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Suppose a secular Jewish couple got civilly married- no halachik ceremony- and they get their marriage license. Could this marriage license serve as a Halachik Shtar, ie they'd need a Get if they wanted a divorce?
(please scroll to the bottom for an example of a secular marriage license)

Initially I thought "No way! Of course this wouldn't be a valid shtar! Where are the witnesses, and the shtar wasn't written l'shma!"

However after taking a look at the Shulchan Aruch where kiddushin via a shtar is discussed (Even Haezer 32:1-4), I'm not so convinced. Allow me to explain:

  • problem of no witnesses-
    The gemara in Sotah 3b teaches us a we need sh'nei eidim (two witnesses) for the kiddushin to be valid. We see in Even Haezer 32:4 that:

כתבו בכתב ידו ואין עליו עד מקודשת מספק (נ"י פ"ד אחין) ינתן לה שטר ואמר לה ע"מ שהנייר שלי אינה מקודשת (הר"ן פ"ק דקדושין):

If he wrote it in his hand and there are no witnesses on it she is questionably engaged (Nimukei Yosef the Chapter of Four Brothers). If he gave her a document and said, on the condition that the paper remains mine she is not engaged (Ran First Chapter of Kiddushin).

-if there are no witnesses she's "questionably engaged"... that doesn't sound like a "no" to me.

וצריך שיכתוב אותו לשם האשה המתקדשת כמו בגט

And he must write it for the woman he is getting engaged to like with a Get.

-What's to say what qualifies as "l'shma?" Maybe calling the marriage office and indicating he wants a marriage license for him and his wife could be considered enough to meet the requirement of "l'shma" ie "for the woman"!

So...

Obviously not something one should do l'chatchilah, but could a secular marriage contract potentially serve as valid shtar Kiddushin?


For reference: A sample NYC marriage licence:

enter image description here

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    I added a picture of the license. It appears that no line says "I take her to be my wife", i.e. does not point to the Kinyan and therefore is invalid. It's like he writes "I'm the husband" and she writes "I'm the wife" and they both sign on the same piece of paper. THe necessary condition is that the language of the Shtar point to the Kinyan - him TAKING her to be his wife. – Al Berko Mar 9 at 18:38
  • I also remind you that's only Kiddushin we talk about. If they continue as a married couple (by nissuin - cohabiting) publicly, that overrides the Kiddushin and requires a Gett (at least Misofek). THis is what we have about all the Russian immigrants in Israel - they all are considered married by the fact of Nissuin, even if there was no valid Kiddushin. – Al Berko Mar 9 at 18:40
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Even if there were Kosher witnesses and the bridegroom intend to mekadesh the bride, if the Shtar Kidushin was written by a Nochri a like a civil marriage, it is an invalid Kiddushin, as the questioner stated we need Kesiva Lishma Even Haezer 32,1. This is assuming the civil marriage document itself is worth less than a shave Pruta (for everyone else and cannot be substituted as a monetary kiddushin Shave kesef )*.
The Gemara Gittin 23a says a Nochri writes autonimously and will on purposely not have in mind to think about the wedded woman when writing her name so there is no Kesiva Lishma and the Gett/Kiddushin is invalid:

בעינן כתיבה לשמה והא ודאי עובד כוכבים אדעתיה דנפשיה קעביד


*Note if he says that the woman is Mekudeshet to him with the civil marriage she is Safeik Mekudeshet (questionably married) and requires a Gett (Halachik Divorce) as stated in Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 32,2 because the paper might be worth a Pruta elsewhere in the world and might be valid as Kidushei Shave Kesef. So since we are not sure, she needs a new Kidushin to get married or if she changes her mind she needs a Divorce.

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