In the Torah portion of Shoftim we read a section about witnesses, as it says (Deut. 19:15
), עַל פִּי שְׁנֵי עֵדִים אוֹ עַל פִּי שְׁלשָׁה עֵדִים יָקוּם דָּבָר By the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be confirmed.
Two Types of Witnesses
In halacha (Jewish law) there are two kinds of witnesses:
One is called עידי בירור, witnesses who clarify. This kind of witnesses doesn’t actually make any change in the transaction or the event. They simply witness it and can later testify as to what occurred. For example, a financial transaction such as a loan or a sale is perfectly valid even if it was not witnessed. But if it was witnessed, those witnesses can later testify if a dispute arose.
The second kind of witnesses are called עידי קיום. These are witnesses without whom the event is not valid. Examples of this type are witnesses of a marriage and divorce. If these events are not witnessed by kosher witnesses, the marriage or divorce is considered invalid.
This article will focus on the laws of witnesses as is relevant for a marriage ceremony. See here
for more information about who is generally valid as a witness.
Not Related At All
As a rule, witnesses may not be related to any party involved in the transaction or in the act that they are witnessing, nor may they be related to each other. Specifically, a witness may not be a father, son, grandfather, grandson, great-grandfather, great-grandson, uncle, nephew, first cousin, brother-in-law, father-in-law, and son-in-law (Bava Batra 128a and Choshen Mishpat 33:2-8).
Regarding marriage and divorce, it is customary to be strict and not use witnesses who are related to each other in any way. This includes mechutanim (people whose children are married to each other) [Kovetz MiBait Levi 9:33].
The rabbi who is the Mesader Kiddushin (arranging the wedding) may serve as a witness for the ketubah (marriage contract) even if he is getting paid for his services as a rabbi (see Responsa Binyan Tziyon 157). Some say that he may also be a witness for the Kiddushin (betrothal) [ibid] while others disagree (Responsa Yad HaLevi 25).
Reading the Ketubah
The witnesses who will sign the ketubah should read the ketubah before they sign it and should understand what it means (see Rama Even Ha’Ezer 66:13
Knowing the Chattan and Kallah
The witnesses signing the ketubah should know the Chattan and Kallah by name or should inquire from someone else to make sure that the names in the ketubah are correct (see Choshen Mishpat 49:2
). Women or relatives are believed regarding the clarification of this matter (ibid).
Signing in Each Other’s Presence
When to Sign the Ketubah
The witnesses should sign after the Chatan makes a kinyan (ritual method of acquisition) obligating himself in all of the matters enunciated in the ketubah (Rama Even Ha’Ezer 66:1
Some have the custom that the witnesses sign under the Chuppah after the Kiddushin takes place (Roke’ach 354).
Signing in Order
The more important witness of the two should sign first and on top while the second witness should sign beneath him (see Rama Even Ha’Ezer 130:1
and Gittin 10b).
Kohanim or Leviyim
If the witnesses are Kohanim or Leviyim, they should include this in their signatures, e.g., Aryeh, son of Chaim Zev HaLevi eid (witness) [see Seder HaGet in Even Ha’Ezer
How to Sign
The witnesses should not use any nicknames of abbreviations when signing. They should write (in Hebrew) their full Hebrew names as well as their father’s full Hebrew names. No honorific titles should be added, that is, one should not write HaRav (the rabbi) or ben HaRav (son of the Rabbi) [Rama Even Ha’Ezer 130:11
and Responsa Divrei Yatziv Even Ha’Ezer 90].
How Many Sets of Witnesses?
One may use the same set of witnesses for both the Ketubah and the Kiddushin (betrothal), or one may choose to honor a separate set of witnesses for each (see Maharil Hilchot Nissuim and Ezer Mekudash 42).
Designate the Witnesses
It is customary to designate and announce who will be the Eidei Kiddushin (witnesses of the betrothal) [Responsa Maharam Shik Choshen Mishpat 57 in the name of his teacher, the Chatam Sofer]. Several reasons are offered for this custom:
- This will ensure that those who are not fit to be witnesses (e.g., relatives) will not intend to be witnesses. Such an intention can invalidate the betrothal (see Makkot 5b).
