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I heard from a chief rabbi of an Israeli city, who was officiating at a wedding I was at, that a Ketubah must be signed by two witnesses who are shomer mitzvos. What is the legal definition of this vis a vis a Ketubah? What does one who if there are no totally shomer mitzvos men?

Would men who learn Torah or were formerly shomer mitzvos "make do"? What of baalei tshuva who still have not taken on the full Torah, but keep mitzvos to the best of the ability at their stage?

Let's say that in addition to the totally frum (religious) rabbi, that no totally frum people have any chance of making this wedding.

  • The Rabbi frequently brings someone along so they can both sign the Kesuva together (and be witnesses by the kiddushin) – Shmuel Brin Apr 15 '15 at 18:49
  • The rabbi will not be bringing anyone with him. The question is more about if such a halacha exists, and how to define the "kosherness" of the witnesses. – FlushingHasid Apr 15 '15 at 19:04
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The ketubah, like any Jewish legal document, requires the signature of two witnesses. Besides being Jewish men who are unrelated to each other (or to the bride or groom), there are other qualifications.

The Shulchan Arukh (חושן משפט הלכות עדות סימן לד) rules that

רשע פסול לעדות

A rasha is invalidated from serving as a witness

What is a rasha? The Shulchan Arukh continues:

כל שעבר עבירה שחייבים עליה מלקות; ואצ"ל אם חייבים עליה מיתת ב"ד. ל"ש אם עבר לתיאבון, ל"ש אם עבר להכעיס. הגה: עבר עבירה שאין בה מלקות, פסול מדרבנן

It is anyone who transgresses a transgression that requires lashes. It's unnecessary to discuss if someone deserves death through a court sentence [i.e., since even a more minor offense disqualifies him]. It also doesn't matter if he transgressed out of appetite or anger.

Rama: If a person transgressed a transgression that doesn't require lashes, he is invalidated rabbinically.

Transgressing Shabbat observance, a major biblical commandment, would certainly fall into that category. Defining a rasha these days is complicated, but modern authorities essentially stress that a ketubah witness should be Torah-observant [committed to following all of halakha] and definitely Shabbat-observing. The Yalkut Yosef (נישואין ושידוכים פרק ז' - נתינת הטבעת ליד הכלה), for example, puts it this way:

כן יש להקפיד שהעדים יהיו יראי ה' ושומרי תורה ומצוות, ולא חלילה מחללי שבת בפרהסיא ומגלחי זקנם בתער וכדומה. ורב המסדר קידושין בחתונה אצל חילוניים, יקח עמו עד כשר ויהיו הוא עצמו והשני, שני העדים. וטוב שתלמידי חכמים יהיו עדים

One must be sure that the witnesses are God-fearing and keep the Torah and mitzvot; that they do not publicly desecrate Shabbat, shave their face with razors, and so on. The rabbi officiating a wedding for secular Jews should bring with him a kosher witness so that he and the second one will act as witnesses. It is also good for students of sages to be witnesses.

If a witness is not religiously observant, or if there is no second witness for the ketubbah signing, then the ketubbah is invalid. Whether or not a wedding conducted without a valid ketubbah can still make a couple married is a different question, and has been discussed here.

The footnote for the Yalkut Yosef provides a story related to this discussion:

והדבר מצוי בעיקר ברבנים מסדרי קידושין לחילוניים, ופעמים שלא נמצאים שם אנשים יראי שמים ושומרי תורה ומצוות זולת אלה שיש להם קירבה משפחתית לחתן או לכלה, וצריך ליזהר בזה. ומרן אאמו"ר שליט"א נוהג ברוב הפעמים שהוא עצמו משמש כאחד העדים, ומצרף עמו עד נוסף. ואחד הרבנים בארץ סיפר לנו, שפעם סידר קידושין באחד המושבים החילוניים, ולא מצא שם אפי' אדם אחד שיהיה ראוי להיות עד, ואחד הציע עצמו להיות עד, וכאשר לקחו לצד ושאלו היאך הוא מתגלח, נתברר שהוא מתגלח בתער. עד שמצא שאחד המלצרים הוא שומר תורה ומצוות, וצירף אותו יחד עמו לעדות הקידושין.

This issue is essential for rabbis who officiate at secular weddings, as sometimes there are no God-fearing, Torah and mitzvot-observant men to be found, except those related to the bride and groom [and thus disqualified]. It's important to be careful about this. Maran [R. Ovadia Yosef] often served as a witness [in addition to being the rabbi] and would bring a second witness with him. One of the rabbis in Israel told us that once he officiated in a secular community, and he couldn't find even one man that could serve as a witness. One man offered himself to be a witness, but after the rabbi took him to the side and asked him how he shaves, it became clear that he shaved with a razor [and was thus disqualified from serving as a witness]. It was only until the rabbi found a waiter who kept Torah and mitzvot, and joined as a witness with him, that he could make the wedding.

