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A standard Ashkenazi kesuba is a document no different to a post dated cheque; there is nothing religious or holy about it. It says that the man will pay his wife upon divorce or death the sum of 200 silver German marks (or zekukin). This amounts to 100 lbs in total or 230 grams per mark. This was instituted when the Jews lived in Germany most likely in the times of Tosfos, nearly one thousand years ago. See my comment that unlike RMF it is more likely the French mark which was 244 grams and more than the 100 lbs quoted by RMF.

At the time, everyone who got married in Germany would know exactly what was written there, like today everyone knows what dollars are. Later as the Jews moved eastwards it was considered too much and the women had to agree (reluctantly!) to forgo quite a large part of it, like in Russia where she only ended up with roubles to the value of forty dollars. This in no way means that the amount the man offered changed at all but only that she couldn't collect.

The Shulchan Oruch in CM writes regarding a shtar (document) that if the man does not know what is written there (and you believe him) he does not have to pay it. It gives the example of a Sefardi Kesuba which does not have a standard amount. The Chochmas Shlomo at the side says it depends if he himself signed it or not. A man can sign a paper and let someone else put any limitless amount he fancies, but not witnesses.

Today when not everyone reads this blog and very few people know what the 200 zekukim are, even rabbonim, much less the value of them being 100 lbs of silver, how can a kesuba be kosher? If it was a shtar it would not be unless it was signed, which not all kesubas are. Just because it is in a standard form should that make a difference? As I have proven, it was not always like this, since when it was instituted in Germany everyone knew what a German mark was.

My second question is: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says the custom in Russia was to give the value of forty dollars. Since there doesn't seem to be any custom today, what right does an individual bais din have to decide for themselves, often based on the couple's worth, of how much the woman has to forgo?

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umm...Germany didn't exist 1000 years ago. Wikipedia claims that the German Mark didn't exist until the 17th Century. Something is fishy with your story. –  Double AA Apr 28 '13 at 6:37
    
The German mark is mentioned in tosfos who lived before the 17th century. Will try to find link –  user2709 Apr 28 '13 at 7:21
    
hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9597&st=&pgnum=493 –  user2709 Apr 28 '13 at 7:35
    
or here it doesnt copy very well hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=19128&st=&pgnum=55 בזקיק שקזרין מאר״ק –  user2709 Apr 28 '13 at 7:41

1 Answer 1

You're asking about six different questions.

The main thrust is answered here.

I think everyone involved needs to know that there will be a some bare minimum, as determined by a beis din, that he would have to pay upon death or divorce if she doesn't waive it; I don't think there's any need for further information on anyone's part. Rabbi Reiss has stated a (non-Get-related) prenup that says each side will walk away only with what was theirs to begin with should simply add "other than the minimum required ketubah payment, as determined by Beis Din ABC."

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Thanks. I wasnt aware that this question had already been asked. The link there though is unobtainable. –  user2709 Apr 26 '13 at 13:08
    
A kesuba has really nothing to do with the beis din. It is not for them to decide how much it is. The amount is written in the kesuba as 200 zekukim. which I have since been informed are 200 silver Deutsche Marks. RMF only says that 'minhag' can for some reason change 'amounts and figures'. But then there has to be some minhag, which he quotes in roubles. Each Bais din cant decide for themselves after the get. My question is if a person doesnt know the minhag like most people dont, can it still be kosher. –  user2709 Apr 26 '13 at 14:39
    
@Shulem, almost. A beis din can decide what is "absolutely required" (i.e. to apply the basic kesubah and not the tosefes kesubah). And if you're writing a legal prenup, it's much wiser to say "whatever beisdin XYZ calls 'minimum required payment' ", rather than say "the minimum halachically-required payment" and then the state courts are left trying to interpret that phrase. –  Shalom Apr 26 '13 at 15:23
    
We have a requirement of no gravely-mistaken notions with regards to the kiddushin (mekach ta'us) -- i.e. if she's assuming the ring is made of gold it should be made of gold, and she's assuming he's not on the FBI Most Wanted List; then we also have a rabbinic requirement that the woman have the option of demanding 200 zuz upon the dissolution of the marriage. Why should anyone be required to go into the marriage with more detailed knowledge than that? –  Shalom Apr 26 '13 at 15:26
    
That's all that's needed for the marriage to be kosher. Customary amounts -- including the zekukim -- are a monetary contract on how to split the property; today most Americans go into marriage with the assumption that it will be split according to equitable distribution (hakol keminhag hamedinah), which is what most batei din do practically today. Rabbis Broyde and Reiss argue that for American Ashkenazim with no other indication, it could be strongly argued that the default terms they agreed-upon are those of Rav Moshe Feinstein. –  Shalom Apr 26 '13 at 15:30

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