Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Just how mock is a mock wedding?

Dr. Hirsch Jakob Zimmels printed various decrees and responsa issued by the London Beth Din during the tenure of Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell. These accounts from the Beth Din's ledger were printed in the Jubilee Volume for Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. Here is one that is particularly interesting, not so much for the situation as for the peculariarly Englishness of it.



Here's a somewhat free translation of an event which occurred in 1823 - I apologize for the salty language, but if it is written frankly in the record then I can write it frankly here. Zimmels was more circumspect than I:
Testimony recorded on Sunday 17 Iyar 5583 (1823) regarding the marriage of Yitzchak Ikey ben Hirsch to Esther bat Lazar. Esther said that he married her, witnessed by Binyamin who is called Johnny ben Avraham, and he gave her a ring with the intent of consecration. A little later he took the ring from her, promising to give her a different ring. However, Ikey denies it occurred at all, and says that he never gave her anything. What he says happened is that there were many young ladies present and he said to all of them in a joking way a term of consecration, in English, "You bitches, you all belong to me."

The witness Johnny was examined and the substance of his testimony was that this event occurred a week after Passover, which marked the seven years he had worked in the household of a Mr. Lee alongside Ikey. He didn't remember anything other than hearing him say "Harei at mekudeshet li, you bitch[es] belong to me." Johnny didn't recall anything beyond what Ikey testified, or if he said it in the singular (you bitch) or plural (you bitches). He also didn't remember if he saw him give her a ring or something else, it was "something which isn't doesn't register as important" since he didn't realize he'd be called to testify.
7 Heshvan 5523 (1823). The Chief Rabbi, head of the Beth Din, arranged for a get for the matter of the lad Yitzhak Isaac ben Zvi Hirsch, and the young lady Rahel Rachel bat Eliezer Lazar also called Blind Lazar. The scribe was Menachem ben Rabbi Meshulem Ha-levi. The witnesses of the granting of the get were Zerach ben Aharon Ha-Levi and R. Ezriel ben R. David Ha-levi. The judges were R. Wolf Galen and myself [i.e., R. Shlomo Zalman, another dayan on the Bet Din].
Whatever occurred, we can see that this mock 'wedding' resulted in an actual get being written. Zimmels already calls attention in the notes to the discrepancy of names. This is not so problematic if we assume that Rahel was her Hebrew name, and Rachel her formal or legal name. Esther was probably her nickname, for who knows what reason. But it clearly talking about the same people and is the very next entry in the pinkas.

Many pages of this pinkas are discussed, and a few facsimiles even printed, in a very good book called From One End of the Earth to the Other: the London Bet Din, 1805-1855, and the Jewish Convicts Transported to Australia" by Jeremy I. Pfeffer. Unfortunately this page was not reproduced, but you can see an idea of what the ledger looks like:



Interestingly, about 70 years later Israel Zangwill would publish his novel Children of the Ghetto. One event which occurs in this book is a mock wedding and the subsequent writing of a get. This becomes a tragedy, because the girl is unable to marry the man she really loves - he is a kohen. This particular plot device was not received well by certain self-conscious Jews who denied that such a thing is possible, or, allowed that even if it was that Zangwill showed disloyalty by presenting Judaism in its worse light.

This became a matter of public debate when a play based on the book was bought to the stage in New York (some also had a problem with reciting prayers in the play, or reciting it with God's name). There was even a critical editorial in the New York Times (Oct. 18, 1899) which you can read here.

In the Jewish press, scholars duked it out. One rabbi maintained that Zangwill's presentation of halacha was correct and it was "a triumph of Jewish law," which was grabbed as an advertisement blurb for the play on New York streetcars! Others, such as the great Talmudist Lewis N. Dembitz and others argued that such a mock wedding is not valid according to Jewish law. Rabbi Frederick de Sola Mendes warned that "laymen" i.e. Zangwill, should not involve themselves in halachic discussion, and that the play was "a triumph of ignorance of Jewish law," if it was a triumph. George Alexander Kohut and Gotthard Deutsch both produced responsa (from Chacham Zvi and others) concerning such mock weddings and required divorces. Little did they know - and one wonders if somehow Zangwill had heard - that lying in an old pinkas in London was the record of an actual case like it.

32 comments:

  1. I didn't know that Mekudeshet is translated as "bitch".

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  2. LOL I literally have tears in my eyes :D :D

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  3. Does anyone remember hearing what was perhaps an urban legend a few years ago involving some Jewish high school students who got into a halakhic jam after solemnizing a mock wedding with a falafel ball? I haven't been able to find anything about it on Google.

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  4. Hanoch Teller mentions an incident like this in a funny story he has about R' Moshe Feinstein. But he repeats a lot of urban legends.

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  5. I don't know if Hanoch Teller's story is true, or based on this, but such a wedding of this type did occur in R. Yeruchem Gorelick's (co-ed) yeshiva Zichron Moshe close to 60 years ago and, indeed, R. Moshe Feinstein was involved and ruled that a get needed to be given. Source: someone who was a student there in those days.

