Open Beit Midrash: Perspectives on Mamzerim, From Sinai to the Knesset
1 א

Mamzerim in the Torah

2 ב

(ו) אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ אֶל־כָּל־שְׁאֵ֣ר בְּשָׂר֔וֹ לֹ֥א תִקְרְב֖וּ לְגַלּ֣וֹת עֶרְוָ֑ה אֲנִ֖י ה' (ס)

(6) No man shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the Lord.

3 ג

(כב) כִּֽי־יִמָּצֵ֨א אִ֜ישׁ שֹׁכֵ֣ב ׀ עִם־אִשָּׁ֣ה בְעֻֽלַת־בַּ֗עַל וּמֵ֙תוּ֙ גַּם־שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם הָאִ֛ישׁ הַשֹּׁכֵ֥ב עִם־הָאִשָּׁ֖ה וְהָאִשָּׁ֑ה וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ס)

(22) If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die: the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; and you shall remove evil from [the people of] Israel.

4 ד

(ג) לֹא־יָבֹ֥א מַמְזֵ֖ר בִּקְהַ֣ל ה' גַּ֚ם דּ֣וֹר עֲשִׂירִ֔י לֹא־יָ֥בֹא ל֖וֹ בִּקְהַ֥ל ה' (ס)

(3) A mamzer shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his [descendants] enter into the assembly of the Lord.

5 ה

What is a Mamzer?

6 ו

(יג) איזהו ממזר, כל שאר בשר שהוא בלא יבוא, דברי רבי עקיבא.

שמעון התימני אומר: כל שחיבין עליו כרת בידי שמים. והלכה כדבריו.

(Redacted ~200 CE)
(13) Who is a mamzer? [The product of relations with] "his own flesh" [Lev. 18:6] are subject to "shall not enter" [Deut. 23:3], these are the words of Rabbi Akiva.


Shimon HaTimni says: [Relations with] anyone with whom one is liable to karet [excision] at the hands of Heaven [produces a mamzer]. The law follows his approach.

7 ז

(א) אי זהו ממזר האמור בתורה זה הבא מערוה מן העריות...הבא על שאר העריות בין באונס בין ברצון בין בזדון בין בשגגה הולד ממזר ואחד זכרים ואחד נקבות אסורין לעולם שנאמר גם דור עשירי כלומר לעולם.

(Published ~1180 CE)

What is meant by the Torah's prohibition against relations with a mamzer? [The term refers to a person conceived from] a forbidden sexual relationship....When, however, a man enters into any other forbidden sexual relationships, whether through rape, or willingly, whether conscious of the prohibition or not, the offspring produced is a mamzer. Both male and female [mamzerim] are forbidden forever, as it is written: "...even to the tenth generation shall none of his [descendants] enter into the assembly of the LORD" [Deut 23:3]; this it to say, forever.

8 ח

והלכתא עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד כשר בין בפנויה בין באשת איש

(Babylonian Talmud, ~500CE)
And the halakha is that [in the case of] a gentile or slave who engaged in intercourse with a Jewish woman, the lineage of the offspring is unflawed [i.e., the children are not mamzerim], whether she was an unmarried or a married woman.

9 ט

Practical Considerations of Mamzerut in Halacha

10 י

(ח) אִם הָיָה מַמְזֵר תַּלְמִיד חָכָם וְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל עַם הָאָרֶץ, מַמְזֵר תַּלְמִיד חָכָם קוֹדֵם לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל עַם הָאָרֶץ:

(Redacted ~200 CE)

(8) But if a mamzer is a sage and the High Priest is an am ha'aretz [one who is lax in observing tithes and purity laws], the mamzer supersedes the High Priest who is an am ha'aretz.

11 יא

(כד) מַמְזֵר נוֹשֵׂא מַמְזֶרֶת. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים, כְּשֶׁשְּׁנֵיהֶם וַדָּאִין. אֲבָל אִם הָאֶחָד וַדַּאי וְהַשֵּׁנִי סָפֵק, אוֹ אֲפִלּוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם סָפֵק, אֲסוּרִים זֶה בָּזֶה דְּשֶׁמָּא הָאֶחָד מַמְזֵר וְהַשֵּׁנִי אֵינוֹ מַמְזֵר.

