When writing a Ketubah, a Rav should take precaution to insure accuracy and conformity with Halacha and custom. Should a question arise, he should be sure to consult with experts who will provide proper guidance as to how to write this very important document.
One question which arose during the writing of my Ketubah was whether to use the title “HaRav” before both my name and the name of my wife’s father, Rav Shmuel Tokayer. I consulted with Rav Yosef Blau, who looked at his Ketubah and saw that his Mesadeir Kiddushin (wedding officiator), his father-in-law Rav Pinchas Teitz, described Dr. Rivkah Blau as “Rivkah bat HaRav Mordechai Pinchas.” (Rav Teitz used to sign his name in Torah documents in this manner.) Years later, Rav Gedaliah Schwartz, the Av Beit Din (chief justice) of the Beth Din of America, told me that when Rav David Lifshitz officiated at Rav Schwartz’s daughter’s wedding, he described Rav Schwartz’s son-in-law as “HaRav” and his daughter as “bat HaRav Gedaliah Dov.”
This ruling, however, appears astonishing in that it seems to contradict a ruling of the Rama (Even HaEzer 129:7) that in a Get we omit “HaRav” both in the name of the husband and his or the wife’s father even if one of them is a Rav. Rav Lifshitz and Rav Teitz must have felt that this rule does not apply to a Ketubah. In this essay, we will seek to defend the practice of Rav Lifshitz and Rav Teitz by drawing three distinctions between a Ketubah and a Get.
The Voice of the Witnesses vs. the Voice of the Husband
The Aruch HaShulchan (E.H. 129:99) explains that since the Get is written “in the voice of the husband” (Beit Shmuel 126:5) i.e. the first person, “It is not the manner of people to describe themselves using an honorific” title such as HaRav. The Get is written as a statement made by the husband to his wife stating, to put it briefly, “I divorce you.” For example, the standard Get text states, “I, so-and-so the son of so-and-so divorce,” etc.
The Ketubah, on the other hand, is written using “the voice of the witnesses” i.e. the third person. Thus, the document describes how “So-and-so the son of so-and-so said to so-and-so the daughter of so-and-so,” etc. Since the Ketubah is not written using the voice of the groom, it is appropriate for the witnesses to describe him in the manner in which he is known, namely, HaRav or the son of HaRav. Similarly, it is appropriate for the witnesses to describe the bride’s father as HaRav. Indeed, in many Sephardic communities it is customary to describe the bride and groom and their respective fathers using lofty honorifics. This is appropriate given that the groom on his wedding day is considered like a king (and a bride, by extension, like a queen).
Shtar Kinyan vs. Shtar Raayah
A second difference between a Ketubah and a Get is that the former is a Shtar Re’ayah while the latter is a Shtar Kinyan. Some explanation is necessary to clarify this distinction and why it is relevant to our discussion. The Ketubah is not a document (Shtar) that effects any change. Rather, it is a document that serves as proof (Re’ayah) that a certain event took place. It proves that the groom accepted upon himself the various obligations outlined in the Ketubah. These obligations take effect when he conducts a Kinyan Sudar with the Mesadeir Kiddushin. The Kinyan Sudar conducted at a wedding involves the Rav acting on behalf of the bride in handing the groom a utensil such as a watch, pen, or handkerchief. The groom thereby receives symbolic consideration to effectuate his obligations to his bride.
After the Ketubah is read at the Chuppah (in accordance with Rashi’s custom), the Chatan hands the Ketubah to the Kallah, thereby allowing her to collect the Ketubah in case of death or divorce (heaven forfend). The wife potentially uses the Ketubah-document as evidence (Shtar Re’ayah) of the groom’s assumption of obligations.
A Get, on the other hand, is a Shtar Kinyan, a document that accomplishes a transaction. When a husband hands a Get to his wife, they are divorced thereby. Halacha (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 133:1) accepts the opinion of Rav Elazar that Eidi Mesirah Karti (Gittin 4a), the witnesses to the husband handing over the Get effect the divorce. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in Rav Hershel Schachter’s Eretz HaTzvi 23:5) explains this opinion to mean that the Get serves as a Shtar Kinyan and not a Shtar Re’ayah. In fact, the practice for the past hundreds of years (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 152:12 and Baeir Heiteiv E.H. 152:3) is for the Get to be left with the Beit Din and not with the wife (unlike a Ketubah, which is held by the wife). In its place, both husband and wife are handed a Shtar Re’ayah, commonly referred to as a Petur, to prove that the Get was given.
