Why would a Jewish woman marry through a religious ceremony, knowing she risks becoming an agunah for life? Her husband can go insane and remain alive for life. He can run away, dump her, etc.., without giving her a get. Whereas with a civil marriage (or a pilegesh marriage), there is no risk of becoming an agunah.

Here is the latest news, which appear to support the reality behind the above question, from the JPOST:

Bill Seeks to Publicly Shame Men Refusing to Give Divorce “Women denied a divorce may as well be dead,” MK Revital Swid said. http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Bill-seeks-to-publicly-shame-men-refusing-to-give-divorce-507124


Rabbinical Court Infringes on US Civil Jurisdiction in 8-year Agunah Case "The Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem has reversed itself not once but twice over issues of jurisdiction regarding the case of an eight-year aguna, and is now enabling her estranged husband to condition his granting of a divorce on the division of assets from the marriage.

"Lawyers for the aguna say that the case is a classic example of the problematic phenomenon of rabbinical courts tying the right of a woman to get divorced to her acceptance of a financial settlement, essentially acquiescing to and even abetting the extortion of women." http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Rabbinical-court-infringes-on-US-civil-jurisdiction-in-8-year-agunah-case-499686

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    What’s the alternative? Not do what G-d told you to do and end up producing mamzeirim? Or even in those cases where mamzeirim aren’t an issue, you’re still not doing what G-d told you to do. He said you should do Kiddushin and Nisuin, and He said a couple must go through Geirushin to break it off.
    – DonielF
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:35
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    to expand a bit on the above comments - there is a basic inconsistency in the question: the question seems to take the laws of agunot seriously, but not the laws pertaining to men and women living together without marriage. Once we're ignoring the latter, why not just ignore the former and do away with the rules of agunot altogether?
    – Jay
    Sep 13, 2017 at 15:01
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    @ninamag you're right, I should have specified "without halachic marriage".
    – Jay
    Sep 13, 2017 at 16:05
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    @DonielF just to clarify it's a point of contention if women are obligated in Kiddushin (I believe there's a girsa issue in the Rambam), or even if men are (Rosh). I could say the alternative is not get married, but Chazal say women would rather be married than not. I suppose the OP is asking why would they rather? I don't know and I'm not sure why it's a question about Judaism and not psychology.
    – robev
    Sep 13, 2017 at 23:18
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    @DonielF while the Korban Nesanel you quoted does reject this understanding of the Rosh, the Beis Shmuel he's quoting, as well as the Tumim 97:1 understand the Rosh kepshuto, that there's no obligation to get married since you can fulfill pru urevu with a pilegesh. The Korban Nesanel isn't so pashut anyways, since he's commenting on אם לקח פלגש which sounds bedieved, but at the end the Rosh wrote אפשר לקיים פרו ורבו בפלגש, which you could argue is also bedieved but sounds lechatchila. At least the BS and Tumim saw it was. Regardless my main point is she doesn't necessarily have to get married
    – robev
    Sep 14, 2017 at 1:32

6 Answers 6


Let's take your question a step farther: why get married at all? Why not just live with, and have relations with, whomever you like? No marriage means no difficulties in ending it.

If you're hesitating at that -- if you think that the concept of "marriage" has some meaning and you're just questioning which type (civil or religious) -- then the first part of the answer is: because a civil "marriage" isn't a marriage according to Judaism at all.

Here are some reasons for couples to want a Jewish marriage:

  • Because the torah elevates it. A man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife, not his "friend with privileges".

  • Marriage is a long-term commitment. I know it doesn't always work out that way, and the rabbis say (Gittin 90a-b, h/t DonielF) that when a (Jewish) marriage ends the altar weeps. In other words, it's a big deal.

  • Marital status affects the status of children. Even people who don't care about properly forming a marriage for themselves often care about it for their kids.

  • Because this is how we do things. Even secular Jews have Jewish weddings -- because it's what their family, community, or people does. You probably have some things that you do because it's what your family does; now expand that to all of klal yisrael and consider how much stronger that pull might be.

Yes, there is risk in marriage. Halacha offers some ways to mitigate this risk, but it's still a risk. But to someone who is religious, a civil marriage isn't a marriage at all, so what choice do you have? If you want to be Jewishly married you have to accept this risk.

I wish that we could solve the agunah problem. It's painful. It destroys lives. It's a real problem, and I am not trying to dismiss it. But I'm saying that we don't have an alternative. Childbirth is painful and sometimes destroys lives too, but people have children anyway. If you decide something is important enough, you take the risk.