  • @FlushingHasid: there aren't standardized page numbers for the Shulchan Arukh or Yalkut Yosef. I wrote down the sources in parentheses. The laws on invalid witnesses are discussed in Sh"A Choshen Mishpat ch. 34:1-2; Yalkut Yosef Sova Smakhot Vol. 1, Ch. 7, #11 (and see footnote there). Other relevant sources for this discussion include Makkot 5b, Sanhedrin 26b, Sh"A Evven HaEzer 42:5, Arukh HaShulchan 42:40. – Aryeh Apr 16 '15 at 12:48
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Pniniei Halocho of Rabbi Melamed defines valid witnesses.

וכן אדם שאינו מזדהה עם הערכים שעליהם מבוססים הקידושין, היינו עם ערכי התורה, אינו יכול להיות עד בחתונה. ולכן אדם שחוטא בגילוי עריות, למשל, מקיים יחסים עם אשת איש, או עם אחותו או בתו וכדומה, פסול לעדות. וכן אדם שחשוד בגניבה פסול מלהיות עד, וכמובן שאין הבדל בין אדם שמתפרץ לבית חבירו בלילה וגונב, לבין מי שמוכר בחנות ומשנה את המחירים או את המשקל לטובתו, או מנהל מפעל שגונב כסף מחשבון המפעל לכיסו, כל אלה גנבים ופסולים לעדות. וכן אדם שאינו שומר שבת כהלכתה, ואינו שותף מלא לכל ערכי התורה, אינו יכול להיות עד למעשה הקידושין שכל כולו מבוסס על מצוות התורה.

Idiomatic translation: After dealing with the invalidity of a family member, the Rav goes on to say that

the witness must value the principles of marriage according to the Torah. If he is guilty of immorality or has relations with a married woman or a close relative he will be invalid. Someone suspected of theft will be invalid whether this is crude theft or white-collar theft. Someone who does not keep Shabbos according to its laws or who is not a party to Torah values cannot be a witness for the marriage which is totally based on Torah values.

I deduce therefore, that someone who was formerly observant or learnt Torah (and by implication is not now) is surely invalid. He is not “a party to Torah values”.

The “baal tshuva” who still has not taken on the full Torah (despite his achievements and progress) who keeps mitzvos to the best of his ability cannot similarly be considered to be “a (full) party to Torah values”. (In the worst case, maybe one of the mitzvos he has not yet taken on is the value of marriage!).

If in addition to the totally frum rabbi, if no totally frum people have any chance of attending this wedding, then the wedding should be scheduled for a time when two valid witnesses could be found.

  • This is a useful resource. However, from what I have heard from 2 local rabbanim, when I presented the case I mentioned in my comment about necessitating a new ketubah after the fact, they both said that non-shomer Shabbat witnesses was ideal, but not a "show stopper", though, they themselves would not officiate at weddings that had non Shomer Shabbat witnesses. I will inquire further with one of these rabbanim, B"N, to get further clarity on this. My understanding - bedi'eved, as the O.P.'s case appears, non-observant people MAY be OK. – DanF Apr 15 '15 at 20:26
  • @DanF You might like to look here where it says that a shomer-shabbat is essential (but need not be FFB). Then try here where the question is asked “If someonse realized in retrospect that he was passul eidut (witness) at a wedding for not being shomer shabbat – what should he do.It says: many opinions maintain that the couple would not be considered married according to Torah law.” – Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 15 '15 at 21:47
  • Thanks. The 2nd link, esp. is very educational. I'll see if I can locate some of the sources that it refers to. Mikol M'lamdai hiskalti ;-) – DanF Apr 16 '15 at 14:52
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It's not just to sign the ketubah -- more importantly, you need two adult, Jewish, Sabbath-observant, unrelated men to witness him giving her the ring or else you don't have a marriage altogether.

The rabbi can be one of the witnesses, and if he's attending a wedding where everyone's non-observant, he will usually know to bring a friend (who's not a close relative) to serve as the second one. (Both to sign the ketubah, and witness the ring-giving.) Usually the rabbi has thought of this in advance, and if not, someone should address it with him ahead of time.

In America, it's also not-unheard-of for the couple to stop by the rabbi's office a day or two before the wedding to have the legal ring and ketubah, and the rabbi will have another witness handy; and then they can invite all their friends for the big "wedding" (and whatever ceremony they feel like).

  • Re your last paragraph - I have heard of this being done, but, offhand, don't know anyone that has done this. Does this imply that "confirmation" of the ketuvah, itself, IS the marriage and can be done separately from the chuppah, and sheva brachot (done under the chuppah, not the remainder of the week)? – DanF Apr 16 '15 at 14:46
  • @DanF NO. They go to the rabbi's office and have kesubah, ring, chuppah. Halachically they are married. Then they go have a big party because they want a big party. – Shalom Apr 16 '15 at 14:52
  • @DanF The Ketubah is not a marriage. It doesn't make you married. It's just there to assure the wife that she gets her rights (even though she would get them all without the document too). – Double AA Apr 16 '15 at 14:52
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    I don't see how this answers the question, which asks about the criteria for kashrus l'edus in this context. – msh210 Apr 16 '15 at 15:53
  • Regarding your last paragraph all the brachos made at the wedding party will be levatala since the couple is already completely married and there is no place for bircas erusin or nesuin in that context – Yoni Apr 17 '15 at 0:47

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