Can Frum Jews Elope?

We were discussing wedding options – a conversation that occasionally rises and somehow never ceases to entertain. At some point (and this one also never ceases to come up) someone suggested that the whole business would be much simpler (not to mention cheaper) if the couple would just elope.
I don’t think I’d mind eloping much. It’s got panache, plus the additional fun of a clandestine and subversive act – even if you know your parents are cheering you on while pretending not to hear you sneak out.
But halachically, are there too many issues? Sneaking off together at night – even assuming you creep out the front door and don’t get carried down a ladder – could pose yichud problems. Especially if you drive off to a different town under cover of darkness.
But forgetting that, what about the wedding ceremony? I’ve always wondered – exactly how many of those guys under the canopy are actually necessary? Don’t you just need two witnesses? Because a requirement to gather a minyan of men who are willing to assist your elopement would pretty much stop any such wedding right in its tracks. But two witnesses – that’s doable.
Now, do you actually need them to be willing witnesses? Meaning, do you need someone to “perform” the wedding, like all those Christian elopees who rush to Gretna Green? Dig up two romantically inclined Jewish men to stand by and sign off on business? Or can you march into shul after shacharis, announce “harei at mekudeshes li” and slip a ring on her finger and a kesuba into her hand?
I wish there was a place to look all this up. I don’t think there’s a sefer in Eichlers about hilchos elopement. Can anyone help me flesh out the details of this most essential subject? Perhaps we can publish a small informational pamphlet for the newly engaged. In-these-tough-economic-times, I’m sure it would be well received by the greater community.
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40 thoughts on “Can Frum Jews Elope?

  1. You need the chassan , kalla, someone to “do” the ceremony (mesader kiddushin) , 2 witnesses.
    Now for the brochos (which I’m sure no one wants to miss out on getting such beautiful brochos!) you need a minyan.

  2. I once tried to convince a woman I know to marry the man that she was already living with anyway just to make it “kosher”. She was concerned because her first husband had been killed in a car accident and she was getting money from the government because of that. She would have had to give up that money had she legally married him. I spoke to a well known posek who said that all she would need was a kesuva and 2 eidim. I don’t know if that was specifically for this situation though.

  3. Its a little more complicated then just the wedding ceremony. The bride has to calculate the right time to get married and prepare in advance so it really can’t be spur of the moment.

  4. @MF#1 – It can. There are some weddings where those calculations don’t always work out anyway. That’s why they sometimes hide an ed (witness) in the yichud room

  5. In Soviet Russia, during the Spanish Inquisition and at various other times throughout this long, dark golus, there have been many such clandestine weddings. All the stories involve gathering a minyan though.

  6. My grandparents were married like this. He was in the US Army, Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and they wanted to be married before he was shipped overseas. She had one day off from work, and took the train to his Army base. He found the local rabbi, who told him to get two Jewish men to be witnesses. Then the rabbi told my grandmother she could “tell her parents she had an Orthodox wedding”.

  7. Yeah, better if possible to have ten so you can say the brachos.

    To run off and get married on a first date, or let’s say without meeting the parents, is also a problem.

    But assuming the couple are decent people and everything looks great, but they just don’t feel like putting on a Broadway production and want to be married already?

    My advice: find a good, understanding rabbi out-of-town. Explain the situation to him, and he’s likely to agree to “marry” you. Immediately after a weekday Shachris or Maariv (or better yet, Sunday when no one’s in a huge rush), he’d ask ten of his minyan-goers to stick around ten more minutes for chupa, kidushin, and brachos. Lickety-split, done. The rabbi doesn’t need to tell the minyan what the couple’s story is. I was in such a minyan for a marriage ceremony of a BT couple who’d never been halachically married.

  8. I’m pretty sure you dont even need anyone to “preform” the ceremony; 2 witnesses are enough for both kiddushin and nissuin. Everything else is just various minhagim that we have picked up over the centuries. For example, if the Chosson is not wearing a trench coat, they are still married…

  9. MCP,

    The state requires an officiant. In some states it’s “anyone you believe has the power to marry you.” In other states, the officiant needs to be registered with the state, show credentials, and otherwise make paperwork. The only alternative to having an officiant is having two ceremonies, one halachic, one legal (just show up at the courthouse and ask for a justice of the peace).

    More importantly, it’s an enactment from the time of the Gaonim to have a rabbi present; there had been problems of people not knowing what they were doing.

  10. i’ve asked my parents many times how much they would pay me to elope? I mean if i’m saving them a ton of money, i should get a cut.

    and why does eloping have to be about sneaking down a ladder in the middle of the night…just go on a date with the guy and never come back.

  11. Well said- I was talking halachically not legally…and one of the eidim could presumably be the Rav if that is the reason for the Takanna. Additionally, whether or not a rav was present, if a man says harei at mikudeshes li and gives over a ring or something worth a perutah in front of 2 aidim, the lack of a rav would not be miakev, and although present day rabbonim may have them re-do it with a rav present, it would be a fully fledged kiddushin to the extent that the girl would need a get to marry someone else.

