Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The Ketuba is written in Aramaic, so it might not be easily understood by an English-speaking judge; however, it is still a contract. On the other hand, the ketuba is not (necessarily?) signed by either party to the marriage, and only by a couple of witnesses.

If a couple gets divorced, could the woman sue the man in an American court for her ketuba?

share|improve this question
why would there be a problem transcribing an English version? Under my chupah, we read both the Aramaic and the literal English text as well. Sure, it wasn't romantic but we did it. – Danno Aug 7 '12 at 16:36
CYLL........... – Shmuel Brin Aug 7 '12 at 17:03
Daniel, when you ask "Is there any problem", do you mean a problem in halacha? Then that sounds like a very very different question from the first (which is a question of American law) and should IMO be split off as a separate question. – msh210 Aug 7 '12 at 18:52
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Quick answer: Yes and no. Any religious or doctrinal aspects of a kesubah itself cannot be enforced under American laws because of Constitutional issues involving the free exercise and establishment clauses to the First Amendment. However, courts have and can enforce strictly secular sections of kesubahs or separate secular agreements between a Jewish couple provided that the court is not asked to interpret Jewish law or do the work of the Jewish court. E.g. a court can't force a husband to give his wife a get. Nor can it enforce payment terms under a kesubah. But, many state courts have ruled that if courts can apply neutral areas of law to the issue, rather than intepreting religious doctrine, then courts have jurisdictin to, or example, enforce a pre-nuptual agreement that requires a husband and wife to seek mediation through a beis din, or force the husband to pay $100 per month in child support for each month he fails to appear before the beis din.

Background: Courts have interpreted the First Amendment broadly to severely circumscribe the role that civil courts may play in resolving disputes concerning issues of religious doctrine and practice. E.g. DeCorso v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc., 829 A.2d 38 (Conn. App.), cert. denied, 837 A.2d 805 (Conn. 2003). By contrast, exercise of governmental authority is permissible if it (1) has a secular purpose, (2) neither inhibits nor advances religion as its primary effect and (3) does not create excessive entanglement between church and state. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971).

Freedom of religion is guaranteed not only to individuals but also to churches, and church organizations, which have “power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952).

Connecticut and New Jersey courts have found that they could enforce a provision under Moslem law where couples in Iran had entered into prenuptual agreements calling for the husband to give the wife a mahr -- a large amount of money -- at the wedding, and additional sums during the marriage. Since no money was paid at either times, the wives in both cases sued for the promised funds after the divorce, and the courts found they could resolve the issues using neutral legal principles. Lashgari v. Lashgari, 496 A.2d 491 (Conn. 1985); Odatalla v. Odatalla, 810 A.2d 93 (N.J.Super. 2002).

In 1926, a New York Appellate Division court upheld the trial court's jurisdiction to enforce a kesubah's provision that the wife could not be evicted from her home by her step-children following the death of her husband. Hurwitz v. Hurwitz, 216 A.D. 362 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d 1926). Also, the case of Avitzur v. Avitzur, 446 N.E .2d 136 (N.Y.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 817, 104 S.Ct. 76 (1983), the court held that it had jurisdiction to rule on secular sections of a kesubah.

Since then, the Rabbinical Council of America and other rabbinic organizations have urged couples to enter into pre-nuptual agreements which require, in the event the couple files for divorce in secular court, that they agree to mandatory arbitration before an Orthodox Jewish beis din (which may require the husband to provide his wife with a get (Jewish divorce decree). Such contracts have been upheld in Connecticut, Illinois, California, Georgia, Maryland and Colorado. Cites available upon request.

share|improve this answer
And this applies even though only witnesses, and neither the bride nor the groom, actually sign the ketuba? – Daniel Mar 20 '13 at 5:51
@Daniel yes, because agents can sign a contract for you. The pre-nups going around now are signed by the bride and groom, however. – Bruce James Mar 20 '13 at 9:01

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.