Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn / Monsey, NY/ 845-578-1917
18 Shevat 5774
Do We Suspect that Someone May Be a Mamzer?
A Question from Joe Orlow:
I have standards for the Mitzvos I do. If I buy a product related to a Mitzvah, I want to know if it meets my standards.
For example, if I buy a food product and this product is produced under the supervision of a Rabbi, I may contact the Rabbi to determine if the product meets my standards.
Similarly by purchasing, Tzitzis, or Tefillin, and so on: I investigate the object related to the Mitzvah.
Another example: before I give Tzedaka to someone I want to find out if they are in need: otherwise, it’s a waste of the money to give the money to them.
Now, I want to fulfill the Commandment to marry.
It used to be that if an Orthodox Rabbi told me that a certain Jewish woman was eligible to be married that I assumed she had never been married, or that she had a Kosher get or was a widow, or that she was previously married in a non-Orthodox ceremony that had no Halachic significance, or that there was an extraordinary circumstance that made the marriage a mistaken transaction.
Lately I’ve learned that some Orthodox Rabbis are “releasing” women from their marriages in other ways that do not meet my standards. These Rabbis are sometimes secretive about this.
I feel it is the business of the community to know which Rabbis are releasing women this way, so that that people like myself — who are single, or who are seeking matches for their children, or who are simply deciding whether to attend a wedding, and who have a different standard than these Rabbis — can be aware that these women are still to be considered married.
My question is: am I justified in doing an investigation into the ways of these Rabbis, an investigation which involves initiating communications with these Rabbis and speaking to people who have had contact with these Rabbis?
You make a very good point. The basic issue is whether or not we can trust someone to be a kosher Jew or not. If we trust, we trust, and if we don’t trust, we have to investigate. The Shulchan Aruch discusses this. A Jewish religious family living locally that did not have any known questions of mamzeruth is considered a family of kosher Jews for marriage. But if somebody comes from a different country and nobody knows him, even if he behaves like a Jew and knows all about Jewish matters and keeps the Torah, some insisted that before he marries he clarify his status. However, the custom in more recent times in many places was to be lenient and to allow people to marry someone whose family is not known to us, such as one who came from a distant country. Thus a time came when we no longer feared that somebody is a mamzer, even if we did not know his family.
After WWII some European husbands were presumed killed in the war and were allowed by some rabbis to remarry, but were instead in Russia in Siberia. When they came back the wife who remarried had produced mamzerim. I believe there were about a dozen mamzerim brought to the Aido Beth Din in Jerusalem.
But these were very unusual things and when they happened, people usually knew about it. Therefore, many were lenient not to check out people for mamzeruth. But today, due to the great battles among rabbis about coerced divorces there are many invalid Gittin and the children from these Gittin may be mamzerim. Basically, the greatest rabbis consider the majority of these coerced divorces to be invalid. Therefore, a woman who remarries with such an invalid GET produces mamzerim. So today we have to check out if a date has a divorce or her mother, and if so, we have to have a proper Beth Din check out the divorce if it was proper. Then we have a problem if the date will conceal the divorce. So, each person has a problem in dating to clarify what they can. If there are problems, they can contact a Beth Din that does not give controversial divorces such as coercing the husband, for guidance.
There is today a problem of mamzerim when the secular court judge forces a husband to give his wife a GET or lose money or custody or even go to jail. This is a coerced GET and is invalid. And there is a problem when some rabbis feel that a husband should be coerced to divorce and other rabbis disagree. The greatest rabbis usually forbid coercing a GET. And the Chasam Sofer ruled that any coercion when some rabbis forbid coercion and some rabbis permit it is automatically invalid and the children are mamzerim.
Now, if a husband gave a coerced GET and could protest it, or could have told people that he is being forced to divorce, but the husband gave the GET and was silent; and if after the GET the husband married, even if this GET was coerced, it may not be a problem. Because if the husband felt that the GET was invalid, why did he look for a Shidduch and why did he get married on the basis of an invalid GET? In such a case a Beth Din looking into this may decide that the husband decided to divorce and be finished with it even though it was coerced. But the Beth Din that made the GET is wicked and is not to be relied upon in Gittin. And the Beth Din that decides that the children are not mamzerim cannot be one of the corrupt Beth Dins that invent halacha to coerce men to divorce against clear halacha.
Those divorcing in states where secular courts are known to coerce a GET from the husband, the only proper way to proceed is for the husband to give two Gittin. The first GET is invalid as it is coerced, and the second GET that is not coerced (because the courts are happy with one GET) is kosher. But if the court demands two GETS, they are both coerced and thus both are invalid.
Another way is to bargain with the husband to give him something he wants in return for a commitment to give a proper GET. This must be approved by a proper Beth Din, but it could remove all stains of an invalid GET.
These are ideas, and only that. We cannot decide halacha for actual cases until a proper Beth Din investigates it or approves the divorce. But the Beth Din may be able to approve a coerced GET based on some of the above ideas. Or perhaps a husband is forced to give a GET and the Beth Din asks him if he gives it willingly, and he says that he is being coerced. And yet, says the husband, he has decided to give a GET and will give it willingly, despite the fact that there is a coercion involved. Such a GET may be kosher, and a proper Beth Din must clarify the situation. Surely, we don’t want to declare a child a mamzer without considering the above ideas.
So, to keep it simple: Today there are many controversial divorces. We have not listed all of them, but the most prevalent cases. And therefore, one who is dating should find out whether the prospective mate is a problem of mamzer. For one’s safety and assurance a Beth Din should investigate and give a letter in writing that it approves the marriage of such and such because the divorce or whatever issue involved has been investigated and the date or marriage approved.
And one final note. The biggest problem is from people who are only partially Orthodox or who interpret Orthodoxy like the Conservatives once did, to change this or change that. Since these people believe in Orthodox marriage, but they do not believe in all of the stringencies of Orthodox divorce, they are the biggest problem. Children born from such congregations should be very carefully investigated.
In conclusion, the floodgates of invalid Gittin are opened wide, by courts, by certain rabbis, and by the ignorance of the community. And tomorrow will be worse, much worse. We must not forget how crucial it is to protect the sanctity of our children and marriages.
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