Monday, January 28, 2013

WEDDINGS: Why do we need witnesses in a wedding ceremony?

Jewish Law requires the presence of two witnesses in a marriage ceremony. The role of the witnesses is obviously to testify regarding the marital status of the couple, if at any point in time a doubt in this area ever arises. In that sense, the requirement for the presence of the witnesses in a Jewish wedding is similar to the requirement of witnesses in other religions or societies. Most states in the United States, for example, require the presence of one or two witnesses in a civil marriage. (Although in some states, like California, you can have a Confidential Wedding, with not witnesses at all).

In Jewish Law the witnesses play another important role . The witnesses actually effect the marriage. Technically speaking, the presence of a Minister (a Rabbi) to bless the couple is not a requisite for a Jewish marriage as it is for other religions. In theory, all what is needed for a Jewish wedding to be valid is the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses act as notaries, who validate and give a public (as oppose to confidential) status to the wedding ceremony. Without the two witnesses a Jewish wedding ceremony is not valid. 

The presence of the witnesses is necessary two times during the ceremony: 

(i) qiddushin: When the groom gives the bride the ring, saying to her: "Behold you are consecrated to me, as my wife, by this ring, according to the Law of Moshe and Israel".

(ii) ketuba:  When the Ketuba is accepted by the groom, by the qinyan (see this).  The two witnesses also sign the Ketuba. 
Although it is not Halakhically required, in many communities it is customary that those who act as witnesses for the qiddushin act as witnesses for the Ketuba as well. 

In the coming weeks, B'H, we will learn who is qualified to act as a witness in Jewish law. 


Ladies, you have the power to convince men to get serious.
by Rabbi Arnie Singer from