(Published 1563 CE)

(24) [The general principle is:] A mamzer should only marry a mamzer. When does this [principle] apply? To a situation where both of their statuses [as mamzer] is certain. However, if [the status of] one is certain and the other is in suspect or even if both of their statuses are suspect, then they are forbidden to marry one another lest [they marry and] one is a mamzer and the other is not a mamzer.

12 יב

(טו) אשת איש שיצא עליה קול שהיתה מזנה תחת בעלה, והכל מרננים אחריה, אין חוששין לבניה שמא הם ממזרים, שרוב בעילות תולים בבעל...

(15) If a rumor spreads that a married woman committed adultery, and everyone is talking about her, we do not need to be concerned that her children are mamzerim, because we rely on the assumption that most of her cohabitation was with her husband...

13 יג

(טו) אבל האב שהוחזק שזה בנו ואמר בני זה ממזר הוא נאמן...

As to a father who [makes statements with regard to] a child who is presumed to be his son. If he says: "This son of mine is a mamzer," his word is accepted...

14 יד

(כו) פְּנוּיָה שֶׁנִּתְעַבְּרָה וְיָלְדָה, אִם...אוֹמֶרֶת: שֶׁל פְּלוֹנִי הוּא וְאָנוּ מַכִּירִים בְּאוֹתוֹ פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁהוּא מַמְזֵר, אֵין זֶה הַוָּלָד אֶלָּא סָפֵק, אֲפִלּוּ אִם מוֹדֶה אוֹתוֹ פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁנִּבְעֲלָה לוֹ, שֶׁכְּשֵׁם שֶׁזִּנְּתָה עִם זֶה כָּךְ זִנְּתָה עִם אַחֵר.

וְאִם אוֹתוֹ פְּלוֹנִי הוּא כָּשֵׁר, הַוָּלָד כָּשֵׁר.

וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם אֵין אָנוּ מַחֲזִיקִים אוֹתוֹ...אִם אֵינוֹ מוֹדֶה שֶׁהוּא בְּנוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ הָיְתָה מְיֻחֶדֶת לוֹ, אֵינָהּ נֶאֱמֶנֶת עָלָיו (רַ''ן סוֹף פ' אַלְמָנָה לְכ''ג). וַאֲפִלּוּ עֵד אֶחָד אֵין נֶאֱמָן עָלָיו כְּשֶׁמַּכְחִישׁוֹ. (ג''ז שָׁם). אֲבָל חוֹשְׁשִׁין לִדְבָרֶיהָ וְאָסוּר בִּקְרוֹבוֹת אוֹתוֹ פְּלוֹנִי. הַגָּה: וְדַוְקָא פְּנוּיָה.

אֲבָל אִם זָנְתָה תַּחַת הַבַּעַל, אֲפִלּוּ אוֹמֶרֶת: שֶׁל פְּלוֹנִי הוּא, וְהוּא מַמְזֵר, אֵין חוֹשְׁשִׁין לִדְבָרֶיהָ, דְּתוֹלִין רֹב בְּעִילוֹתֶיהָ בַּבַּעַל, וְכָשֵׁר, וּמֻתָּר בִּקְרוֹבֵי אוֹתוֹ פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁאוֹמֶרֶת עָלָיו (פִּסְקֵי מהרא''י סִימָן ל''ז וְכֵן כָּתַב בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב):

An unmarried woman who became pregnant and gave birth: if...she says, "[the child] is Ploni's," and we know that Ploni is a mamzer, the child is [of] uncertain [status]. Even if Ploni admits that she had intercourse with him, just as she was promiscuous with him, [we assume] she was also promiscuous with another [who was not a mamzer].
Yet if Ploni is "kosher," the child is "kosher."
Nevertheless, we do not presume him to be his son...unless he admits that this is his son. Rem"a: Even if she was exclusively his, she is not believed concerning him (Ra"n). And even one witness is not believed about him when he contradicts him. But we are concerned about her statements, and he may not marry the relatives of said Ploni. Rem"a: Specifically an unmarried woman.
However, if she cheated on her husband, even if she says "[the child] is Ploni's and is a mamzer," we show no concern for her words, for we ascribe most intercourse to the husband. He is therefore "kosher" and may marry the relatives of said Ploni.

15 טו

Status of Mamzerim in Israeli Law

16טז

חוק שיפוט בתי דין רבניים (נישואין וגירושין), תשי"ג-1953*

2. נישואין וגירושין של יהודים ייערכו בישראל על פי דין תורה.

