Reading the Ketubah

 by Ilana Blumberg

In our wedding photographs, Ori is wearing a top hat precisely like the one his grandfather wore at his wedding in the early thirties and my veil is as thick and heavy as any old fashioned one. Our chuppah is a tallit. Some of the images, especially those in black and white, are impossible to date and even to place: Eastern Europe? This century? Last? A wedding is as ancient a ceremony as we have and even the more modern accouterments, like the white dress (that became popular after Queen Victoria wore one), already appear to us as elements of longstanding tradition. Yet our wedding photographs also record a break with tradition, or at least, a serious reconfiguration: next to the rabbi, a woman stands reading the ketubah

In one of my favorite pictures, the photographer’s lens catches the rabbi looking over the shoulder of Dr. Devora Steinmetz as she reads the traditional text of the ketubah in its complicated Aramaic rhythms and rhymes; its insertions of particulars within the ready script, ”B’shishah l’Tamuz,“ ”ha-chatan Ori Hanan, ha-kallah Ilana Miryam;“ the odd interruption of English words and sounds, ”Kan B’New York, m’dinat America“; and the final, exquisitely simple, three crowning words, ”Ha-kol sharir v’kayam,“ “everything is fit and established”...through the testimony of our witnesses, the names of friends we have chosen to honor, who honor us with their participation. Devora reads the ketubah flawlessly, and I find it extraordinary that this ancient formula now applies to me, to Ori, and to our marriage. When I look later at the photos, and particularly the one where the rabbi is ”overseeing“ the reading, I notice what I barely was aware of at the time. My niece, Jessica, my brother’s four-year-old daughter, is holding my hand and looking up at Devora and the rabbi. It strikes me now that I had asked Devora to read our ketubah because of the work we did together at Beit Rabban and Drisha, the opportunity she gave me to begin teaching young children texts that they would grow with over the years, so long as their interest could be sustained by a rigorous and compelling enough approach. I remember how she taught herself the trop, the melodies of the public reading of the Torah, so that when she began to study B’reishit with the second-graders, she could also teach them to sing it, since everyone knows that what children learn by heart, they carry with them in an entirely different way throughout their lives. Now I teach in a variety of places but I learned a great deal of what I know from watching Devora teach and talk to students, from listening to her spoken and unspoken advice, and from reading her own book on Genesis.

 

Wedding of Ilana Blumberg and Ori Weisberg. Photo: Jamie Watts

This photo that includes me, Ori, Jessica, the rabbi (who permitted a woman to read the ketubah, but was nonetheless a bit unsure of the newness of it all when the moment actually came), and Devora reading the ketubah surrounded by our families under the chuppah, is one that I return to often. None of my grandparents was able to be at my wedding on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that each of them moved through at one point. I like to think of the features that would have been so familiar to them, as well as what would have been unfamiliar, but may yet, among my niece’s generation, grow to be less so.

 

 

Dr. Ilana Blumberg is a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan. In the fall, she will be teaching a course on ”Women and the Bible“ for the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at U of M. Dr. Devora Steinmetz is the founder of the Beit Rabban Center for Research and Education and Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. 

 

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