    The possibility exists that since the complete lashon is “kidaas moshe viyisrael” and as Tosfos in kiddushin says, that gives the rabbonim a right to completely eradicate any kiddushin that they don’t approve of for halchic reasons, but even if that is a good svara, I doubt it is a feasible way out- the Gemara never uses it as an out for safek kiddushin dirabbanan, so i doubt any rav would have grounds to use it to uphold a takkanas geonim.

    It’s been a while since I learned kiddushin, so i may be off on a few points. Feel free to argue.

  12. MCP,

    Yes and no. Yes you can have a rabbi plus one other guy serve as officiant, ketubah witnesses, ring witnesses, yichud witnesses, two total. Rabbi need not be someone in addition to the rest of the crew.

    No you really, really should not violate a takkana of the Gaonim by having no rabbi. Strongly not recommended.

    The Sephardim in the 1600s had problems of a guy whisking a young lady off her feet and giving her something in front of two of his buddies; there would be a communal proclamation re-read yearly (Chanukah-time, I think) that you must have a rabbi present. Certainly once a witness violates the proclamation once, he’s no longer a kosher witness, but it’s unclear that it would invalidate the first wedding he witnesses.

  13. MCP:

    You’re correct that not having a Rav there isn’t me’akev in the sense that she’d need a get to marry anyone else. As you admit, however, if the two people want to remain married, they would most likely be told to do it again with a rav officiating. Therefore, since Bad4’s question is regarding eloping, doing it without a rav would be useless as you’d need to do it again anyway, defeating the whole purpose of the elopement.

    And yes, you are correct that “kidaas Moshe v’yisrael” would not be relevant in such a case.

  14. Guys- I was definitely not suggesting violating any takanos, merely saying that halachically, if they did elope, they would be considered married. Obviously there is a reason for all the takanos we have.

    If one of the 2 witnesses was a Rav, they would be able to elope while satisfying all of the conditions set, minus sheva brachos for which as someone above stated, they would need a minyan.

  15. While I would assume you are correct about that, MCP, I would double-check. It’s not like the rav is acting as a dayan or anything – he’s just there to make sure everything is done k’daas u’kidin – so presumably he can be one of the eidim. However, maybe (and this is total speculation) it’s considered better practice, or something like that, to make sure the mesader kiddushin is not one of the eidim.

  16. I don’t think it is exactly a halacha l’maaseh type of situation, but being as the only way that this would go down would be under extenuating circumstances, I’m sure my case would work. It may not be the most preferable way, but it should be good enough.

  17. What about mikveh, doesn’t the girl need to do it before…

    And are you guys all serious, this sounds outlandish!

  18. natalie- why can’t mikvah be done before in this situation? Eloping does not have to be spur of the moment- she can arrange that ahead of time

  19. I’m not sure why we’re assuming elopement means total secrecy – Gretna Green might be a small town (I spent a night there, albeit with already existing family), but marriages there certainly weren’t in total secrecy. Well said (comment 8) I think has the best execution of this plan.

  20. If the desire is to wed without hoopla, and the parents are happy not to pay for said hoopla, then a quiet ceremony in the house is possible.

    There is a story that my father tells over all the time – I don’t remember which Rav this involves, but it goes like so: once upon a time in Europe, there was an engagement. The girl’s father dies, and her mother can no longer provide the dowry. Boy’s parents call it off. Aunt visits one night and sees her nephew looking bummed. When asked, he says he really like this girl. Aunt tells everyone she’s taking the nephew for a walk, and goes straight to the Rav. Rav sends for the girl, presumably calls in two men, and performs the wedding on the spot. The issue with this story is of the wedding taking place on Friday night, which he did for emergency purposes to prevent familial veto. There’s no discussion about anything else being an issue.

    So leave the house early, saying you’re going to work/library/stocking shopping and rendezvous with the lucky feller at the location of the rabbi. Doesn’t seem too difficult. Just be prepared for emotional distress as your sisters and nieces were robbed of a chance to wear a gown. My nieces would kill me.

  21. I was under the impression that big weddings are, for the most part, for the parents. Isn’t that who makes up most of the guest list, friends and family of the parents? Besides it’s their simcha too; they’re marrying off their children!

    Its funny, TAK and I joked about eloping but we realized our parents would probably kill us… and with the amount of money they’d be saving on a wedding they can buy a decent hitman too! 😛

    Also eloping has one major downside: no presents! 😦

  22. MF#1 – I don’t think any elopements are spur of the moment. It’s easy: he calls and asks, “How’s tonight?” she says, “good!” he says, “Great. I’ll have my pickup parked behind your back fence. Climb over and in and we’ll take off for Vegas.”

    Well said – so, if I find an Elvis who has semicha, I can get married?

    anonymous – My current reading material is entitled Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River. I don’t think there are even any women in it…

    Harryer – that takes out half the fun. Honestly! Some people haven’t got a clue. 😛

    MCP – we are not talking extenuating circumstances. We are talking first choice marriage for the economically literate and adventurous. Also, people who don’t like parties. I don’t like parties. I am not looking forward, particularly, to a smash-bang wedding. Eloping sounds like an awesome first option. Also, it has more cachet than “a quiet wedding just with the rabbi.” It’s also a better explanation to the relatives and friends about why they didn’t get invitations. Cuz they’d all expect invitations to a quiet wedding.