Rabbinic Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law of 1953

§2. Marriage and divorce of Jews in the State of Israel shall be arranged in accordance with Torah law.

17יז

חוק מרשם אוכלוסין, תשכ"ה

יירשם אדם כאביו של ילד שנולד לאשה שהיתה נשואה לאדם זולתו בתוך 300 יום שלפני יום הלידה, אלא על-פי פסק-דין של בית-משפט או בית-דין מוסמך.

Israel Population Registry Law, 5725-1965

22. Save under a judgment of a competent civil or religious court, a man shall not be registered as the father of the child of a woman who had been married to another man within 300 days prior to the date of the birth of the child.

18יח

הנחיות היועץ המשפטי לממשלה: רשימות מעוכבי חיתון (1976, 2003)

16 (א)חוק שיפוט בתי-דין רבניים (נישואין וגירושין), התשי"ג - 1953 קובע כי "נישואין וגירושין של יהודים ייערכו בישראל על-פי דין תורה"...מכאן שסמכותו של הרב לרשום לנישואין, לערוך הנישואין, ולהוציא תעודת נישואין...אין רושם הנישואין חייב להסתפק בהצהרת בני הזוג כי הם כשירים להינשא זה לזה על-פי דין תורה, אלא הוא מוסמך לבחון ולבדוק אם מבחינת הדין הדתי הם בעלי כשירות להינשא. לשם כך הוא מוסמך לאסוף מידע על מצבם האישי של בני הזוג.

Attorney General's Office Directives regarding The List of Persons whose Marriage are Restrained, 6.4501 (1976, 2003)

16 (A) Rabbinic Courts Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 1953 states that "marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel will take place according to Torah law."....From hence we derive the authority of the Rabbinate to register the marriage, to oversee the marriage ceremony, and to issue a marriage certificate...the Registrar need not suffice with a declaration of a couple that they have the capacity to marry each other in accordance with Torah law, but he is authorized to examine and check whether they are indeed eligible to marry in accordance with the terms of religious law. To that end he is authorized to collect information on the personal situation of the couple.

19 יט

"Israel's State-Sanctioned Adultery Blacklist," Dr. Susan Weiss, The Jewish Daily Forward, May 4, 2015, http://forward.com/sisterhood/307509/exposing-israels-adultery-list/


It’s time to talk about Israel’s blacklist....a motley crew who fall under three general categorizations:

  1. People who can’t marry any type of Jew (2,835)

  2. “Unkosher” Jews who can’t marry “kosher Jews” but can marry other “unkosher Jews” or converts (235)

  3. “Kosher Jews” with issues that limit who they can marry (2,235)

...In the second category of “unkosher Jews” are mamzerim and suspected mamzerim — children born of their mother’s adulterous relationships, or of their incestuous relationships, even if coerced....

20 כ

Denominational Approaches

21כא

שו"ת יביע אומר חלק ז - אבן העזר סימן ו
והנה גופא דעובדא אודות אשה שלפי דבריה נישאת לבעלה הראשון בחופה וקידושין כדמו"י על ידי רב חרדי, וילדה לו שלשה בנים, ולאחר מכן נפרדו בגירושין אזרחיים על ידי הערכאות, ולא קבלה ממנו גט, ושלשת הבנים נשארו אצלה להחזקתה, באופן שהבעל ישלם לה דמי מזונותיהם. והבעל הזה התנצר ונשא לו אשה נכריה. ואף היא הלכה ונישאת ע"י הערכאות לאיש אחר וילדה לו בנים ובת אחת אשר זכתה להתחנך "בבית יעקב" החרדי, ומתנהגת למופת בצניעות ובכשרות ככל בנות ישראל הכשרות, ועתה כשהגיע פרקה להנשא לבחור ירא שמים, קמה וגם נצבה השאלה אם מותר לה לבוא בקהל ה', מאחר שלפי דברי אם הנערה שלא קבלה גט כדת מבעלה הראשון כל בניה מהבעל השני פסולים לבא בקהל.

