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My coke habit is gone for good

Susan Reuben's ketubah works magic on marital harmony

    Susan and Anthony's ketubah
    Susan and Anthony's ketubah

    My husband, Anthony, has a cricket bag that is so enormous it has been given its own name — the imaginatively chosen “Mr Bag”.

    Mr Bag lives in the attic for most of the year, hanging out with the piles of ancient VHS tapes, the roof rack, the boxes of hand-me-down clothes that we’re waiting for the children to grow into. But when the cricket season comes along it emerges, like a vast, red, rectangular beast.

    Between cricket games, Anthony used to leave Mr Bag sitting in our narrow hall, making it almost impossible to get from the front door to the kitchen.

    So one day, I decided enough was enough.

    I took a post-it note, wrote on it, “All sports bags must be put away immediately after the game,” and stuck it to our ketubah (marriage contract) which is displayed in a frame at the top of the stairs.

    Anthony didn’t say anything over the next few days but I noticed that Mr Bag was no longer sitting in the hallway.

    I felt quietly smug, until some time later when I noticed a second post-it note had appeared on the ketubah. It said, “If anyone decides to leave an open can of a carbonated beverage in the fridge, it must either be consumed or disposed of within 24 hours.”

    I do, to be fair, have a tendency to start a can of Coke, drink half and put it back to finish later… then forget about it for the next three weeks or so. Or, at least, I used to — but not any more…

    Many might argue that we are trivialising our ketubah and undermining its sanctity with this flippant behaviour. I don’t feel, though, that it’s a particularly holy document to start with. Or at least, it is in a figurative sense in that it represents the institution of marriage, but it isn’t really if you look at what is actually written on it.

    Our ketubah is the standard Orthodox version in which the bride is acquired by the groom. It’s a very dry and practical contract. That’s why it’s written in Aramaic, the legal language of Talmudic law. It states that the man must support the woman financially, provide her with food and clothing and pay her a certain amount if they divorce. The woman, on the other hand, merely agrees to the proposal of marriage.

    Like many ketubot, ours is beautifully decorated with a motif of flowers and vines — which sits in odd contrast to its dry and formulaic text. We don’t generally notice the anomaly because our Aramaic isn’t really up to scratch. (OK – it’s non-existent.)

    Given that there’s nothing in the ketubah about love, but only obligation, it seems reasonable to embellish it with further clauses should we feel they are useful.

    At the time of our wedding in 2003, we had not yet discovered the Masorti community we’ve now been committed to for many years. We were entirely content to get married in an Orthodox synagogue. For me, this wasn’t because I appreciated or identified with Orthodox Judaism, but because it was simply all I knew. I was so disengaged from Jewish practice, so ignorant of its ritual, that I just didn’t give it much thought.

    If we were getting married today, I wonder what sort of ketubah we would have ended up with. Would it be one we’d feel fine to stick messages to about changing the light bulb in the oven?

    Perhaps we would have asked for a shutafut ceremony, in which the groom does not “acquire” the bride, but rather, the two of them enter into an equal partnership. In that case, we wouldn’t have had a ketubah at all and, with nothing to stick post-it notes to, there’s no knowing how we would have gone about negotiating our minuscule domestic arrangements.

    Luckily, this is not something we need to worry about.

    The odd thing is that, ridiculous as the post-it notes are, they’re surprisingly effective. There’s a compelling psychological power in a message that has been put in writing and attached to a legal document.

    This kind of behaviour could become fabulously passive aggressive, which is why we confine the notes to obscure and specific areas that are of no possible real significance.

    Anthony and I are both very messy, which probably makes for a more harmonious atmosphere than if one of us were tidy and organised and the other not — but isn’t good news for the state of our house.

    And yet, now we have a working toaster because I added a note requesting a replacement part. And Anthony no longer feels irritable after I’ve had a guitar lesson in our living room, because I put all the furniture straight back in its proper place.

    If that’s not the path to marital harmony, then I don’t know what is.

    @susanreuben

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