I recently showed my kesubo to a knowledgeable person to clarify an issue and he told me that in his opinion I should write a new kesubo, because there is a plain, hand-drawn line right under the text of the kesubo, immediately before the signatures of the witnesses. Since it is just a single straight line there is no more room between the text of the kesubo and the signatures than there is in a usual kesubo. What is the issue and do I really need to write a new kesubo?
The reason there is an issue is that a kesubo must be written as a valid legal document that will enable the wife to claim the monetary benefits that she was granted by the Torah and later Rabbonim, both while the couple is married and in case the wife is divorced or widowed. Chazal made giving one’s wife this document a prerequisite for marital relations. In order to be valid, the kesubo must be written in accordance with the rules of the Chachomim for any formal legal document.
Thus, for example, many poskim (See Kesubo Kehilchoso in the name of Rav Eliashev) rule that if only the groom signed the kesubo and it was not signed by witnesses it is not valid. The reason is because if the couple eventually divorce and the wife attempts to collect the amount that her husband obligated himself to give her in the event of divorce, the husband will be able to avoid paying with the claim that he already paid off her kesubo, since that is a valid claim (CM 69, 2) against a document that is not signed by witnesses, even without any corroboration.
Another requirement for writing a valid legal document is that it must be written in a manner that it cannot be tampered with by the bearer of the document, after the witnesses affix their signatures. Even if it was not tampered with, the mere possibility that it can be tampered with, invalidates the document. Therefore, if there are two blank lines between the end of the text and the signatures of the witnesses the document is invalid (braiso cited in BB 162B) because the bearer of the document is able to add text above the signatures of the witnesses, after the witnesses signed.
When the Gemoro (BB 163A) discusses the issue of witnesses who left two blank lines before signing, the Gemoro suggests that before the witnesses sign someone should blot out the space of the two lines so that there will not be a possibility to insert text above the signatures of the witnesses. The Gemoro replies that doing so will invalidate the signatures.
There are three explanations for why the signatures will not be valid. The Rashbam explains that the problem is similar to a ruling that the Gemoro (Gittin 87A) gives concerning a get, which also must be written in a legally effective manner. The Gemoro says that if at the end of a get it is written that the husband wishes to convey regards to someone, the get is invalid because it is not clear beyond doubt that the signatures of the witnesses refer to the content of the get and not to the regards that are written immediately before their signatures. Similarly, here since it is possible that the witnesses’ signatures are intended to testify that the bearer of the document did not blot out anything of significance, we lack a clear indication that the witnesses signed on the content of the get.
We note that even if it is clear that what was blotted out was insignificant, like in case a thin line was drawn across some text and one can still read what was crossed out, nevertheless the document is invalid. The Toras Chaim (BB 163A) explains that the reason is because even then it is possible to explain that the signatories were only signing that the blotting out took place before the document was given over to the beneficiary of the document, which, according to many, is necessary to know in order to validate the document.
The Ritva (BB 163A) explains that even if there is no other plausible explanation for the signature, nevertheless, since there are two lines between the text and the signatures, the signatures are invalid because they violate the rules governing the placement of the signatures. For example, if the signatures are on the backside of a legal document, they are invalid even if it is clear to us that the intent of the signatories was to testify about the content of the document. The reason is because the signatures must be in a place where it is clearly evident that the signatures refer to the text of the document. When they are two lines away from the text, this is not evident.
The third significant opinion is the Shach (46, 88) who disagrees with those who understood that the Gemoro voids even a document where one made dots between the text of the document and the signatures. He maintains that we only void the document if there is a possibility that something detrimental to the bearer of the document was blotted out.
Thus, we have three approaches to understand this ruling of the Gemara and all three do not apply in your case. The Shach certainly does not apply because it is clear that nothing was blotted out. The Ritva does not apply since the witnesses signed in the precise place that they were supposed to sign. Finally, the Rashbam does not apply since there is no other plausible explanation for the signatures except that they intended to bear witness on the text of the kesubo.
We note that the Minchas Yitzchok (9, 139) rules that the issue of witnesses signing after a blotted area does not apply to a kesubo since (in some cases) the witnesses sign on the document after it was read aloud at the wedding and therefore, it is obvious that they intended to testify on the content of the kesubo.
Even though in your case there is no problem with your kesubo and you don’t have to write another kesubo, often people do write a kesubo that is quite similar to your question but is in fact invalid according to the consensus opinion. This happens when they leave two lines between the text of the kesubo and the signatures of the witnesses. That is the case that the Gemoro discussed and the Gemara invalidated the document whether the document was given to the beneficiary of the document when there was still a blank space of this size or if the area between the text and the signatures was blotted out.
Even if one can see that nothing significant was blotted out most poskim including the Sema (CM 45, 25) rule that the document is invalid. Only the Shach rules that it is valid. This happens often when one does not use a standard printed kesubo but hires an artist to draw pictures or write by calligraphy.
Another important practical lesson that one can derive from this discussion is that when witnesses sign on a kesubo they are testifying that what is written in the kesubo is true. Since the kesubo says that the groom accepted upon himself specific liabilities, they should be aware that this is what they are testifying about.
Therefore, the SA (CM 45, 2) rules that the witnesses should read every document (including a kesubo) before signing so that they will be aware of what they are testifying. However, the SA rules that even if they did not read the kesubo but only became aware of what they were signing on when the kesubo was read aloud, it is valid because they can believe the one who read the kesubo aloud that he read correctly. However, it is not proper if they don’t read and don’t listen or understand what they are testifying. In Israel at many weddings the witnesses sign the kesubo under the chuppa after it is read out loud. This practice accommodates the ruling of the SA.
In conclusion: Your kesubo is fine. We stress that people who are mesadeir kiddushin should be aware that there are many rules that one must follow to ensure that the kesubo is a legally valid document. Too often kesubos are not valid because the mesadeir kiddushin never studied these rules.