ומעכ"ת כתב באגרתו הנ"ל, שבאמת אין לנו בירור גמור שאמנם האשה נישאת לבעל הראשון בחופה וקידושין, כי לא נמצא העתק כתובה וכיו"ב שיעידו על כך, אלא שנמצאת רשימה בערכאות חתומה ע"י הרב החרדי ז"ל שמעיד על נישואיה לבעל הראשון, מבלי חתימת עדים, וא"כ אין כאן ידיעה ודאית לנישואיה הראשונים, והאשה אינה נאמנת לומר שנישאת בחופה וקידושין, ואח"כ הלכה ונישאת לאיש אחר בלי גט, ולפסול בכך את בניה ולהחזיקם באיסור ממזרות, וכמבואר בש"ע אה"ע )סי' ד סעיף כט(. עכת"ד. ולכאורה הרי גם אם היה הרב בחיים ומעיד בפנינו על כך, אין כאן אלא עד אחד, ואנן קי"ל שצריך להיות שני עדים כשרים כדי לפסול, וכמ"ש הרמב"ם )פרק יט מהל' איסורי ביאה הל' יח(. וכן בש"ע אה"ע )סימן ב סעיף ג(

...מסקנא דדינא שיש מקום רב להתיר את הבת הזאת להנשא ולבוא בקהל ה', וכמו שהורה כת"ר בכחא דהיתרא, ואף ידי תכון עמו. והנלע"ד כתבתי.

בברכת התורה עובדיה יוסף

Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013), Responsa Yabieh Omer, Vol. 7, Even HaEzer 6

...The specifics of the case are as follows. A woman who, according to her own testimony, married her first husband in full accordance with Jewish law with a Haredi rabbi presiding at the ceremony. They...separated with a civil divorce, without her receiving a get [Jewish bill of divorce] from him....This husband converted to Christianity and married a gentile woman. Meanwhile the mother also married another man in a civil ceremony, and gave birth to sons and a daughter who merited to learn at the Haredi "Bais Yaakov" school, and wondrously carries herself with modesty and kashrut, like all the observant daughters of Israel. And now that she reached the age to marry a God-fearing fellow, the question has arisen as to whether she is permitted to enter the congregation, since according to her mother, no get was received from her first husband, and so all her children from her second marriage are to be considered mamzerim and unable to enter the congregation.
After reviewing the letter, it appears that we do not have complete certainty that the woman was indeed married to the first husband in a legally valid Jewish marriage, since the wedding decree with the witnesses’ signatures is not to be found, and all that we have is the civil register signed by the officiant...without the signature of two witnesses, and since this is so, we have no definitive knowledge of her first marriage. And the woman herself is not believed to say that she was married under Jewish law, since by marrying another man without first receiving a get, she would be declaring her children mamzerim. Moreover it appears that even if the rabbi were alive and were to testify before us on the matter, he would only be a single witness, and we have established that two valid witnesses are required to invalidate someone’s personal status...
The ruling therefore must be that there is very great reason to permit this woman to marry and enter the congregation of God, and as it appears to me have I written. With blessings of Torah, Ovadia Yosef

22 כב

"Mamzerut," Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, Committee of Jewish Law and Standards (Conservative Judaism) responsum, pp. 585-6 (2000)

We have a found a way to make mamzerut functionally inoperative. By refusing to entertain evidence of mamzerut, a choice that is our judicial prerogative, we have created an impediment to holding that a person is a mamzer. Consequently, if a person comes to us and says, "My Jewish mother thought my father was dead or divorced without a get, remarried, and then had me. What is my status?" We must answer, "I did not hear and will not hear anything that you say regarding your possible status as a mamzer....

Conclusion - psak din [halachic decision]
We render mamzerut inoperative, because we will not consider evidence of mamzerut. We will give permission to any Jew to marry and will perform the marriage of a Jew regardless of the possible sins of his or her parent.

23 כג

Interview in Reform Judaism magazine of Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin, composer of the "Seder P'reidah: Ritual of Release" (1983) document and service for the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ)'s Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), while serving as chairman of its Committee on Reform Jewish Practice


Today, the Reform Movement in the United States accepts civil divorce as completely dissolving the marriage and permitting the remarriage of the divorced persons. No get or any substitute form of religious divorce is required. Nevertheless, some Reform rabbis in America recommend obtaining a get, because they fear that a child born to a divorced woman without a get will be considered by the Orthodox as a mamzer, an "illegitimate" child who, upon reaching adulthood, will be forbidden to marry any other Jew except another mamzer. Reform Judaism has abandoned the concept of mamzerut; it is morally repugnant to place such a crushing disability upon a child whose only "crime" was to be born to a divorced parent without a get.