A Jewish woman is getting married to a non-Jew. Her Jewish mother died many years ago, and the woman was raised (but not adopted) by hew Jewish father and this now beloved non-Jewish 2nd wife/mother figure. Can this step-mothers name go on the Ketubah, or must it be the birth mother?
Allow me to applaud you on your decision to make Judaism a part of your ceremony. So many Jews unfortunately leave out the Judaism in their wedding ceremony these days, especially when someone makes the decision to marry a non-Jew. The ketubah is an especially important aspect of the Jewish ceremony, and is arguably the defining aspect of a Jewish wedding, given the fact that it lays out the concept of a Jewish marriage.
A ketubah, the marriage contract, is one of the most identifiable features of the Jewish wedding. The ketubah is so important that it is read under the huppah to delineate the two halves of the wedding ceremory: kiddushin (sanctification of the wife entering into an exclusive bond with the husband) and nissuin (the husband bringing the wife into his home.) Centuries ahead of its time, it is the first prenuptial agreement outlining a Jewish husband’s obligation towards his Jewish wife. It is a contract between the spouses whose primary purpose is to protect the wife’s rights to food, shelter, and marital obligations. In the event that the marriage dissolves, the ketubah specifies the amount of money that the wife is entitled to from the husband or his estate if he died.
The ketubah is important for issues of personal status. A ketubah is one of the best proofs that a person is Jewish since it has the names of their Jewish parents. The Israeli government accepts the ketubah as proof of Jewishness for the Right of Return. Clearly, it’s a very important document.
A person on a ketubah is identified by two people: their birth father and their birth mother. These people must be mentioned if they are known because this is how we know who the person is. Of course Jewish law is sensitive to the fact that people may feel more of an attachment to a step-parent or adopted parent so there is a language that can be inserted that goes something along the lines of “So-and-so who was raised by so-and-so”. This is not a problem as long as if, G-d forbid, if there is a divorce that the get (divorce document) mentions all of the people that were mentioned in the ketubah.
There is a qualifier: everyone on the document has to be Jewish. There is a very simple reason: non-Jews have no connection to the ketubah. It just makes no sense to impose Jewish marital obligations on a non-Jewish spouse. Besides for this, Judaism says that only a marriage between two Jews is a marriage. If in the tragic event of a divorce, if such as a ketubah were presented to a rabbinic court, the terms of the ketubah could not be enforced. In your case, this would be equally relevant to the non-Jewish maternal figure as the non-Jewish spouse.
Clearly, you want to have Judaism be part of your wedding and your marriage. This is an incredibly complicated balancing I’m happy to offer my own advice on how this should be done. You really should be having this discussion before you get married. Religious differences even between coreligionists of different religious commitments cause friction in relationships. All the more so when two differing traditions are at play. Something that doesn’t seem like a big deal now becomes a huge deal when you are trying to figure out how to raise your children and traditions to follow in your home. Religion is a fundamental piece of self-understanding and as a couple is a new self with a new identity. What identity will it be? If it’s going to be a Jewish identity, what does that mean? Where is the place of the non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish home? No one can answer these questions for you. All I can say is that by the fact that you’re asking the question this question will come into play in a way that it might not with other couples.
I wish you much blessing and success.