The Hot Cocoas may look sweet, but don't be fooled: Mr. HC is an MBA, and I a JD, so we are fierce negotiators. And when it came to hashing out the language of the most important contract we'd ever sign -- our ketubah -- we brought all our haggling skills to the table . . . .
But I'm getting ahead of my self. Let me tell you how we got to that negotiating table in the first place.
Backing up. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The ketubah is the traditional Jewish marriage contract. Historically, its purpose was to document the "acquisition" of the bride by the groom and to lay out, in terms likely progressive for the time, the "rights" of the bride. For a feminist scholar like myself, this history was enough to a) give me the hives, and b) send me deep into the stacks of the library, searching for an alternative.*
While I wasn't exactly comfortable with the original purpose of the ketubah, Mr. HC and I both really wanted to honor and embrace our traditions. For various reasons, we also wanted to have a "kosher" ketubah -- one that would be recognized by many Jewish institutions. When we approached our rabbi with this little conundrum, she challenged us to write our own English "interpretation" of the traditional ketubah -- to revise and personalize the tradition rather than abandoning it entirely.
Great, in theory. But what could we say that would encapsulate the whole of the commitment we were making to one another? Oy vey, indeed.
Despite our initial trepidation, the process of drafting the ketubah turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of our wedding planning. We each wrote our own draft and then came together at a diner to negotiate the final language. The process took hours . . . actually, days. It gave us a chance to talk (and argue! oh boy, did we argue!) openly and honestly about what was important to the two of us, and how we imagined our futures. These conversations -- about how we wanted to raise our children, what we imagined a Chewish household to be, how we expected to care for our parents in their old age -- were a reminder that we were planning a life together, not just a wedding.
So, in addition to the traditional Aramaic text, which has bound Jewish brides and grooms since ancient times, our ketubah featured our own English "interpretation":
On the first day of the week, the fourth day of Nisan, in the year 5769, corresponding to the twentieth-eighth day of March, in the year 2009, Mr. Hot Cocoa, son of FIL and MIL Hot Cocoa, and Miss Hot Cocoa, daughter of Hot Mama Cocoa, join each other in Marina del Rey, California, before family and friends to make a mutual covenant as husband and wife. With love, Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa each vow to the other:
"We establish today a partnership of equals. We promise to accept and treasure each other’s individuality and to be patient with each other’s idiosyncrasies; to challenge, inspire, and support one another in our independent pursuits, while experiencing each other’s dreams, laughter, and tears as our own.
We commit ourselves to making our relationship a priority; to being sensitive to each other’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs; and to striving for the intimacy, openness, and honesty that will allow us to realize these promises. As we grow old together and our love matures, may we always be kindred spirits, holding on to the passion, affection, and respect for each other we feel today.
We endeavor individually and collectively to achieve balance between our professional and family commitments, and we vow to care and provide for one another and for any children with whom we may be blessed.
We declare our intention to raise our family in a household rich with the traditions of our Chinese and Jewish heritages, and to create a home amid the community of Israel—a home filled with curiosity and learning, goodness and generosity, community and compassion.
We honor our families and ancestors and all that they have sacrificed to make life so rich with possibility for us. We pledge to uphold the specific vision of intergenerational responsibility passed onto us by our Chinese elders, and accordingly commit to caring for, and opening our homes to, our parents and grandparents in their old age. May this union be blessed with a love as profound and enduring as that they have shown us all these years.”
We joyfully enter into this covenant and solemnly accept its obligations. All this is valid and binding.
As for the design of the ketubah, we couldn't find a commercially available one that we loved. So we had ketubah.com print our custom text onto fine art paper, and SIL HC, a very talented artist, will be painting it and creating for us a one-of-a-kind original! Since she had her own wedding to plan, the artwork isn't finished yet. But soon enough we'll have our ketubah in our bedroom, ready to remind us, in good times and bad, of all the commitments we made to one another.
Will you be writing your own ketubah or vows? Did you have a wedding-related task that reminded you of the life -- not just the wedding -- ahead?
* Anyone interested in alternatives to the ketubah should read Engendering Judaism, by Rachel Adler. Adler, a feminist theologian, lays out a ritual called "brit ahuvim," which offers an alternative to the ketubah that is rooted in partnership, rather than contract, law.