  • Please explain "Marital status affects the status of children." In Judaism, only the children of a married person can be mamzerim. Judaism does not have the same 'illegitimate child' concept that some gentile cultures do.
    – Joshua Fox
    Jun 13, 2019 at 5:54
  • @Joshua not "illegitimate", but I was thinking of cases like there was a previous marriage and no get. But I guess that applies to the child regardless of whether they're married. I can't easily edit right now but will try to fix later. (I'm not sure if there's anything to salvage it if I should just remove that bullet.) Jun 13, 2019 at 12:55

Assuming that marrying through a civil ceremony would prevent future possible agunah scenarios (which isn't really true, @Shalom's excellent answer to your other question), there are still plenty of reasons to marry properly according to Halacha:

  1. Not marrying properly means that the entire time the couple are together they are committing sins. The large majority of marriages do not result in an Agunah scenario, so for the overwhelming majority of scenarios, there will just be couples living in sin with no potential "gain" for doing so.

  2. Agunahs, while a horrible situation for those trapped, is not too common. We wouldn't change important constructs without a good reason. Everything in life has risks, but we weigh the risks to benefits to decide whether to do it. There is a risk every time one gets into a car, but if you have to drive to work, that's what you do.

  3. It's a psychological thing as well. You're about to commit to spend the rest of your life with someone. It's got to be a bit weird to do so in a way that leaves a 'loophole' in case the marriage doesn't work out as hoped (and yes, I'm aware that's what a prenup, and in some sense, a Kesubah is, but I would still feel weird suggesting that, until it becomes standard practice for every couple to do so).


I’d like to take this a step further than the other excellent answers. Those all address that we have Kiddushin u’Nisuin.1 I’d like to address why.

It is, in fact, is a debate between the Rosh (Rav Asher ben Yechiel, 1250/59-1327) and the Rambam (Rav Moshe ben Maimon), whether it’s a mitzvah to get married at all. The Rosh (Kesuvos 1:12) writes that we must get married as a part of the mitzvah to have children. The Rambam (Ishus 1) writes that marriage is actually a mitzvah on its own from the Torah, and there is a further prohibition for having intimacy with a woman who you have not taken as your wife via Kiddushin, which takes effect on each and every act of intimacy.2

But whether Kiddushin is a mitzvah or part of a different one, it still begs the original question of why.

The Sefer HaChinuch (552) writes several reasons for Kiddushin:

  • There should be something to formalize the marriage, that the man not come upon her as he would a harlot, with no prior interaction.
  • A woman who goes through this process will be permanently aware that she is married and therefore will not come to commit adultery or rebel, but will rather respect and honor her husband, as a servant to his master. Thus their life will be peaceful, and society will be established with the Will of HaShem.3
    • This is why the custom is to use a ring, something which is always present and a constant reminder, even though technically a tiny perutah may be used.

To answer your question fully, however, we must address two other obligations: not to be intimate without marriage, and to divorce with a get.

In respect to the former, the Chinuch (570), quoting the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh 355) writes that if the Torah just set forth the laws of rape and seduction, one may have thought that being intimate with one outside the framework of marriage was just a monetary matter; after all, all a rapist has to do is pay the father 50 shekalim and take care of the girl, and he gets to be her husband. If it’s a monetary matter, well, it’s is up to the two parties to do whatever they want with their money. What the prohibition of pre-marital intimacy is coming to add is that it’s not just a monetary matter, but a moral and spiritual one as well; thus, the passuk states (Vayikra 19:29) that one should not “desecrate” his daughter to make her a harlot, lest the land become “lewd” and the land become “full of immorality.”

As for divorce, the Sefer HaChinuch writes (579) that since in an ideal marriage the husband and wife should work harmoniously, there must be an out if this doesn’t work. What is the alternative, that they remain married forever? Then when the wife and husband hate each other, she will go ahead and burn his property to the ground, commit adultery before his eyes - and there’s nothing he can do about it!

Why, then, must it be done with a document? Maybe he can just tell her to leave, and that will be enough. If that were the case, though, a woman could just commit adultery and claim that her husband sent her away before she committed the act, and she would be able to get away with it! (Remember that witnesses are never required on documents on a Torah level.) Further, if the husband is upset with his wife and can yell at her to divorce her, she would be divorced immediately; if he must go through the trouble of writing a document, he will have a chance to let his anger subside and to reconcile with his wife.

In summary, then, the purpose of these laws is to indicate that marriage is more than just a monetary contract for the wife’s “services”; it’s a holy bond between man and wife. It cannot simply be broken by word, as that would result in the very situations we are trying to prevent (i.e. immorality). Yes, every now and then this will result in the terrible situation of an agunah, and we do all we can to try to prevent such a situation (see Gittin 2a-3a, regarding bringing a get from overseas - for certain things, “because of an agunah the Rabbis were lenient”). Sometimes it’s not enough. But usually it is enough, and that’s a risk we’re willing to take, for the greater good.

