My fiance and I are planning to get married next year. We are both divorce, but neither of us obtained a Get. We are both Reform Jews. Are there any guidelines for second Jewish marriages?
In fact, the acquisition of a get is the only special issue Jews face when marrying after a previous divorce. Orthodox and Conservative Jews consider a get to be absolutely necessary for a divorce. Reform Jews are in a more difficult situation.
Reform rabbis, in general, do not require a get when a divorce is granted by civil decree. The Reform Movement holds this position, in part, because of the burden that traditional Jewish law places on women whose divorcing husbands refuse to deliver a get. In such cases, the woman becomes an "agunah," a so-called "chained woman," who is divorced from her husband by civil law, yet forbidden to re-marry by Jewish law. By not requiring a get when a marriage has been dissolved by civil authority, the Reform Movement eliminates the problem of the "agunah."
I agree with this position. Yet, despite it, I do urge divorcing men and women to consider a get if there is a chance that they or their former spouses will have children in the future. Why would I do that? Because when a Jew divorces without a get, he or she is still married according to Orthodox law. Any child born from a later marriage, therefore, would be regarded as a "mamzer" (illegitimate) in the Orthodox community.
"Mamzer" is not just an ugly name to call someone. A mamzer may not marry a Jew in the framework of Orthodox Judaism and in the State of Israel. What's more, the status of "mamzer" is passed down to children, grandchildren and all later generations.
The whole concept of a mamzer is rejected by Reform Judaism. The Conservative Movement deals with the issue by refusing to review any evidence that a person is a mamzer.
Now, you identify with Reform Judaism (and bravo to that), but you have little control over the Jewish choices of your children, grandchildren and the generations that come after. The choice to have a child who would be considered a mamzer by Orthodox Jews could have far-reaching and painful results in the distant future. Acquiring a get is a simple step that could prevent such a situation and help to maintain unity within the Jewish community.
By the way, this issue is different from the problem of intermarriage and patrilineal descent. When Reform Judaism says that the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother can be Jewish without conversion, it creates a problem for Orthodox and Conservative Jews. However, that is a problem that has a solution -- conversion. There is, however, no such solution for a mamzer. Traditional Jewish law provides no way to "convert" from illegitimate to legitimate. The mamzer and all his or her descendants would be forever barred from marrying under Orthodox standards.
Fortunately, acquiring a get is not difficult. The organization, Kayama, helps to arrange for gittin (plural of get) for people in your situation. You can check their website at www.kayama.org. If you and your fiance are in any way contemplating having children, I would recommend that you discuss the issue of gittin with your rabbi and pursue it.
Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser