What does the Torah sat about sham marriages?

With Rabbi Zvi Solomons.

IN EVERY Jewish marriage, as a verification, a certificate is required from the Chief Rabbi’s office. The history of this is informative. With the mass immigration from eastern Europe in the late 19th Century, women became vulnerable to unscrupulous men. A woman would be courted, and go to a chuppah that appeared to be normal, but the witnesses were fake and the ceremony false.

Having once been bedded by her “husband” she would be put to “serve” men in the white slave trade. Faced with these “shtiller chuppahs”, the Office of the Chief Rabbi required evidence the marriage was for real. Today, we still require such confirmation before issuing a certificate. In today’s world where we compete to improve our lives, fake marriages can be contracted between a British citizen and a would-be immigrant to facilitate immigration.

Recent news reports say that up to one in five marriages with an overseas partner is a sham. Doubtless there were some convenient marriages at the time of the Nazi horrors, contracted to allow desperate Jewish men and women to escape, but it is notable the Rabbonim of the day exercised themselves in finding ways of legal admission to this country, and the Holocaust was the most exceptional of circumstances. Halacha forbids fake marriage as it goes against the concept of Dina d’medina dina, the law of the land is the Law.

Morally it is highly dubious to use it as a vehicle for immigration. Forging a ketubah and false witnesses are serious halachic infringements, and the absence of marital relations makes a mockery of the institution. The new stringencies in immigration ironically have affected the Charedi community, which does take marriage very seriously, in the sense it is now much harder to marry a foreign bride, because of the higher standard of proof. In this new world, fake marriage is also bad for unintended victims. In Judaism, the precious institution of marriage is not to be undertaken lightly.

Similarly, when people divorce, as those who married merely for immigration must, they change in status, whether or not the marriage was a sham. When the bride marries for real she cannot marry a Cohen and her ketubah will show the previous divorce. The fact people are prepared to marry in order to immigrate to this country, is informative. First, marriage is held cheaply in many people’s eyes, and secular marriage is considered to be a minor issue by much of the population.

Second, we have something very precious in our citizenship of this country, since people are very desperate to get hold of it. But the reason people seek to disguise their transition is that marriage is the core component which allows us to transmit our identity. In the religious domain, marriage is therefore given high respect and honour, the very foundation of our faith.

That is why the fraud is so serious. How can one build a faithful house in any culture when the foundation is absent?