Monday, April 22, 2013

JEWISH WEDDING: Can a relative be a witness?

We have explained in previous weeks  (see this)  that Jewish Law requires the presence of two witnesses in a marriage ceremony.  Not anyone is competent to act as a witness.   Biblical Law disqualifies, for example, the testimony of a relative. This is learned from the verse in Deut. 24:16  "Parents are not to be put to death for their children.... nor children put to death for their parents". Jewish law exposes this verse more or less as follows: "Parents, or any other close relatives, might not be sentenced to death and for any crime by their children or by any other close relatives's testimony".  Once we know that close relatives are disqualified as witnesses we need to clarify what is the degree and nature of the closeness which would disqualify a person from bearing testimony (of any kind, not just in a  wedding ceremony).  For example: is a second or a third cousin considered a close relative? Is a brother in-law considered a relative to this effect? etc. 
The law that explains which relatives are qualified and which are disqualified as witnesses is very complex and they can be found in the Shulhan 'Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat chapter 33).
We are going to see now just a few illustrations:
The Mishna in Sanhedrin 3:4 lists as disqualified witnesses the following relatives: father, brother, uncle, brother-in-law, stepfather, father-in-law, and their sons and sons-in-law. The rule was extended to cover nephews, cousins and many other in-laws. 
Additionally, witnesses who are related to one another are incompetent to attest or testify together even when they are not related to the bride and groom. 
The rabbis classified the different cases in groups, according to the immediacy of the family relationship.  For example, the first group of family members (rishon) includes parents, siblings and children.  Members of the first group cannot not act as witnesses together, even though they are not related to the bride or groom. This disqualification  is known in Halakhic terminology "rishon berishon", witnesses with a first degree family closeness. 

 (To be continued)