If a Jewish couple is married through a civil ceremony alone, do Jewish marriage laws apply to them thereafter? Assume no ketubah; perhaps a ring, but not necessarily 2 witnesses. Could one say that the marriage was contracted through biah? Would the laws concerning a get/divorce apply, for example?* Or is it simply not a Jewish marriage?

*changed from taharat ha'mishpacha in response to suggestion.

  • SAH, thanks for the interesting questions, and welcome to the site: I hope you stick around and enjoy it. – msh210 Feb 10 '12 at 8:45
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    Taharat Hamisphacha, must always be kept, married or not. Being married doesn't mean anything to those rules. – avi Feb 10 '12 at 9:32
  • @Avi, that's what I thought, but I just read a page (on a Chabad site, I think) saying that unmarried women are not allowed in the mikvah (except as brides-to-be and on Yom Kippur etc.). That's false, then? – SAH Feb 10 '12 at 10:07
  • @SAH That is the modern practice, to convince people to get married. And that is how most Mikvot opperate, but someone is suing the Rabanut in Israel over that issue. I don't know if unmarried women aren't allowed in the Mikvah because of custom or halacha. But the Ocean is a valid mikvah. – avi Feb 10 '12 at 10:10
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    @avi Finally found some halacha to support this rule, which I had considered rather arbitrary. It's something like we don't give a public imprimatur to basic violations – SAH Apr 9 '18 at 1:16

Good question.

Would the laws of taharat mishpacha kick in, for example.

They should definitely keep taharat hamishpacha, which is irrelevant of what exact marriage ceremony they did/didn't have.

We would advise such a couple to go through a proper Jewish ceremony when they can; on the other hand, there is no halachic stigma on children born from two Jewish parents who weren't halachically wed.

But for theory's sake, this question was debated hotly in twentieth-century America: Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin z"l felt that as it's public knowledge that this couple is having marital relations, that constitutes Jewish marriage (albeit not the recommended route for it!). (The Gemara discusses a case where a couple may have in mind that if their ring ceremony was somehow flawed, marital relations would work as a backup.)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z"l felt that if necessary, we could argue that the couple chose to opt out of halachic marriage and thus never intended for it to apply to them. Both rabbis agreed that to dissolve such a marriage, a Jewish divorce (Get) is required; Rabbi Feinstein felt that if a Get was unobtainable (or if after the fact, she went out and married someone else and bore a child from them), we could follow the non-marriage argument. This was a bold statement of Rabbi Feinstein (it even got surprised looks from his less-traditionalist cousin-once-removed, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik), and most rabbis today try not to rely on it.

Rabbi Yissochar Frand describes how Rabbi Y.E. Henkin suffered from Alzheimer's at the end of his life; many of the patients in that hospital unit had to be gagged because of the horrible things coming out of their mouths. Rabbi Henkin, stripped of all his faculties, was heard chanting:

Can't make kiddush before tekios. She needs a Get. Can't make kiddush before tekios. She needs a Get.

  • Don't you need two witnesses for Biah to be valid as well? – avi Feb 10 '12 at 9:32
  • @avi, two witnesses that they share an abode as a couple in such a way that bia can be expected, not two witnesses to the act of bia. – msh210 Feb 10 '12 at 9:45
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    @SAH and Shalom, a practical example could be if they lived in a city where there were no Frum Jews (so there are no witnesses). I think that R' Moshe Feinstein discusses this case in Igros Moshe. – Shmuel Feb 10 '12 at 18:54
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    @SAH It's this one: "intent to stay together for life/be committed". However if they kept the relationship secret, yet intended to be married they are in a difficult situation. They have no witnesses, so it's not a valid marriage - but they had intent of marriage (especially as evidenced by the civil ceremony - which BTW is public, and there may have been Jews watching). I would very very strongly suggest talking to an expert Rabbi for this (not just the local Rabbi, but someone with more experience - which your local Rabbi can probably recommend). – Ariel Feb 14 '12 at 9:15
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    @Shalom It's very interesting that you mention Rabbi Y.E. Henkin, a search of him turned up: ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/henkin.htm "He held that witnessed civil marriages were halachically binding." – Ariel Feb 14 '12 at 9:24

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