There are manifold ramifications of the fact that a Get serves as a Shtar Kinyan, and it is a recurrent theme in Masechet Gittin. A contemporary example is a ruling of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Hershel Schachter in his Nefesh HaRav pp. 259-260) that although the Rama (E.H. 129:16) rules that a family name should not be included in a Get, it must be included in a Ketubah. The Rav reasons that since the Ketubah serves as a Shtar Re’ayah, the bride and groom must be properly identified so that the Ketubah potentially can be used as an instrument to collect the obligations assumed by the husband at the wedding.
If the family name is not included, the person’s personal name and his father personal name often are inadequate to identify the parties, especially in an area where hundreds of thousands of Jews reside. In such a situation, there are likely many people with the same personal name and father’s personal name, such as Yosef ben Shimon (see Bava Batra 172a). The family name serves to clarify these confusions. The family name, however, is not necessary in a Get, since it does not serve as a Shtar Re’ayah. It is included in the Petur, which does function as a Shtar Re’ayah.
Based on this distinction between a Ketubah and a Get, we may understand why it is appropriate to include the title HaRav in a Ketubah even though it is not included in a Get. In a Ketubah, it is preferable to include extra points of identification, since the Ketubah serves as a Shtar Re’ayah. Such an identifier is unnecessary in a Get, since it does not serve as a Shtar Re’ayah.
In fact, the less that is written in a Get, the better it is, since more writing entails more risk of mistake (see, for example, the comments of the Rama at the conclusion of E.H. chapter 128). Concern for mistakes in a Get runs extremely high due to the horrific consequences of a Get that contains an error (see Shulchan Aruch E.H.129:3). Thus, although one’s place of residence was included in a Get during Talmudic times, it is omitted nowadays in part due to concern for mistake (see Shulchan Aruch E.H. 128:2). Similarly, including the title HaRav in a Get exposes a Get to the risk of error, especially since it is sometimes debatable whether someone actually is a duly ordained rabbi.
Thankfully, this ruling of the Rama spares Get administrators from the uncomfortable task of informing parties that it is inappropriate to describe themselves or their fathers as HaRav even though they function professionally as rabbis. The Rama facilitates the administration Gittin by Orthodox rabbis for all groups of Jews by sidestepping this potentially explosive issue.
Distinguishing a Ketubah from a Get
Another factor in favor of including the title HaRav in a Ketubah is the fact that our custom is to deliberately distinguish the Ketubah document from a Get document. There are many examples of this. In a Ketubah, the Hebrew word for month (Chodesh) is used, whereas in a Get the word “Yerach” is used (see Beit Shmuel 126:7 and Levsuh 126:3). In a Get, the location is identified by its rivers and water sources. For example, Teaneck is described as the city that rests on the Hackensack River and the Overpeck Creek; San Francisco is identified as the city on the ocean and springs; and Las Vegas is described as the city that rests on well water (see Teshuvot Atzei Besamim, Kuntress HaAretz LeArehah). On the other hand, most communities do not identify a city in a Ketubah using rivers and water sources, although this is the practice of both Syrian Jews and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the Rav’s opinion was reported to this author by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein).
In a Get, an edict of Rabban Gamliel (Gittin 33b) requires both parties and their fathers to be identified with all of their names and nicknames. Someone in a Get might be identified as “Zev known as Vladimir and known as Vova and known as William son of Leib called Lyova and called Lenny” or “Sarah known as Sondra and known as Sandy daughter of Yosef known as Yussel and known as Jose and known as Joe.” By contrast, most communities (with the exception of the Syrian Jewish community) do not include nicknames in a Ketubah.
In fact, it is for this reason that it might be advisable for those who marry in the Hebrew month of Av to describe this month in a Ketubah as “Menachem Av,” since it is described in a Get (Aruch HaShulchan E.H. 126: 16) simply as “Av.” Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg told me that it is permissible LeChatchilah (initially) to describe this month as Menachem Av in a Ketubah, unlike in a Get where this is acceptable only BeDieved (after the fact; see Aruch HaShulchan ad. loc.). In fact, Menachem Av is written in my Ketubah.
Accordingly, it is appropriate to include the title HaRav in a Ketubah, since it serves as yet another way to distinguish between a Keubah and a Get.
We learn a number of points from our discussion, in addition to the conclusion that the title HaRav should be included in a Ketubah in accordance with the practice of Rav David Lifshitz and Rav Pinchas Teitz. We see the importance of the level of care necessary in the drafting of a Ketubah. We also see that Halachic issues are sometimes resolved by looking to “Maaseh Rav,” the practices of Rabbanim of eminent stature. Finally, we see that if a ruling of an eminent Rav appears to contradict traditional sources, we should explore the issue further to see if perhaps it is we who are misinterpreting or misapplying the authoritative text (see Bava Batra 130b).