A Jewish woman had an affair before her marriage. She later married another man. At her wedding she was pregnant from the previous liaison but it was not noticeable. When the baby was born, the husband assumed it was his own child. A few years later, he found out through a DNA test that the child was not his.

Can he now divorce his wife on the grounds of what happened before the marriage?

  • Did she tell the husband she was a virgin before marriage? Had it been 90 days since the affair?
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 13:36
  • 1
    he can divorce her without reason. do you mean without paying ketuba?
    – ray
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 18:43
  • I edited the question into its present form and offer to further assist the OP by suggesting responses to the points made: Double AA She did not explicitly tell the husband she was a virgin before marriage but he assumed it. It had not been 90 days since the affair (after all he did not know she was pregnant). ray We’re talking about after the takkono of Rabbeinu Gershom ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/rgershom.htm Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:30
  • Not an answer, but a data point. > In Chagiga 14b at the bottom of the page - according to the 2nd > explanation of Rashi - we're discussing a Kohen Gadol who marries a > virgin who happens to be pregnant - and he knew nothing about it > beforehand. > > The Gemara discusses whether he needs to divorce her. Seems that she qualifies as a regular wife were he not a Kohen Gadol who must marry a virgin.
    – Aaron S
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


The whole virginity thing is mostly a red herring.

The Talmud actually says a woman is supposed to wait a few months between marriages, so we won't have these paternity confusions!

The whole marriage could be considered "an act under severely faulty premises" and therefore null and void (theoretically, no divorce ceremony is needed but we'd strive to obtain one anyhow for appearance's sake) from the get-go if one side had some condition that any reasonable Jewish person would consider a deal-breaker. (E.g. s/he presented themselves as Jewish-born and Jewish-identifying, but actually had secretly gone off and gotten baptized and has been going to church for the last six months.) As we'd said about about the waiting a few months, plenty of men seem to have been okay marrying a woman who was openly carrying an ex-husband's child, but fooling someone about carrying another man's child could likely be called a dealbreaker.

As for "grounds for divorce" -- look, if a couple comes to the rabbi and says that everything is going fine, but they want a divorce because they're bored and they feel like it, the rabbi should advise them to reconsider, but at the end of the day there's nothing stopping them from going through a divorce ceremony. (Usually it would be their local pastoral rabbi doing the counseling; divorces are handled by specialist rabbis whose job is generally to just process what they're given.) The financial settlement, however, comes into play. In Talmudic times the rule of thumb was that he always gave her a lump sum of one year's support (the ketubah) unless it was considered "her fault"; and the cases in the Talmud's book of Ketubot make it fairly clear that her hiding something big coming into the marriage could qualify.

Practically, a pastoral rabbi should first assess the relationship and all involved, the healthiest thing may be for them to try and work it out. But if they both want to call it off, the rabbis would certainly process their ritual divorce. After the ritual divorce, the couple is supposed to let a rabbinic panel handle the financial settlement, and I suspect it would quite strongly favor the husband in such a case. (If the couple would rather give all their money to the lawyers and spend years being dragged through mud and go to the courts instead, they're not supposed to do so but the divorce rabbis can't/won't stop them.) If the husband demands a divorce but she wants to stay, the rabbis would likely -- depending on the details of the circumstances -- make every effort to convince her to go through with the divorce ritual, and if that still fails, leave a divorce document in escrow for her.

  • The Talmud in K'subos (1st perek) rules that failure of the bride to disclose that she had relations before marriage (which impacts the required amount to be specified in the kesuba, among other halachic ramifications) would make the marriage a mekach ta'us (or "an act under severely faulty premises", as you put it) unless there was a specific reason the husband should have assumed or been aware that she was not a besula before marriage. So it's not really a red herring.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 23:04
  • @Fred thanks -- I was responding to the comments fixating on whether she'd claimed to be a virgin. I felt that was missing the point. Suppose she told her fiance that she wasn't a virgin, but was hiding that she was pregnant with someone else's child -- that in and of itself should be a mekach ta'us! But yes, false claims of virginity would also be a mekach ta'us.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 23:09

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