My mother was married to a Jew before marrying my father (also a Jew.) My parents were not married in an Orthodox ceremony but do have a Ketubah. I recently discovered my mother never had a get from her first marriage. Does this make me a mamzer and unable to marry a Jew or marry in an Orthodox ceremony? Thank you.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. It sounds like you have an interesting family situation – and it is very good that you are looking into it, and will clarify your personal status as soon as you can, so that you may merit to get married yourself with blessings and ease. The laws surrounding the need for a religious divorce from a marriage are very clear – any Jewish couple who were married and then separate from each other certainly need to get an orthodox divorce (called a "gett" in Hebrew). Even if the couple themselves is not religious, and even if the wedding service they had was not orthodox, they should approach an orthodox Rabbi in order to receive a religious divorce. This (usually) simple process is vital for the couple's children, and any children they might have in the future. Unfortunately it seems that your mother did not receive a religious divorce from her first marriage. What is the law in regards to her subsequent children? If a woman was married and did not get a divorce from her first husband she would be considered as still married to him. If so, having children with another man (her second "husband") would be forbidden, (as too even having relations with him would be forbidden). The children would then have the unfortunate status of "mamzerim" who are severely limited in who they can marry (if at all). However, our Rabbis have taught us to make every effort to avoid such situations, and to try to help anybody who we can in order to permit them to marry. Because of this directive, there is much discussion about the possibility of declaring the first marriage as invalid, and thereby creating a situation where the woman is not considered married at all, and therefore not in need of a divorce – meaning that the subsequent children are "kosher", (the children from the first "marriage" would also be "kosher", as the problem of children born out of wedlock is not nearly as harsh as the problem of children born to a married lady from someone other than her husband). One of the ways the first marriage may possibly be nullified is because it was not preformed according to orthodox law. This is a matter of debate amongst modern day Rabbis – but the weight of opinion is to consider the non-orthodox first marriage as non-binding. This would of course mean that you would be free to marry. Let me stress however that you should, as soon as possible, get in touch with an orthodox Rabbi who will be able to help you clarify your status. Based on what you have written it would seem that the Rabbi will be able to direct you a Bet Din who will be able to give you a ruling that allows you marry. You would be well advised to take care of this as soon as you can, so that when you are ready to get married ("to a nice Jewish boy"!) and set up a good Jewish house, you will not have any trouble. May you be blessed to establish a fine Jewish house within the Jewish people.