1 I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that Jewish marriage has two stages - Kiddushin/Eirusin (the ring, though it could be several other things - see Mishnah, Kiddushin 2a) and Nisuin (referred to here as Chuppah, the white canopy - though I’m aware it’s debated when the Nisuin actually takes place nowadays). Although in practice we do these two actions together (or at least the same night), there used to be a 12-month gap in between them.

2For further discussion of these opinions, see Teshuvos HaRivash 395, and Ran, Kiddushin 16a s.v. איכא דאמרי.

3 These aren’t my words - go blame the Chinuch for being politically incorrect.


A civil marriage is not considered a marriage by halacha. So if a Jewish woman wants to follow Jewish Law, she marries through a Jewish marriage. To do otherwise would be disobeying G-d.

  • what is the solution for such a person who is "disobeying G-d"?
    – ninamag
    Sep 13, 2017 at 18:06
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    @ninamag - Do teshuvah. If both the husband and the wife are Jewish, then they just get a Jewish wedding. If the woman is married to a non-Jew, she's sinning anyways, and the only way to correct that would be to get divorced.
    – ezra
    Sep 13, 2017 at 18:31
  • please include give a source about your comment, "If the woman is married to a non-Jew, she's sinning anyways, and the only way to correct that would be to get divorced."
    – ninamag
    Sep 13, 2017 at 18:49
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    @ninamag - If someone you know is considering intermarriage, davening that Hashem should break off their connections with their non-Jewish partner sounds like a good idea.
    – ezra
    Sep 13, 2017 at 19:26
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    @ninamag - There's nothing wrong with heartfelt prayers from yourself. :) I would ask a rabbi though before convincing someone to break off a marriage!! But if they aren't married yet convincing them wouldn't be a bad idea. If you have sway in their life, then they'll see you disapprove and that might change their mind.
    – ezra
    Sep 13, 2017 at 19:28

there are Rabbis who ask your question and give a possible alternative,
(it might be biblicaly forbidden to have extramarital relations, so she does it (takes the risk (gets married and TRUSTS in G-d)) to have relations (and also to be taken care of (When a man marries a woman, he is obligated to her in ten things: providing her with subsistence. supplying her with garments conjugal rights, to provide medical treatment if she becomes sick; to redeem her if she is held captive: to bury her if she dies; the right for her to continue living in his home after his death as long as she remains a widow;the right for her daughters to receive their subsistence from his estate after his death until they become consecrated; the right for her sons to inherit her ketubah in addition to their share in her husband's estate together with their brothers [borne by other wives, if she dies before her husband does]) but it seems if no marriage there are no obligations)

an ideas not to get married anymore

Mnachem Risikoff

An alternative approach to the problem, also introduced by Risikoff as a theoretical possibility worthy of halakhic discussion, was the reintroduction of the ancient institution of Pilegesh, an alternative category to formal marriage (and one that would not have the same requirements for a Get upon the dissolution of the relationship)

RABBI DOVID E. EIDENSOHN also speaks about it

Ramo in shulchan aruch EH 26.1

however, if she dedicates herself exclusively for him as his wife and she immerses for him, there are those who would say that this is allowed and she would be a Pilegesh as described in the Torah and there are those who say that this is forbidden and they should both get whiplashes from the Torah as they have transgressed the precept "don't be a harlot."

see arucha hashulhan 26.7 and 10 (hebrew)

  • I think you’re missing a few key points about Pilegesh. First of all, as discussed in the comments to the question, not everyone agrees that a Pilegesh is okay. Second, look at the Pilegesh b’Givah (Shoftim 19-21) and how that ended up. If marriage is meant to reduce immorality (see my answer), then how is a Pilegesh any better than civil marriage or no marriage? As a total aside, it would be really nice if you could summarize the various links you post.
    – DonielF
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:07
  • @DonielF "how is a Pilegesh any better than civil marriage or no marriage?" Well, a Pilegesh served her good purpose in the Tanakh.
    – ninamag
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:09
  • @ninamag If I recall correctly, Hagar rebelled. Yitzchak encouraged Avraham to give her a second try, but he wasn’t willing to do so on his own. Are you talking about someone else?
    – DonielF
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:28
  • @DonielF you are right about morality, in our time men do not have self respect so will do pilegesh swapping , but the Rabbonim can always ban pilegesh (it does not seem clearly that they did, yet) , I quoted my links
    – hazoriz
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:48
  • @hazoriz Again, Pilegesh b’givah - even back then it led to such things. Again, see the comments on the question - it’s not so clear that Pilegesh is permitted, in spite of your links.
    – DonielF
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:50

I understand your anger, but I would broaden this question further to: why would a woman enter non-equal, subordinate, depending, maybe discriminating relationships for the whole life, not only risk in final Aguna state, according to Judaism. All answers are pretty much standard - Kedusha, destiny, Mitzvah etc. I have a different view altogether (from my sidenotes on the Kiddushin Tractate).

