Is a Get Needed Before Second Marriage
By Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser
The acquisition of a Get is the only special issue Jews face when
marrying after a previous divorce. Orthodox and Conservative Jews
consider a Get to be absolutely necessary for a divorce. Reform Jews
are in a more difficult situation.
Reform rabbis, in general, do not require a Get when a divorce is
granted by civil decree. The Reform Movement holds this position, in
part, because of the burden that traditional Jewish law places on
women whose divorcing husbands refuse to deliver a get. In such
cases, the woman becomes an "agunah," a so-called "chained woman,"
who is divorced from her husband by civil law, yet forbidden to
re-marry by Jewish law. By not requiring a get when a marriage has
been dissolved by civil authority, the Reform Movement eliminates
the problem of the "agunah."
I agree with this position. Yet, despite it, I do urge divorcing men
and women to consider a get if there is a chance that they or their
former spouses will have children in the future. Why would I do
that? Because when a Jew divorces without a get, he or she is still
married according to Orthodox law. Any child born from a later
marriage, therefore, would be regarded as a "mamzer" (illegitimate)
in the Orthodox community.
"Mamzer" is not just an ugly name to call someone. A mamzer may not
marry a Jew in the framework of Orthodox Judaism and in the State of
Israel. What's more, the status of "mamzer" is passed down to
children, grandchildren and all later generations.
The whole concept of a mamzer is rejected by Reform Judaism. The
Conservative Movement deals with the issue by refusing to review any
evidence that a person is a mamzer.
Now, you identify with Reform Judaism (and bravo to that), but you
have little control over the Jewish choices of your children,
grandchildren and the generations that come after. The choice to
have a child who would be considered a mamzer by Orthodox Jews could
have far-reaching and painful results in the distant future.
Acquiring a Get is a simple step that could prevent such a situation
and help to maintain unity within the Jewish community.
By the way, this issue is different from the problem of
intermarriage and patrilineal descent. When Reform Judaism says that
the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother can be Jewish
without conversion, it creates a problem for Orthodox and
Conservative Jews. However, that is a problem that has a solution --
conversion. There is, however, no such solution for a mamzer.
Traditional Jewish law provides no way to "convert" from
illegitimate to legitimate. The mamzer and all his or her
descendants would be forever barred from marrying under Orthodox
Fortunately, acquiring a Get is not difficult. The organization,
Kayama, helps to arrange for gittin (plural of get) for people in
your situation. You can check their website at http://www.kayama.org. If you
and your fiance are in any way contemplating having children, I
would recommend that you discuss the issue of Gittin with your rabbi
and pursue it.
Wolfson Goldwasser has served Congregation Beth Israel since 2000,
following his ordination from Hebrew Union College in New York City.