“What should I do with my ketubah now that I’m divorced? Are there any programs that would recycle or donate it to a couple in need of one?”
A Jewish wedding has many pieces, including the signing of a ketubah, the Jewish marriage agreement. In more traditional Judaism, the ketubah serves as the document binding the couple together, as well as a legal contract that explains and ensures the groom’s financial responsibility to his bride. As Judaism has changed and evolved, so has the ketubah; many non-Orthodox couples choose a great variety of promises to make to each other that vary from a more egalitarian version of the traditional text to their own personal promises. Beyond the text of this document is the artistry of the document itself, which also ranges widely.
It’s a powerful document not only for its words and promises, but also for its prominent placement in the couple’s home, usually hanging as a reminder of the wedding day and the hope for the relationship. It’s certainly a powerful symbol of love, filled with meaning and memory, and a symbol of the moment in time when two people’s lives became intertwined.
It’s a human thing to assign meaning and importance to such inanimate objects, and in fact we do it all the time. Just ask anyone who has moved recently—we decide what to take, what we can let go of, and what reminds us of the important moments in our lives. But when our status changes, when a marriage ends, the meaning of these symbolic possessions changes; memories are perhaps bittersweet, if not simply bitter, and the ketubah may now represent anger, loss or grief.
Traditionally, after the “get,” the Jewish divorce document, has been rendered, the man takes possession of the ketubah having fulfilled his financial obligation and can do with it what he likes. But for those Jews not bound to tradition, there are, of course, many options. I imagine there are those who hide it away in a closet or attic, not wanting to see it regularly but not quite willing to get rid of it, and I’m sure there are also those who quickly dispose of it. It’s a deeply personal decision dependent not only on the nature of the individuals, but on the nature of the divorce as well. Therefore there isn’t just a single option of what to do with a ketubah after a divorce. One option is a ritual moment, maybe a burial of the document, with words of healing and strength surrounded by close friends and family, or a rabbi or cantor. Another, perhaps, is a solitary progression of letting go, slowly allowing for the necessary healing that only time can bring.
In thinking about the second part of your question, I did a bit of research to see if there are any ketubah recycling programs, but I found none. I’m not surprised; I think an object of such weighty meaning can’t really be recycled, no matter its expense or beauty. And while it does seem a shame to simply let it go, human emotion is not often logical, and just as those who are newly divorced yearn to shed the symbolism of a ketubah, so too should those getting married begin their marriage with a document that is uniquely theirs, free from the baggage of previous symbolism. There are now many affordable options, and it’s worth it to have a document that’s all your own, no matter your budget.
Objects have great power, but it’s power we ultimately assign and have the ability to change. Letting go of the symbols of an ended marriage is part of a difficult process, and each of us deals with this transition differently. Talk to your friends, family, a licensed professional or a rabbi to help determine the best option for you. And to those of you who may be in the midst of such a transition, I send you continued strength and abundant compassion.