- If witnesses are designated, they will pay attention to the act of the betrothal whereas if no one is designated, it is possible that there will not be two valid witnesses who pay attention. This too could invalidate the betrothal.
Shadchan as a Witnesses
There is an argument as to whether or not a shadchan (matchmaker) may act as a witness for Kiddushin (see Otzar HaPoskim 42:45 ot 15). The reason that some forbid it is that the shadchan has a financial interest in the Kiddushin taking place. This is only a problem if he has not yet been paid.
Some rabbis have the custom to instruct the witnesses to do teshuvah (repentance) before the ceremony begins (Derech Pikudecha, Hakdamah 6, ot 18). Thus, even if they have transgressed on a sin which disqualified them from being witnesses (see here
), they are rendered kosher by that teshuvah. Some are not particular about this.
The Belzer Rebbe explained that the Chuppah ceremony itself inspires the attendees (including the witnesses) to do teshuvah even without a formal act of teshuvah (Ha’Eirusin Ve’Hanisuin by Rabbi Yitzchak Shvartz, page 214).
The author (Aryeh Citron) was once a witness at a Kiddushin where the Rishon LeTziyon, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu was the Mesader Kiddushin. Rabbi Eliyahu instructed me and the other witness to do teshuvah before the ceremony.
Watching the Badeken
Some say that the witnesses for the Kiddushin should watch the badeken (covering of the Kallah’s face). This enables them to know who the Kallah is when they later witness the Kiddushin. In addition, some say that the badeken ceremoney is part of the Chuppah ceremony and should be witnessed. Others are not particular about this. (See a letter about this from Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Wosner printed in Halichot Chupah VeSheva Brachot by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Shtern of Bnei Berak).
Witnessing the Kiddushin
The rabbi should instruct the witnesses to pay attention and see how the Chattan places the ring on the Kallah’s finger and to hear the words “Harei at mekudeshet etc. You are hereby betrothed…” If the witnesses did not see the actual placement of the ring on the kallah’s finger but only saw it in the chattan’s hand and then on the kallah’s finger, it is a questionable kiddushin (see Maharam Shik ibid and Otzar HaPoskim 42:32 ot 1).
Valuing the Ring
It is customary to ask the witnesses if the ring has the value of a perutah (an ancient coin that is equivalent to about a nickel) [Rama Even Ha’Ezer 31:2]. The witnesses answer that it does. The purpose of this question and answer is that the Kallah should not accept the ring (and thus the betrothal) in the belief that it has a higher value than it actually does. We therefore stress that it has the value of a perutah and not necessarily more.
Handing over the Ketubah
After the Kiddushin is complete, the ketubah is read under the Chuppah. The ketuba is then given to the chattan who hands it to the Kallah. Some say that the witnesses should witness this “handover” while others do not consider this necessary. The reason why some are particular about it is that they consider the handing over of the ketubah as part of the kinyan (acquisition) that makes it valid and should therefore be witnessed. In addition, some consider that the handing of the ketubah is like a Kiddushin bishtar (betrothal with a document). [See Tashbetz vol. 3 Siman 301 and Shevet Halevi vol. 8 285:3.]
Witnessing the Yichud
After the Chuppah, according to the Ashkenazi custom, the Chattan and Kallah spend time alone in a room called the cheder yichud (room for seclusion). This should be witnessed by kosher witnesses. These witnesses need not be the same witnesses as those of the Kiddushin.
The witnesses should make sure that the chattan and kallah are alone in the room and should stand outside the room for several minutes to make sure that no one else enters.
Some say that the minimum time for yichud (seclusion) should be 3 minutes while others say it should be at least 8 minutes. [See Ha’Eirusin VeHaNissuin page 281 and on.]
May we all be blessed with Smachot in our families!
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!