Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q8.34 TOC Q8.36 >

Question 8.35:
If a Jewish man and woman marry in a civil ceremony are they recognized as married under Judaism?


A civil ceremony isn't recognized by Jewish law. However, the story doesn't stop there.

Jewish marriage can be effected in one of three ways: through a gift worth money (such as a ring), by contract, and through sexual intimacy. The latter two aren't customarily used (the traditional ketubah plays the role of a pre-nuptial contract, not the actual wedding). But all three still would work even if custom is violated. Weddings require two kosher witnesses who aren't related to each other nor to the either of the couple (aside from the other requirements). This alone rules out civil ceremonies. But other formal details aren't met either.

It's the concept of marriage through sexual intimacy that might be relevent. In order for it to be considered a wedding ceremony, the relations must be for the sake of getting married. So, the question boils down to this: What about the intent of a couple who got married in court but consummated their marriage? Does the intent to consummate qualify or not? As we can't read people's minds, we rule based upon the doubt.

For cases where the wife subsequently remarried and had children from that marriage, we do not consider the children mamzeirim. For mamzeir, doubts are ruled leniently. (Mamzeir [pl. mamzeirim] is a child of a married woman and a man other than her husband -- or the child of a mamzeir. And therefore the grandchild, etc...) However, if no children from subsequent marriages are involved, we rule stringently and stay safe. In such cases we do perform a get, a religious divorce.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2004 Daniel P. Faigin <>