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  6. Zichron Moshe was NOT co-ed. I was a student there in grades 1-3 from 1950-52. The school was founded by R. Gorelick, togther with my grandparents, Mr.and Mrs. Isaac Gross and my father, Mr. Simon Kaplan. It was named after my uncle, Moshe Alexander Gross, who died in the D-Day invasion.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  7. I seem to remember that Ahad Haam refers to Zangwill's story in his essay "Torah she-be-Lev" and contrasts it with Yalag's "Kotozo shel Yod."

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  8. "Zichron Moshe was NOT co-ed. I was a student there in grades 1-3 from 1950-52."

    It was co-ed before that. I have *at least* shtei edim; a man and a woman.

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  9. You bastard, this was a pretty good post.

    "I have *at least* shtei edim; a man and a woman." - Careful now. Dont be starting up.

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  10. Why do you use "shtei", rather than "shenei", if one of them is a man?

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  11. I am following Maran Harav Shach in Avi Ezri Hilchos Edus page 333.

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  12. He writes "shtei eidim"?

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  13. That's it...Tooooo far with this one! ;)

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  14. So I don't get the whole mock thing. Doesn't kidushin need intent? Here it seems that the man is saying he never had intent. And in Zangwill's case, it sounds lie the girl didn't have intent (or the man). The urban legend I heard as a kid was a play at camp. Again, makes no sense to me, but as I got older I just assumed that was narischkeit kids made up. Help me out here.

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    1. Generally we say that דברים שבלב אינם דברים - i.e. unspoken words do not count. Lack of intent can therefore only be established if the person says so at the time, or if it is so obvious from the situation. Each case really needs to be judged for itself.

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  15. The get is probably le-chumra in all these cases, just in case (avoids things like mamzerut). What if there really was intent?

    In the 1823 case it doesn't even sound like there were two witnesses (to say nothing about the fact that the one witness denied/ says he didn't remember).

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  16. But Zangwill gives the flipside. Obviously it's l'khumra. But you don't have to something idiotic "l'khumra." I guess in defense of Zangwill, even if it's contrary to halakha, there are always tsadikim shotim who will ruin people's lives.

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  17. Hanoch Teller does not say how R' Moshe decided, but makes it sound as if R' Moshe was trying to decide it wasn't real. This isn't a simple matter of l'chumra- she's not going to be able to marry a Cohen.

    I also simply can't see how you could decide it was a marriage. Where's the intent? A teenager at a Purim fair? Of course, I am not a posek, not nearly.

    In any event, shouldn't it be in Igrot Moshe? I "trust" anonymous "eyewitnesses" not at all.

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  18. Well, perhaps the girl wasnt religious and didnt care that she would be halachically forbidden to a Cohen. Not every case discussed in a teshuvah or beis din record means the parties wanted a halachic psak they intend to abide by. Sometimes the rabbi writes about an issue sua sponte. And sometimes a party is looking for any angle of leverage possible. Maybe Esther/Rachel wasnt religious but Ikey was, and she thought Ikey would listen to the beis din if they told him to marry her.

    Anyway. Weak, I know. I do agree with you that one doesnt simply write gittin lichumrah, when there's a preclusive effect. Also I dont know why we wouldnt apply the requirement of "pi vi'libo shavvin" (i.e, you need intent to marry) (mens rea) the same way that principle applies elsewhere. But, I too am not a halachic heavyweight. Just a little overweight.

    Agav - I know a well-known orthodox rabbi who, in cases where there's a halachic reason to stop a marriage, just advises the couple lichatchila to go to a conservative rabbi he reccomends. The reason is because he secretly has doubts about a lot of the torah she'ball peh on ishus, and thinks a marriage is too big of an issue to forego on the basis of something he's not really on board with. But it wouldnt pass for an orthodox rabbi to do the ceremony, so he refers them to the CR. Intressante.

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  19. (For the record, I was kidding above. about being a little overweight.)

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  20. It's not a matter of religious. This was 1823. If you wanted to get married or divorced or whatever, in England, you needed a rabbi. Maybe the servant girl (as I think she was) had no intention of ever getting married, but I doubt it. And, gee, who do you think would be in charge of her marriage? That's right, the Beth Din of London. So there was no choice but to work with them.

    Secondly, it sounds like maybe she *wanted* to be married to Johnny. It was she who claimed that he gave her the ring and was "mekadesh" her. He was the one who denied it.

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  21. I thought of the first point, which is one of the reasons I acknowledged it was a weak defense. I wasn't sure if in England at that time one could not get married without official rabbinic approvement.

    I realize she wanted to be married to him. That's what I said.

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  22. igrot moshe has a couple of these stories.

    other sh"ut, too. it seems it was a favorite topic to discuss in early 20th century sh"tim. somewhat like complicated ribbis issues. whether they were actual disputes / cases, or just (complicated) torah issues, i cant tell.

