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U.S.

ChristiansEmbraceaJewishWedding
Tradition
OnReligion

BySAMUELG.FREEDMAN FEB.11,2011

CorrectionAppended

InaSanAntoniochapellastAugust,afterrecitingtheirweddingvowsand
exchangingtheirrings,SallyandMarkAustinpreparedtoreceivecommunionfor
thefirsttimeashusbandandwife.Justbeforetheydid,theirministeraskedthemto
signadocument.Itwasaketubah,atraditionalJewishmarriagecontract.

TheAustinswasnotaninterfaithmarriage.Norwastheirceremonysomesort
ofmulticulturalmashup.BothSallyandMarkareevangelicalChristians,members
ofOakHillsChurch,anationallyknownmegachurch.Theywereusingtheketubah
asawayofaffirmingtheJewishrootsoftheirfaith.

Insodoing,theAustinsarepartofagrowingphenomenonofnonJews
incorporatingtheketubah,adocumentwithmillenniaoldoriginsandarichartistic
history,intotheirweddings.Mrs.Austin,infact,firstlearnedabouttheketubah
fromheroldersister,alsoanevangelicalChristian,whohadbeenmarriedfiveyears
earlierwithnotonlyaketubahbuttheJudaicweddingcanopy,thehuppah.

EmbracingthisJewishtraditionjustbringsarichnessthatwemissouton
sometimesasChristianswhenwedontknowthehistory,saidMrs.Austin,29,a
businessmanagerforAT&T.JesuswasJewish,andweappreciatehisculture,
wherehecamefrom.

BeyonditsspecificbasisinJudaism,theketubahrepresentedtotheAustinsa
broaderconceptofholiness,ofconsecration.Wewantedapermanentreminderof
thecovenantwemadewithGod,Mrs.Austinsaid.Weseethisdocument
supersedingthemarriagelicenseofastateoracourt.

Suchsentimentshavebeenreshapingthemarketforketubot(thepluralinHebrew)
inthepastdecade.MichaelShapiro,anobservantJewfromTorontowhosells
artisticketubotthroughtheWebsiteketubah.com,saidhehadseenthenonJewish
shareofhiscustomersrisefromzerotoabout10percent.Heisformingaspinoff
site,artvows.com,thatconcentratesonnonJewishconsumers.

WhileevangelicalChristiansliketheAustinsmakeuppartofthatniche,Mr.
Shapirosaid,theconceptofmaritalsanctitytheyexpressedisonehehearsfrom
manygentilebuyers.

Theresanideaofthisbeingsignificantandlasting,anodtosomethinggreater
atworkinacouplehavingcometogether,hesaidinatelephoneinterview.For
some,itsaboutGodandfaith.Forothers,itsalmostasenseofamiracle.InJewish
terms,wehavetheYiddishwordbashert,formeanttobe,intendedforeachother.

ThedecadeofnonJewsdiscoveringtheketubahcoincideswiththreerelevant
socialtrends:theriseofChristianZionism,thegrowthofinterfaithmarriage,and
themainstreamingoftheNewAgemovementwithitssearchforspiritualityin
multiplefaithtraditions.Asaresult,anincreasingnumberofgentileshavetakenup
Judaicpractices:holdingaPassoverSeder,eatingkosherfoodandstudying
kabbalah,theJewishmysticalmovement.

Alotofthesethingsaregrassrootsy,saidProf.JennaWeissmanJoselit,a
historianatGeorgeWashingtonUniversity,whohaswrittenextensivelyonJewish
popularculture.Theyhavetodowiththegrowingpopularityofintermarriage
openness,pluralism,culturalimprovisation.Andforthosewhoaremorereligiously
literate,theyaddanotherlevelofauthenticityorlegitimacy.
WhatmakestheketubahboomamongnonJewsmorestrikingisthatevenfor
Jewsthepresentconceptofaketubahsimultaneouslyaworkoffineartanda
religiousdocumenttookcenturiestodevelopandspread.

TheearliestknownversionofaJewishmarriagecontractdatestothefifth
centuryB.C.inEgypt.Roughly1,000yearslater,duringtheTalmudicperiodin
PalestineandBabylon,aformallycodifiedversionoftheketubahemerged.

Andinitsoriginalform,farfromdeclaringmarriageasaneverlastingbond,the
ketubahlargelyservedtoprotectawifesrighttofinancialsupportintheeventofa
divorce,whichundertraditionalJewishlawisentirelyahusbandsdecision.Tothis
day,thestandardOrthodoxketubahstillcontainslanguagerequiringadivorced
mantopayhisexwife200silverzuz.

SephardicJews,though,wroteketubotwithspecificprovisionsforeach
marriage.And,ofmoreenduringaestheticimportance,theybegantoillustratethe
documentselaboratelywithimagesandcalligraphy.WiththeexpulsionofJewsfrom
Spainin1492,refugeescarriedthatartistictraditiontoItaly,GermanyandHolland,
wherethedecorativeketubahbegantoseepintoAshkenaziculture.

ButthestyleneverreachedintotheEasternEuropeanheartlandofJewry
whichitselfwasthesourceofmostofAmericasJewishimmigrantsandbythe
mid20thcenturytheketubahwasbacktowhereithadstartedasadocumentof
religiouslawtobesignedandstowedaway.

AllthatsuddenlychangedwiththeJewishcountercultureofthe1960s,a
movementbyyoungJewstoparticipateinworshipactivelyratherthanjustfollowa
rabbi,andtocreatetheirownprayers,liturgies,ceremoniesandritualobjects,very
muchincludingketubot.

Bynow,theketubahissuchastandardpartofAmericanJewishlifethateven
thenewNationalMuseumofAmericanJewishHistoryinPhiladelphiaexhibitsand
sellsthem.NextmonththeJewishMuseuminNewYorkwillmountamajorshowof
ketubot.
Youhaveaninterestinabeautifyingritualandyouhavedisposableincome,
saidSharonLibermanMintzoftheJewishTheologicalSeminaryinNewYork,who
iscuratingtheJewishMuseumexhibit.Theresboththewherewithalandthe
interest.Nowyoudhangyourketubahonthewall.Inthepast,youdjustkeepitina
safeorsomethinglikethat.

AsforSallyandMarkAustin,theyGoogledtheirwaytoketubahtree.com,
selectedaversionwiththeimageofaflowingriver,andchoseoneofseveraltexts
fromtheReformJewishmovement.Aftertheirweddingday,theyhungitovertheir
bed.

Oneofthecharacteristicsofacovenant,asMrs.Austinputit,isatangible
sign.Andthispieceofpaper,thisbeautifulpieceofart,isthesignofourcovenant.

Correction:February14,2011
ApreviousversionofthisarticlemisstatedSallyAustin'sagesheis29,not28.Italso
misstatedthenameoftheWebsitefromwhichsheorderedherketubahitwas
ketubahtree.com,notketubah.com.
Email:sgf1@columbia.edu

AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonFebruary12,2011,onPageA15oftheNewYorkeditionwith
theheadline:ChristiansEmbraceaJewishWeddingTradition.

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