcase their ketubah prominently throughout the ceremony and celebration,” Abramzon told the Journal. “After the big day, couples often use their ketubah as the jumping-off point for decorating their home and starting their art collections. They often come back to me for other kinds of art and for various life cycle events, all to complement the style of their ketubah, the first piece of art they chose together.”

Abramzon’s designs include ketubahs with palm trees, hamsas and couples embracing, and they start at $139. She made her first ketubah 12 years ago for her own wedding and then began making them for friends. 

Her background is in figurative art and portraiture, which she said gives her “a unique point of view, which I bring to the world of Judaica. My style is original and recognizable, with sophisticated color combinations and original imagery. Every one of my ketubahs tells the love story of the couple signing it.”

Another local artist creating custom and premade ketubahs is Melody Molayem, who was inspired to get into the business after going to an all-girls seminary in Israel in the summer of 2013. She makes papercut ketubahs of trees, flowers, meadows and hasmas, and cuts her designs on wood and paints over them. Her inspiration comes from stories from the Tanakh, Spanish and Moroccan patterns, florals, trees, astrology, typographic art and museums, and her ketubahs start at $355 on Etsy. 

“I want my ketubahs to be somewhat educational of what a 

true partnership and Jewish marriage is all about, and really remind the couple of their personal love story as well as their roles within the marriage whenever they look at it.” — Melody Molayem

“I have always been creative and imaginative, and all my ideas are original artworks that combine [the] aesthetics of romance, fairy tales, spirituality, holiness and the Torah into something that has never been done before,” she said. “I want my ketubahs to be somewhat educational of what a true partnership and Jewish marriage is all about, and really remind the couple of their personal love story as well as their roles within the marriage whenever they look at it.”

Both Abramzon and Molayem consult with the couple and their rabbi to ensure the text is just right. Traditionally, it’s written in Aramaic, but some couples choose to have it written in English. Couples sometimes customize the text and write their own version of a ketubah.

“Certain rabbis have particular ketubah guidelines and [I] have learned this through working with a wide range of rabbis and wedding officiants,” Molayem said. “For example, certain Sephardic rabbis require a square-shaped text box, which can sometimes change the whole design of the artwork.”

One place where couples can either buy a ketubah, ensure the text is correct or do
both is The Mitzvah Store, a Judaica shop on Beverly Boulevard in the La Brea neighborhood. There, they will encounter the owner, Rabbi Shimon Kraft, who opened the store in 1991 and has been helping couples ever since.

Kraft will write the ketubah text himself, which, he said, takes six to eight hours.
Typically, couples like to go to Kraft in person because he said they are overwhelmed and confused by the process and they want some clarification.

“I work with whoever is marrying the couple to make sure the details are correct,” he said. “The worst thing is if they get to the wedding and it’s not right.”

When couples sort through all their options and end up choosing the kind of ketubah that truly reflects their relationship, they can look at it anytime to remember just how special their union really is. 

“It’s a reminder of the holiness of the marriage between a couple,” Kraft said.  “It’s a very significant thing.”