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Many returnees to Judaism were born out of reform or conservative marriages. In the case of such a person, assuming their parents were not learned in Torah whatsoever, but whose mother is Jewish and whose marriage is recognized in civil law, would their child be considered born out of wedlock, and therefore a mamzer?

How would this change if the husband or wife had been previously married? How about if both parents are Jewish but they signed a kesubah with invalid witnesses?

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    Being born out of wedlock does not make one a mamzer. If the wife had been previously married a beis din must be consulted.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 5:42

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Many returnees to Judaism were born out of reform or conservative marriages. In the case of such a person, assuming their parents were not learned in Torah whatsoever, but whose mother is Jewish and whose marriage is recognized in civil law, would their child be considered born out of wedlock, and therefore a mamzer?

First, we must define a mamzer - a mamzer is not someone who is born out of marriage, its someone who is born from a illicit relationship, such as a married (and not divorced) woman with another man.

In regards to civil marriages, they carry no weight in halacha - a Jewish man and woman who received a marriage certificate from the gov't does not make them halachically married. If the woman then proceeds to have a child with another man, the child is not a mamzer. A mazer would be if a Jewish man and woman got halachically married, and then the woman had a child with another man without divorcing her husband.

I do recall my 9th grade rebbi saying that there is a teshuva from R' Moshe that a Jewish man and woman living together for a long enough time with other people witnessing may constitute a marriage, with the people witnessing being the witnesses.

How would this change if the husband or wife had been previously married?

So technically in halacha a man can have more than one wife, so the man being married to another woman would not be a problem. A woman, however, can only have one husband. So if the woman had been halachically married to a man and never got a divorce, any child from this new relationship would be a mamzer.

How about if both parents are Jewish but they signed a kesubah with invalid witnesses?

There are 2 parts of a halachic marriage; kiddushin, where the husband gives something of value to the woman and says 'haray at mikudeshes li bitabas zu', and nisuin, where the marriage is consumated.

I would think it would still be a marriage as long as the kiddushin happened that would go through even without a kesuba, making the woman married to the man. So any child born not from that marriage would be a mamzer.

Obviously ask a rov for any real guidance.

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    No,no,no. It is Rav Henkin who held that living together could make a marriage. Rav Moshe strongly disagreed, and we follow his opinion. That is why it is pretty rare for people to be found to be mamzerim.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 6:52
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    @N.T. I believe Rav Moshe required a get lechatchila, but if it wasn't easy he was lenient, and also either way he didn't make the child a mamzer
    – robev
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 14:20
  • @robev I haven't seen the teshuva in a while, but I don't remember that. Nobody nowadays is considered a mamzer if parents cohabited.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 22:23

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