Rabbis overturn 'mamzer' decision [pg. 6]

A rabbinic court in Haifa has ruled that six children, originally thought to be born of an adulterous relationship (mamzerim), can marry. The court reached the ruling last month, and notified the children a week ago. But publication of the decision was only released from a Supreme Court gag order on Thursday as a result of petitioning by Yediot Aharonot and attorney Amos Sadika, who represents the children and their mother. The special panel of rabbinic judges, handpicked by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, was headed by Haifa's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Shalush. Rabbi Uriel Lavi of Safed and Rabbi Efraim Cohen also sat on the panel. The three overturned a previous ruling from 1995 that prohibited the six children from getting married. A 2001 Supreme Court decision forced the rabbinic courts to make a new ruling after procedural problems were discovered in the 1995 decision. In the 1980s the marriage of A. and F. Cohen of the Haifa area was destroyed by F.'s infidelity. In 1995 A. and F. were divorced. During the divorce proceedings A. accused F. before the court of adultery, which she did not deny. A. claimed that all six of F.'s children were a result of her licentious affair with M. Based on A.'s testimony, a rabbinic court ruled that the six children were mamzerim. Mamzerim are children born to a Jewish woman married to a Jewish man, who are the outcome of a married Jewish woman's adulterous affair with a Jewish man. According to Halacha (Jewish law) a mamzer is forbidden to marry anyone except another mamzer, and all the children that result from this subsequent union are also mamzerim. In 2000, F. retained the legal services of Sadika, as she was concerned that her children, who were approaching their teens, would not be able to marry. However, the Haifa Rabbinic Court overturned the ruling based on a "compound doubt." The court had two doubts: The first was whether or not the children were really M.'s. Although A. insisted they were, the court, after extensive cross examination, revealed contradictions in A.'s testimony. For instance, they discovered that while A. testified he had not lived in the Haifa area at the time the children were born, there was strong evidence showing that he had. A. also received National Insurance Institute payments for the children, which showed that A. considered himself to be their father since he thought he was entitled to the money. The second doubt was whether or not M. was Jewish because he is a Karaite. Karaites follow only the text of the Bible, and reject all religious teachings and practices that come from the Talmud. According to certain halachic opinions, including that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Karaites are Jews. But since M. came from an assimilated family that had intermarried with Christians and Muslims he was considered a gentile. Only an adulterous union between a Jewish man and a married Jewish woman can produce mamzerim. In contrast, children born as a result of sexual relations between a gentile man and a married Jewish woman are not mamzerim. A DNA check was not used in the case for fear it would show that the children are M.'s. Rabbis try to do everything in their power to avoid ruling a child is a mamzer. And they needed both the doubt regarding M.'s status as a Jew and whether or not the children were his in order to rule in favor of the children. Although all six children can marry, F.'s relations with M. resulted in the prohibiting of her girls to marry a kohen (a member of the Jewish priestly class). Sadika said that it took six years to receive the rabbinic court decision. "At first the courts did not want to deal with it," said Sadika, recalling the progress of the case. "F.'s case was passed from Jerusalem to Haifa. The Supreme Court forced the court in Jerusalem to decide. The chief rabbis changed and there was another delay. But finally those children were freed."