The Be’er Sheva Rabbinical Court published a ruling that a person previously considered to be a mamzer was “permitted to marry an Israelite,” which is the official way of saying he is, in fact, not a mamzer.
A mamzer is the offspring from a prohibited relationship, either incest or adultery, who is barred from marrying most other Jews.
A.’s grandmother married sixty years ago in [the former USSR state of] Georgia, separating from her husband a few years later.
Forty years ago, she immigrated to Israel and was listed as a widow, after she said her husband had died. She then met another man and got pregnant with him – but found out towards the end of her pregnancy that her first husband was still alive.
Two years after her baby girl was born, she received a get (religious divorce) from her first husband through the Rabbinical Court in Rehovot.
She later married her daughter’s father via the Kfar Saba Rabbinate, and divorced him two years later.
After her daughter had children and grandchildren, the question of whether they are permitted to marry any Jew they want came up.
In a special meeting, three of the most experienced rabbis in the Be’er Sheva Rabbinical Court got together to discuss the case, with all of its perspectives, facts, and legal implications. These rabbis thoroughly researched the history, and worked to find witnesses who had attended the grandmother’s first wedding sixty years ago.
They also looked into the mother’s personality: How important it was for her not to have a child who was a mamzer, how reliable the witnesses to the ceremony were, if the witnesses were in fact unrelated to the couple, if the ring was bought properly with the husband’s money, and so on.
During their search, the rabbis found that even though the wedding ceremony was conducted properly, it in no way adhered to the strictest letter of the law.
The witnesses were not valid – one because he was a relative, and the other because he did not keep Shabbat (Sabbath).
The rabbi who conducted the ceremony was not a proper rabbi – he was the cantor of the synagogue where they prayed. And it wasn’t clear at all if the husband had actually bought a ring himself, or if it had already belonged to the wife.
The ruling, which is dozens of pages long, explains exactly why and how the rabbis decided the woman’s previous marriage was not invalid and why her daughter was not a mamzer.
In their ruling, they wrote, “During those years, the cruel communist government was at its peak, and Judaism had been uprooted several decades beforehand. So all of the witnesses to the ceremony were ignorant of Judaism, and desecrated Shabbat in public.
“There are at least two serious questions about whether the marriage is valid – and if there is a ‘safek sefeika’ (two doubts ‘on top’ of each other) which can help us decide she is single – we can rule that she was single and permit her. and her offspring.”