By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
My husband and I were married in the former Soviet Union over 20 years ago. We had a civil wedding since no rabbi was available in our city to perform the ceremony. We would like to do a Jewish ceremony now that we can, but we don’t know if we can since we’re already married. We also are a little embarrassed to get married with our son there — does that make him illegitimate under Jewish law if we were not married?
Marina & Boris
Dear Marina and Boris,
I will never forget the night that I joined the venerable Rav Yitzchak Zilber, of blessed memory, the most famous of Russian rabbis, in a multiple marriage ceremony. I served as the second witness with him, and he called up couple after couple, who had recently arrived in Israel, to give them the gift of a Jewish wedding after being married for many years under secular law in Russia; some of them were even grandparents. It was an unforgettable evening of joy for these Jewish couples to have the long-dreamed-about and sought-after connection to their roots, once brutally ripped away from them, finally realized in their beloved land of Israel.
You, as we all do, have much to be thankful for to be now living in a country which affords the elusive freedom of religion that once seemed only like a utopian pipe dream. The now-defunct experiment of communism, which wreaked havoc on the world and then dissipated like a cloud, took with it a huge sacrifice in Jewish blood and the Jewish religion.
There was a time that Russia and Lithuania were the world centers of Jewish scholarship. Cities like Vilna and Volozhin appeared like large stars on the Torah “map of the world,” much as New York and London and the like loom great on the general world map. Vilna was known in the Jewish world as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” with even the most simple working Jews able to recite large portions of the Talmud and Mishnah verbatim.
The communist revolution succeeded in snuffing out that bright light of Torah, sending to Siberia or worse its many students of Torah. Not even the most valiant of efforts, with a few exceptions, were able to fight the Russian bear, and Torah study and observance, for the most part, came to a complete halt. You know this better than I, as you lived and experienced this.
Your Jewish marriage is something to be so proud of. On a personal level, it is the celebration of your ability to openly and joyously practice the religion of your predecessors without looking over your shoulders. On a national level, your marriage is one more proof that, try as they will, the Gentiles will never be able to completely snuff out the flame of Torah. Communism is history, and you live in the present and the future!
Your son should be proud as well in joining you. He is certainly not considered illegitimate; a child could be considered such only if born from a forbidden relationship like taking the wife of another or a close relative. The marriage of the parents has no bearing on that status. This applies to any Jew who never had a halachic wedding and would like to do so.
Mazel tov on your new beginning for you and your family. If you need a rabbi or synagogue, please contact me and I’ll help steer you. Shieslivo!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried