Rabbinical court allows nursing mother to marry

Haifa Rabbinical Court uses a fascinating ruling by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to permit the marriage of a young nursing mother to another man.

Hezki Baruch,

Haifa Rabbinical Court
Haifa Rabbinical Court
Rabbinical Courts spokeman

The Haifa Rabbinical Court has permitted the mother of a newborn baby to marry a person who is not the baby's father.

During the fascinating halakhic inquiry, one of the last rulings of the late halakhic luminary, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, written in his own hand, was discovered.

The unusual and complicated affair was submitted to the court by the marriage department at the local rabbinical office. A young Haifa student wished to register for marriage and in an interview stated that she is the mother of a young baby born out of wedlock.

The mother said that she had led a sexually permissive lifestyle and did not know for sure who the father of the baby was. After she became pregnant, she decided not to abort her unborn child, and started to move closer to observant Judaism. Prior to giving birth, she became engaged to a man who is not the child's father. The woman was referred to the Haifa Rabbinical Court to investigate the possibility of her marrying immediately, despite the newborn child.

The head of the court, Dayan (Rabbinic court judge) Daniel Edri and the two other judges sitting on the court, Dayan Bentzion Hacohen Rabin and Dayan Elad Alidid not concern themselves with the Jewishness of the child or the identity of his father.

The halakhic issue involved is the question of whether a nursing mother is permitted to marry a person who is not the father of the child, an issue that has been dealt with frequently. Ordinarily, marriage is not permitted halakhically over the entire nursing period in order to be sure the mother continues nursing her baby and does not neglect the infant's welfare, and when relevant, is even written on a divorce confirmation. Howver, in special cases, the court can allow a nursing mother to marry.

The rabbinical judges decided to write a long ruling on the matter spanning the entire halakhic history of the issue and including a ruling printed in Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's seminal halakhic work Yabia Omer. When they read the ruling, one of the judges remembered a similar affair which had been dealt with six years earlier by the Haifa court.

It seems that there was a letter written by the rabbis dealing with that case to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in which the rabbis had asked him about a woman who obtained a divorce in the fifth month of her pregnancy and was told by the rabbinic court to wait 24 months after the birth before re-marrying. Five months after the birth, she was introduced to a prospective husband and was afraid that if she had to wait 24 months, he would not be willing to marry her, especially as she was a mother of 9.

The groom was a rabbinic scholar willing to commit to feed and provide for the baby. The rabbis then asked if they could rely on the leniency mentioned by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his work Yabia Omer, even though that leniency was given for an older child aged 14 months.

Rabbi Ovadia responded that if the new husband committed and obligated to sustain the baby until it grows older, there was room for leniency and the marriage could take place, especially as there are now replacement foods for babies.

The judges used this ruling, in which a halakhic decision takes into account the availabliity of mother's milk substitutes in modern times, to allow the Haifa student to marry, despite her being a nursing mother.

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