Ketubah with Signatures in the Middle of a Line

QUESTION

I am to be a mesader kiddushin and the wedding is very soon. The bride and groom intend to use a ketubah where there is an inch or so gap between the text and signature. In addition, the signature lines are indented a good deal from the right margin of the body text, and there is a branch from the illustration that runs up on the right side of the signature lines and also interrupts between the words על כל and מה דכתוב on the last line of the text (see attached photo of a similar ketubah). Is such a ketubah kosher?

I am OK with having them sign the backup printed ketubah, as their real ketubah, and then letting them frame the artistic one with the “real one” in the back.

ANSWER

The issue of having a significant gap between the last line of text and the signature lines is an explicit case in Shulchan Arukh. The halakha is that if there are two blank lines between the last line of the shetar and the signature line of the witnesses, then the shetar is invalid (Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 45:6). The reason for this is to prevent forgeries. In such a document, with the witnesses’ signatures distant from the last line of the document itself, a person could cut off the entire top of the document, leaving just the last two empty lines and the witnesses’ signatures. This would then allow them to write whatever they wanted in the empty lines, thereby creating a forged shetar.

In order to determine if the gap is the size of two empty lines, or if it is smaller, you first need to consider the fact that a line of Hebrew text requires the height for a normal-sized letter, plus extra space above, for letters like lamed, and extra space below the line for a kof sofit. We will call this extra space above or below an “airspace.” The height of two lines of the shetar is thus computed as the combined height of two lines of text plus three “airspaces” – one above the first line, one between the first and second line, and one after the second line. (Shulchan Arukh CM 45:9)

Though it is hard to tell from the picture, it appears that the gap is too big, and that there is indeed a spacing of two lines’ height between the last line of the ketubah and the witnesses’ signatures. That being said, the height of a line is measured not according to the size of the scribe’s handwriting, which is usually smaller as can be seen in the calligraphy of the ketubah, but the witness’s handwriting, since the concern here is one of the potential of forgery by creating a new shetar (Shulchan Arukh CM 45:8). If you select witnesses who have naturally large handwriting, this could be a way to make this work, although that is not an ideal solution as this is a subjective measure and might be hard to accurately determine.

What you could do is have the first witness sign his name with very tall letters, as the gap is measured not based on where the signature line is drawn, but based on the distance between the top of the first signature and the bottom of the ketubah text. So by having the first witness sign his name with big letters, even if it is not the natural size of his handwriting, you will have effectively eliminated the problematic gap.

Perhaps the best solution if the gap is too large is to start signing one line above where the ketubah has indicated for the first witness to sign, thereby closing the gap. You would just need to write the “נאום” by hand before the signature of the first witness. You could also then have three witnesses sign the ketubah or just have two and leave the third line blank.

It should also be noted that it will also not work to fill in the empty space above the witness signatures with a line or a series of dots, as this will not fully address our concerns for the potential of forgery (Shulchan Arukh CM 45:6).

How about the fact that the signature lines start midway along the width of the text (that is, with a significant indent on the right)? This is not a problem, since the signatures are not side-by-side but underneath one another. This case as well is addressed directly in Shulchan Arukh (Shulchan Arukh CM 45:10):

וכן אם מסיים בסוף שטה והרחיקו העדים שטה שלימה והתחילו העדים באמצע שטה שניה פסול אם יחתמו זה אחר זה באותה חצי שטה שיוכל לכתוב בחצי השטה החלק שלפני חתימתן פלוני לוה מפלוני מנה ויהא שטר הבא הוא ועדיו בשטה אחת שהוא כשר ויחתוך כל העליון.

If it [the text of the shetar] concludes at the end of the line and the witnesses [sign] at a distance of a full line and then begin in the middle of the second line, it [the shetar] is invalid if the witnesses sign one after the other on the same half line, for one could write in the half line before their signatures: “X borrowed $100 from Y,” and this [one line] would be considered a single-line shetar with witnesses on the same line, which is valid. A person could then cut everything above it [thereby creating a new forged shetar].

Although there is blank space before the signature lines, the concern for the potential to forge this document into a single line shetar does not exist, since the signatures are on two separate lines. Thus, it is not a problem to have the signature lines begin midline.

The fact that a line from the illustration interrupts two words of the text is not a problem, as it does not create any confusion as to what the text is saying. It is clearly part of the illustration and not the text itself.

You should absolutely not have the witnesses sign a ketubah that is invalid and then also sign a kosher one. Besides the issue that it looks like you are giving your stamp of approval to a non-kosher shetar, there is a serious problem of overseeing the signing of a shetar – even if it is not going to be used as the halakhic ketubah – if it is written in a way in which someone can cut away the top part and add anything in the blank line, essentially turning it into a blank check. This would be much worse than signing a ketubah that was invalid for another reason, where the concern of potential misuse does not exist. If the couple wants, they can always choose not to sign the artistic ketubah and hang it up regardless, although it might be obvious that something is amiss.

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