    SiBaW – if one’s parents ever forgive them, they may give a cut on the savings, thus making up for the missing presents, half of which are cake platters anyway. It is one of the odd facts of life that everyone remains quite convinced that a bride cannot manage a household without copious quantities of elegant serving dishes. Most of these remain in their wrapping paper in her parents’ house and are eventually regifted for the next bride.

  23. There is no halachic mandate to have a huge wedding with a smorg and Viennese dessert table. There is nothing halachically wrong with walking into a rabbi’s office with two eidim, signing a ketuba and getting married. It’s not hard to look up hilchot kiddushin in the Shulchan Aruch to find out what you need to do exactly to be married halachically. As for the romantic cache of eloping, sounds like you’ve been reading too many romance novels.

  24. Hah. I begged to do this. And my then chassan agreed. But it would involve the parental units not getting their due share of nachas. So that’s what killed it.

  25. Bad4- Your original post may not have been talking about extenuating circumstances, but by that point in the conversation, we (at least I) was working for a way to make the elopement work. Interesting question- if you elope (and therefore have no photographer or guests) is it ok to get drunk at your own wedding? 🙂

  26. Are these commentators actually one generation removed from the Shoah and the world at war and the tragic birthpangs of Israel in 1948? Or the pogroms and destitution of their greatgrandparents generations from 1870-world war one that saw 50% of world Jewry leave all behind for new countries often on zero notice?
    The arrogance of assumed entitlement is what should br feared most in Elul! These types of weddings now discussed as theoretical and humerous were the norm for your families for generations !!!

  27. Israel FRAC, you really need to take a chill pill. Seriously. Not every topic of discussion on this blog is symptomatic of some dark, insidious problem with today’s generation.

    And, besides the point, where in the world do you see any sense entitlement in this conversation? If anything, it reflects the fact that we know that big weddings AREN’T necessary.

    Just calm down.

  28. Israel FRAC – my grandparents got married in NYC a few generations ago. There were gowns and tuxedos and bentchers and shtick we don’t even bother with these days (course, we have others). I think every generation pushes the limit as far as they can. Tis human. If you’re in middle of a concentration camp, granted your limit is rather limited. But that doesn’t mean that the same person wouldn’t rather have a big smash-bang affair in other circumstances.

  29. Just to clarify: the reason the couples in Jane Austen novels would elope to Gretna Green was because it was the closest point of Scotland. In Scotland there was no waiting period for the wedding (kind of like getting married on the spot in Vegas today, though you are still required to get a license there). In England the standard procedure was to proclaim the banns for a full 3 weeks before the wedding in the parish church. If one wanted to marry in less than that period of time, one had to purchase a special license in London. I also get the impression that in Scotland, there was no bar for those who were not of age. So a girl of 15 could get married — even without a parent or guardian present to consent to the wedding. I believe the legal age of consent may still be set at a younger age there than it is here.

  30. My grandmother offered me the cost of my wedding if I would elope. We didn’t because hubby is his parents’ last kid and they would have hated it. However, a wedding can perfectly well be like what you usually see for Sheva Brachot.

    One of my friends did that. She had a very ill parent, so the Chupa was at home with just family and a few friends (there was a minyan) and then they had a nice Sheva Brachot dinner at a restaurant.

  31. Instead of worrying about all these crazy plans – why not just sneakily hi-jack another wedding? Everything is already set up, and as soon as the chosson and kallah get into the yichud room, grab the rabbi/mesader kiddushin, round up a dozen of the guests who are wandering aimlessless, just make sure there aren’t immediate relatives to have eidim for kesuba – which is pre-printed and mostly filled out, kiddushin, and people to say sheva brachos, and you could be done in maybe 15-20 minutes. Then dash off to the yichud room after the couple heads out for the last round pictures (or grab another room) plus two eidim, and you’re good to go. As crazy as it sounds, I think from a practical standpoint it makes more sense then running off into the night and heading to Vegas or somesuch place.

  32. The problem with Shades’ suggestion is that it is halachically precluded by the principle of ayn mearvin simcha besimcha. Ever notice that we never have double weddings? Even when two siblings are engaged at the same time, the weddings are spaced some time apart, despite the fact that having them together would save a huge amount of money. Not to mention the halachic problems of basically barging into someone else’s celebration. That’s even tackier than people whose dates consist of dropping and helping themselves to the buffet. Really, you don’t have to go to Vegas and get the license and marry on the same day. It is possible to have a small gathering, what they call an intimate wedding in the industry, and be halachically married with a celebration that is far less strenuous and expensive than what people assume is required. A century ago, people married on Fridays with only the nearby neighbors in attendance; the dinner was the Shabbos meal — no photographers, no celebrity singers, and no coordinated bridesmaids were in sight.

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