I, Rabbi (Part Two)

Part One of this three-post series is here.

I found another rabbi to speak to about this question. Two, in fact. The first, very engaged in outreach, told me how he had wrestled with the issue of conducting wedding ceremonies for non-observant Jews. He acknowledged the serious halachic challenges, and responsibilities, implicated by doing so. But his mentor and rebbe had, when asked this question by him, all but laughed at him for asking it: “Two Jews want to get married in our day and age — you shouldn’t do everything possible to make this happen?” Well, that is how I had seen it. He gave me some tips.

The kashrus, he said, isn’t likely to be under your control, but you can’t agree to do this if they’re going to be serving “conspicuously treif” food; that just debases your involvement and could eventually come back to haunt you, rabbi, as well. You can say that the bride must go to the mikveh first. You can make sure the kesuvah is halachically competent. And because you have a relationship with the couple, you can sort of at least hope to “own” the “get issue” if it comes to that, which is a chief concern of those who are reluctant to get involved in such marriages. His words encouraged me.

The second rabbi was helpful in a completely complimentary fashion. He was in fact almost never referred to as a rabbi, and though people know he is learned, not too many people know that he was ordained by a major yeshiva as a young man decades ago. But not only is he ordained: He told me, when I recounted all this to him, that he could help with two of the missing pieces: Being witness number two at the chupa [“canopy,” i.e., the ceremony] (an easy one), and being recognized as ordained by the clerk of the City of New York — thus the official “officiant” for purposes of the law. He had one question — well, two. The first one was, “They’re getting proper glatt meals for people who want them?” Yes, I said. The second one was, “So they’ll give me dinner for this?” I laughed — of course dinner! (“Only half price!”)

Rabbi #2 also was very familiar with the precise halachic issues we’d have to nail down, and helped guide me through them. One of them involved the kesuvah. Assuming, correctly, that the couple would want to have an “art” kesuvah, he explained to me what the halachic issues, and controversies, were, and what wording I had to look for and look out for. Let’s just say that at the end of the day I prevailed on the couple to use whatever they wanted for their living room wall, but to privately allow me to use a standard, halachically valid kesuvah that they could keep in their filing cabinet “so your kids will always know it was done according to all opinions.” That was a formulation the first rabbi had suggested to me, and, used sparingly, it came in quite handy.

So I had my rabbinical advice, across the board. I had, eventually, cooperation from the couple, who agreed to the form of kesuvah, the mikveh (huge, right?) and pretty much everything that mattered. I, in turn, had to agree to come early; to be called “rabbi” by the staff; and, I decided, to forego dusting off my tuxedo in order to achieve the proper clerical decorum on that night. And I had to commit, of course, to actually take a hard look at the seder kedushin [the wedding ceremony], learn it, and be prepared to execute it! At my age, I don’t do new things every day. This turned out to be a simple matter, but, even for me, a little scary.

The happy ending, along with the nerves, the detours and the airline food, I will tell you about in Part 3, IY”H.

Ron Coleman is married to his everyday blog about intellectual property law. It’s called LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®.

10 comments on “I, Rabbi (Part Two)

  1. Ron has handled the entire situation with grace & dignity for all involved, making a Kiddush H’ in the process. I’m disappointed by all the harsh & jaded comments.

  2. To Scott #7: A child born to unmarried parents is not considered to be a “mamzer” in Jewish law. That designation is reserved only for a child born to a married woman who was fathered by a man who is not her husband. Mamzerut, as you probably know, has pretty serious consequences in Jewish law, which is why properly freeing Agunot is such a serious matter. (The offspring of an improperly divorced woman still deemed married to the first husband, and the man she thinks is her second husband, could be mamzerim).

    To Bob #8: Joking aside, it would be intriguing to think of what kind of situation could be rigged at a wedding ceremony with the Aidim so that years later ex post facto (if need be) the marriage could be declared null and void. I have read that the late Gadol HaDor Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal spent much time and effort to free Agunot by declaring that their marriages were invalid ab initio. Maybe one of the Aidim at all weddings should be a Gair Tzedek. Then if the Agunah problem arises, the Gair walks into the Bet Din with his ham sandwich: “See? I was never really a true Jew. Therefore, the couple was never really married.”

  3. Judy,

    1, I think that committing an aveira (e.g., eating that ham) while planning to do teshuva for it afterwards makes that later teshuva invalid.

    2. Also, their eating of ham does not retro-disqualify witnesses who were recognized as kosher before that.

  4. Bob, here’s another idea. Moved by the suffering of the Agunah, the witnesses to the long-ago wedding ceremony decide to invalidate themselves. They present themselves before a Bet Din and testify that their prior Aidus was invalid due to being public shameless deniers of the truth of G-d’s Torah. At the end of their testimony, they take out ham sandwiches and eat them in front of the Bet Din.

    The horrified Bet Din declares the Agunah’s original marriage to be void, freeing her to remarry without getting a Get. The two witnesses are lectured for their impudence and disobedience and contempt for the Torah.

    A few weeks later, the chastened witnesses
    see the error of their ways and resolve to become true frum Jews (“baalei-teshuva”), giving up ham sandwiches forever. However, the long-ago marriage is still null and void and of no legal consequence, due to their invalid Aidus.

    The grateful Agunah, finally unchained from her misery, quietly cuts out a photo of a ham sandwich and frames it, writing on the bottom of the photograph, “My Hero.”

  5. Judy, in line with your idea, an agency could supply invalid witnesses as needed. But who would pay for this service, the non-groom or the non-bride? Also, does the mesader kiddushin get paid if the whole thing will be annulled?

  6. I recently read an article about two long-time Agunot who have been suffering in Israel.

    The first Agunah’s husband refuses to give her a Get. He is sitting in jail, and his living conditions have been deliberately worsened to get him to cooperate. He still refuses to give her a Get (sheer obstinacy, contrariness and hatred).

    For the second Agunah, a respected Bet Din called in and questioned the two witnesses to her wedding ceremony years ago. It was found that neither witness is shomer mitzvos (they violate Shabbos, eat nonkosher food, etc). The Bet Din declared that Agunah #2 never had a valid marriage and so she does not need a Get. She is free!

    So, let’s get rid of the Agunah problem in one generation. Set it up Halachically so that nobody has a Kosher wedding ceremony, and then no woman will ever require a Get. Or is this something that can only be done Bedieved and never Lchatchila?

  7. Part Three won’t show anyone up. It will pretty much just be the Fun Part.

    Scott, you forgot about the first Rabbi, who authorized me to imagine him away. Oh, believe me, I would have been very happy to hand this off to anyone on earth. But the couple insisted that I do it, and my doing was after all the only way I would have the leverage over them for the concessions they did make.

  8. “Two Jews want to get married in our day and age — you shouldn’t do everything possible to make this happen?”

    Since the rabbi in part one said run away because it’s no mitzvah, and this one here says the above, then why didn’t you worry about what rabbi-part-one said and just ask rabbi-part-two to do the ceremony? You were so convinced that happy-ending-part-three might really happen?

  9. Ron,

    You’ve created this problem: We can’t easily pick at you now about Part Two, because Part Three could show us up!

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