  1. Rambam starts Ilchos Ishus with an odd statement: "Before the Torah was given, when a man would meet a woman ... and he and she wanted to marry, he would bring her home, conduct relations in private and thus make her his wife." Seemingly, from the creation of the world, men and women enjoyed an equal status in marriage, requiring mutual consent for marriage and allowing both to annul it voluntarily. This arrangement applies ever since to all gentiles.
  2. As Rambam continues to explain the Mitzvah he drops the mutual desire and adds the acquisition: "Since the Torah was given, the Jews were commanded that when a man desires to marry a woman, he must acquire her as a wife in the presence of witnesses." So what happened before Matan Torah, that changed our view on marriage so dramatically, and why the first to do that pattern of Jewish marriage was no other than Moses' father Amram, in Egypt Golus, that divorced his wife, and re-married her with Kiddushin (Rambam states it in Melachim 1,1), causing all men to divorce their wives and re-marry them with Kiddushin (Shemot 2,1, Rashi in place)? Now I will start to explain, based on a famous analogy of Shir Hashirim, between Hashem and his chosen people, and there's a happy end also!
  3. Before the exile, according to this analogy, Jews enjoyed a position (toward Hashem) of all gentiles (hence the Machloykes on their status), namely - he and she wanted to marry - they could get in and out of their covenant with Hashem voluntarily. That type of relations is called "the two great luminaries" (Ber 1,16) where each one shines independently and doesn't use each other's light. Another name for this is "Ish and Isha" - two equal parties. (That's why gentiles ask each other "Do you agree...?", but Jews just state "You are herewith Mekudeshet to me!")
  4. Jews were prophesied to complete 400 years of exile and effortlessly enter the Land of Israel and start the days of Moshiach right away. At some point (after reaching 49 Sha"T) it became clear (by Amram, the leader of the generation) this mission could not be accomplished that way. The Jewish nation needed spiritual sources they did not have and they were doomed to failure.
  5. Amram understood, that only one way of conduct can change the situation is to - "Go and diminish yourself" as Hashem said to the Moon, therefore Jews will subdue to His light and enjoy Hashem's providence, and set a way to exit the exile and eventually fix all the necessary Tikkunim. So he demonstrated Hashem that we can not continue as Ish and Isha, but need a new form of relationship called a Kinyan, where the woman "diminishes herself" up to a complete "cancellation" and the man acquires her, and therefor he's now called Baal - the ruler and the owner, but she enjoys his providence. The result of this new marriage was Moshe Rabeinu that took Amram's analogy and said (Shirat Hayam) "עם זו קנית" - "This people which you have acquired" which by adjusting the vowels can Midrashicly be rendered as "You have acquired this (feminine) people". Since then we, Jews, are bought to Hashem and this bound can only be broken by Hashem himself (as our Baal), and that's what we weep so hard on the 9th of Av - as a husband that has left his wife.
  6. Since the Egypt Exile, we show Hashem our continuity in this conduct, as our nation was bought, we can't break free, and our Kiddushin ceremony demonstrates, that the relationships that could be initially equal (Ish and Isha) are turned into unequal to resemble Hashem's relation to His people. (I really wonder we don't say "זכר ליציאת מצריים" in Nissuin's blessings.
  7. I promised you the happy end. As the Golus ends, B"H, so does this conduct, as Hosea prophesied (2, 18) "וְהָיָה בַיּוֹם הַהוּא נְאֻם ה' תִּקְרְאִי אִישִׁי וְלֹא תִקְרְאִי לִי עוֹד בַּעְלִי." "And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call Me Ishi, and shalt call Me no more Baali. Women will return to an equal position (we see the signs already :) and this kind of marriage will belong to the past. And we will shine our own light, as Isaaiah (30,26) prophesied " וְהָיָה אוֹר הַלְּבָנָה כְּאוֹר הַחַמָּה, וְאוֹר הַחַמָּה יִהְיֶה שִׁבְעָתַיִם" - "Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold", women will no longer subdue to men, and Agune situation will never exist again. Omen!

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