    (teachers nowadays are warned to be careful of mock wedding ceremonies / plays.)

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  23. This is certainly a delicious find, but it should be understood that there is much discussion of קדושי שחוק in the formal Halachic literature going back centuries; see, e.g., this stringent ruling of חכם צבי in a much debated case of three centuries ago.

    The linchpin of the entire discussion is a remarkably stringent ruling of Maharam of Rothenberg, codified by Rema, that dismisses a claim of שחוק on the grounds that דברים שבלב אינם דברים, and that even though we would normally follow a clear understanding of intent (אנן סהדי) even in contravention of an explicit statement, because of the חומרא דאשת איש we do not rely on אומדנות והוכחות. Anyone seriously interested in understanding the underlying legal rationale of this ruling, its scope and severity, and its application through the course of the Halachic tradition must see the characteristically thorough discussion in אוצר הפוסקים סימן מ"ב ס"ק י"א עמודים 12-26.

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    1. Wow, such a learned and interesting comment.

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  24. Yitzhak, thanks so much for providing the sources. Anything to say about the single witness?

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  25. 1. The admittedly little known Halachah, even (especially?) to Yeshivah students, is that Kiddushin in the presence of a single witness require a Get. This is the opinion of R. Eliezer of Metz and Semag, and Rema (EH 42:2) rules that we are stringent unless there is Igun.

    While there is considerable dispute among the Aharonim about this stringency (See אוצה"פ שם ס"ק כ"א אות ג), Le'Halachah a Get is required, certainly by Ashkenazim. [Once, in conversation with an expert and experienced Sephardic Dayan, I mentioned this opinion, and I said something like "which we Ashkenazim follow as a stringency". He gave me a look, and said something like "Only you Ashkenazim? You think Sephardim are lenient here?"]

    2. As noted, we are lenient in the case of Igun. The standard of Igun in this context may be somewhat looser than in other contexts (עיין אוצה"פ שם ס"ק כ"ג), but I do not know if being in love with a Kohen would qualify.

    3. Where we have the additional claim of שחוק, there is considerable basis for leniency:

    3a. Where one party claims שחוק, there is considerable dispute over whether a Get is required (אוצה"פ שם ס"ק כ"ב אות ח).

    3b. Some Aharonim argue that where both parties and / or the witness attest to שחוק, then even the stringent opinions of the previous paragraph are lenient (אוצה"פ שם אות ט).

    3c. Some Aharonim argue that where there are אומדנות indicating שחוק and there is only one witness, a Get is not required (even according to the opinion cited in my previous comment that we normally do not follow אומדנות to void Kiddushin) (אוצה"פ שם אות י).

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  26. For more about Israel Zangwill, see Professor Joseph Udelson's article in The Jewish Review http://thejewishreview.org/articles/?filename=udelson3_5&route=fromsearch

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  27. I find it interesting that about a century after this reported case, a musical parody of a Jewish wedding used very similar wording. On the 1995 album “Jakie Jazz ‘em Up,” a re-release of original klezmer recordings made between 1912 and 1926, there is a Yiddish-English parody of a wedding, called "Der Mesader Kedushin" [sic], which includes the singsong delivery of approximately the following lyrics (I don’t have access to the album at the moment):

    Harey at mekudeshes li
    You son-of-a-gun, you belong to me
    Kedas Moyshe ve-Yisroel on a sof
    Di gantze khasene iz a bluff

    This mock wedding formula may be a Jewish folklore remnant persisting from the 1820s into the 1920s, with “son-of-a-gun” substituted on the recording for the unacceptable original word.

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  28. To me, the most interesting part is the ghetto slang. At first I thought this must be satire. Don't know why, but I read the phrase as: "Yo, bitchez, y'all belong to me."

    But really, "bitches" in 1823? No one else finds that surprising?

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  29. To me the only surprising thing is that it was written; and I only think that it was written because it was written in Hebrew letters. If it had been written in English it almost certainly would have said "b--s."

    It's also possible, but I'm not sure, that the word wasn't quite as bad then. It still meant a female dog, but it could be that's kind of all it meant, and it was like calling another person a dog. Not nice, but certainly not as rude as using a curse word.

    I don't like to get classist - which I'm not - but we're probably not exactly dealing with a very educated, and wealthy people in this story. To use the idiom of the time, they were rude people.

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  30. I grew up in London in a family that was very much part of the establishment, and I heard this story several times. I believe it was mentioned in published literature before Zimmels transcribed it. According the the version I heard the "lad was in his cups" i.e. the mekadesh was drunk at the time. It is very probable that dissenting rabbis or laymen publicized it, and Zangwill heard the story. Old-timers in London used to identify all the characters in Children of the Ghetto since they were drawn fairly close to their models. Unfortunately I only remember a few of them.

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