About the Texts, My Calligraphy, and the Personalization Process

For 2,000 years, the Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, has been a living, vibrant document, marking the joyous occasion of a wedding and the establishment of a new family. The original text, which for centuries served as legal protection in time of trouble, is still in use today, though new, egalitarian texts have been developed to reflect the attitudes and customs of our modern era. From a mostly formal, legal document, the Ketubah has become a more celebratory piece of Jewish art. My Ketubot (plural of Ketubah, i.e. Ketubahs) celebrate love, romance, home, Jewish heritage and our connection to the land of Israel by using strong, vivid colors and intricate designs, rich with detail. Landscapes, architecture, decorative patterns, fruit trees, flowers and animals illuminate the text and express my love for Nature, Art, Jewish tradition and the beauty of my homeland, Israel. I do my own calligraphy to match the printed text and preserve its integrity, and I enjoy working closely with my customers on the text, sharing in the excitement of the upcoming wedding and assuring that the Ketubah is correct according to tradition in every detail. Don't hesitate to call me and discuss any detail or question you have. It will be my pleasure and privilege to work with you and make my art a part of your joyful day.

The texts available for you to choose from:

  1. The Orthodox: This is the traditional Aramaic text used by our people for the last 2000 years or so. At the time, it was a very progressive document intended to protect the wife in case of divorce or death (you can see it at work in the wonderful movie Hester Street).  If you look at it as a piece of heritage, you might not mind its non-egalitarian character too much, and in most of the designs you can have it with a bit of Egalitarian English at the bottom, in which case it would be called “Orthodox with English”.

  2. The Conservative:  This text is almost identical to the traditional text, except that it adds to it the Lieberman clause, in Aramaic too, which allows for a divorce by Beit Din (Jewish court) in the case that one of the couple refuses to grant it.

  3. The Egalitarian: This text, in Modern Hebrew and in English (exact translation), starts in the traditional style, and goes on to what I composed from a few texts my past clients brought to me when I was still making custom Ketubot. In the Hebrew part I use the names of the bride and groom in the traditional way, i.e. using their parents’ names rather than their last names to identify them. For example: Avraham son of David and Chava, and Miriam, daughter of Michael and Sarah. In the English part I use the full English names of bride and groom, and no parents’ names. This text can also be modified to fit couples who do not intend to have children.

  4. The Interfaith: This text is identical to the Egalitarian, except that it fits couples where one of them is not Jewish.

  5. Same gender: These texts are also identical to the Egalitarian/Interfaith texts, except they are worded to fit two of the same gender.

  6. The Kahlil Gibran: poem “About Marriage” for those who want something poetic and festive, rather than a regular Ketubah text, which is contractual in nature.

In all the texts, I follow the tradition of indicating whether any of the men is a Cohen or Levi, and if anyone is deceased I write Z”L next to their name, which means “of blessed memory”.

The calligraphy style I use in my ketubot, and in most of my manuscripts, is my own version of the style called Half Uncials. The reason I chose that style is its being of uniform size, without capital letters of bigger size (actually, it is ALL capitals, though stylized), which is as close to Hebrew as possible, since Hebrew does not have capital letters.

I fill-in the details of the couple in each Ketubah by hand, with ink and pen, as Jewish scribes have done for thousands of years.  Nowadays, most Ketubah artists use fonts and fill-in the texts by computer rather than by hand, because many have not studied calligraphy, an art which takes much time and practice to master. I, personally, like writing the details by hand, though it is not easy work, because it is traditional, and because it connects me in a personal way with my clients and my prints.

You may notice that in my writing I sometimes stretch certain letters longer than the rest. That is done in order to fill the spaces completely, which is the ancient custom meant to prevent anyone from inserting changes to the “contract” later. Another reason for it is to avoid blank spaces, which symbolize separation rather than union.

Since the Ketubah is originally a contract, I feel it is important to fill in the details in the most accurate way possible, and that is why I often write back and forth a few times to you and/or your Rabbi, so we get all the details right. Before filling in the personalization form, I invite you to talk to your parents and ask them for their and your Hebrew (or Yiddish) names, if they know them. If they don’t, you might want to discuss the matter with your Rabbi, or I can always easily transliterate your names from English to Hebrew.

It will be a great pleasure for me to clarify and discuss all these details further with you, either in writing or by phone. I like to work with you in person, so don’t hesitate to call or write, and I’m sure we will get it all ready and correct on time for your wedding day.

Naomi Teplow

Naomi Teplow

I have been making ketubah art and illuminated manuscripts since 1983. My style is influenced by old European manuscripts and Persian miniatures with their strong, rich colors, detailed natural scenes and elaborate floral and geometrical designs. My medium is primarily gouache on paper or parchment.

I have participated in group shows at the San Francisco Jewish Library, the Judah Magnes Museum, the Platt Gallery at the University of Judaism, the Jewish Museum, San Francisco and others.  My work has appeared in the Calligraphy Review competition issues 1988-1991 and 1998. I have completed over 300 private commissions for clients across the US.  My commercial clients include the Marcel Schurman Card Company, The Jewish Museum San Francisco, and Chronicle Books.

Born in Kibbutz Maagan Michael in Israel, I came to the US with my American husband and two daughters in 1979 and we now live in Oakland, California. I have a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Tel Aviv University.