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By: Rabbi Max Sutton

THE CASE

Debbie and Joey had been married for less than a year when they realized that their Ketuba was lost. Since Debbie did not remember ever storing her Ketuba for safekeeping, the couple decided to review their wedding video to determine who was entrusted with the Ketuba. The video indicated that Debbie’s mother had placed the Ketuba on a small table at the time of the ceremony. It was very likely that it was left there unattended and disposed of after the wedding. Although the Ketuba was lost, a much more disturbing find was discovered upon study of the video. One of the witnesses of their Kiddushin was Joey’s close relative. At this point it was evident that the young Rabbi who officiated their wedding was incompetent. The video showed that he never carefully chose valid witnesses prior to the marriage, but rather randomly picked two people to witness the marriage. Our Bet Din reached out the Rabbi, who admitted that, since the witnesses did not object to their appointed roles, he assumed that they were not related to any member of the wedding party. With a very embarrassing situation at hand, the couple confidentially reached out to our Bet Din seeking a remedy to their problem.

Do they need to remarry? If so, can it be done without a formal ceremony? Are the wedding blessings to be said all over again? Which date is to written on the new Ketuba – the day of their mistaken ceremony or the date on which they remarried? How should the Bet Din rule and why?

TORAH LAW

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, a man is required to provide his wife with a Ketuba at the time of their marriage. The Ketuba is a document that details the primary duties a husband has to his wife. It includes a monetary commitment from the husband to be paid to his wife in the event he passes away or in the case of a divorce. As with all legal documents, it is mandatory that a Ketuba be dated accurately. The Ketuba is given to the bride, and she customarily transfers it to her mother for safekeeping. If the Ketuba is lost, the couple is required to obtain a replacement Ketuba prepared by a competent halachic authority.

By Torah law, a man can only effectively betroth a woman in the presence of two valid witnesses. If, however, both witnesses are legally invalid, the marriage is rendered null and void. The overall stipulations of a witness require that he may not be a relative of the bride or groom, and the two witnesses may not be related to each other. Additionally, a witness is considered invalid if he is a non-observant Jew. Generally, all other males of age qualify; however, some restrictions may apply. Since many laws govern the type of family relation which disqualifies a witness, and likewise, what constitutes a non-observant Jew, only a competent halachic authority is to choose the witnesses for a wedding ceremony.

A Rabbi officiating a wedding is required to designate two valid witnesses at the time of a betrothal, in order to deliberately exclude all relatives present. In instances in which a Rabbi mistakenly designates a witness who is invalid, many halachic authorities hold that the ceremony should be disqualified. Since two witnesses were already designated, albeit one was invalid, any potential valid witnesses present in the audience are no longer eligible and the marriage is rendered null and void. This view is widely accepted, and is very effectively used to nullify a marriage in case an illegitimate child is conceived by a woman while she is supposedly married. After retroactively nullifying the marriage on account of an invalid witness, the child conceived from another man during the marriage interim is not halachicly viewed as illegitimate. Hence, the child is permitted to marry within the Jewish community.

Although the above view is widely accepted, halachic authorities differ on the ruling. Since one or more witnesses were deemed invalid, their designation is viewed as illegal and unacceptable. Hence, the valid witnesses in the audience who viewed the betrothal can effectively consecrate the marriage. Furthermore, in instances in which the Rabbi initiated the appointment of the invalid witnesses and not the groom, some halachic authorities rule that it is not within the Rabbi’s jurisdiction to effectively disqualify other potential valid witnesses that are present.

Although witnesses from the audience are not always able to view the transfer of the ring from the groom to the bride as required, nevertheless, the marriage is not necessarily disqualified. Since the ring is seen on the bride’s finger immediately after the groom gave it to her, some view this as sufficient testimony and the marriage is binding.

In all instances in which a halachic debate exists on whether a wedding ceremony was valid, when preforming the ceremony a second time, the blessings are not recited. Numerous considerations that are not within the scope of this article restrict reciting the blessings a second time.

In the event an original wedding ceremony is undisputedly disqualified, and a completely new ceremony is performed at a later date, a new Ketuba is also required. However, in instances in which the original wedding ceremony’s validity is questionable, legally, a new Ketuba need not be written. Even so, it is still preferable to write a new Ketuba. Needless to say, this ruling is applicable only if the witnesses that signed the Ketuba are valid. Otherwise, a new Ketuba is always required.

While it is required by law to formally conduct a wedding ceremony in the presence of ten men, it nevertheless suffices to conduct a second ceremony in the presence of two valid witnesses.

Endnotes: Shulhan Aruch Eben Haezer 66:1, 3,Ibid 42:2,Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 33, 34,Pithei Teshuva Eben Haezer 42:11, 12,Yabia Omer Eben Haezer 8:3:3-7,Rama Eben Haezer 42 end of 2,
Mishpat HaKetuba
vol. 7 pg. 524,Shulhan Aruch Eben Haezer 34:4 seeMishpat HaKetuba vol.7 pg. 523.

VERDICT Newlyweds?!

Our Bet Din conducted a private wedding ceremony for Debbie and Joey. Since one of the witnesses at their original wedding was invalid, a new betrothal was required. Nevertheless, since according to some halachic authorities their original wedding was satisfactory, we did not recite any blessings at the ceremony we conducted. Although a wedding ceremony typically requires ten men present to partake in the event, in this instance the two witnesses present were sufficient. A new Ketuba was written with the present date, since the original was signed by the invalid witness and rendered null and void.