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    Mamzer – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What is a mamzer?

    A. Much misunderstanding surrounds the law that says, lo yavo mamzer bik’hal HaShem – “A mamzer shall not enter the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:3).

    The English translations call a mamzer a bastard, which wrongly gives the impression that the mamzer is a child born out of wedlock. In Jewish law, however, the term applies to the child of parents who could never marry each other, either because of adultery (where a married woman has relations with a man other than her husband) or incest. A child born to parents who were not, but could legally have been, married to each other is not a mamzer.

    A second misapprehension applies to the words, “shall not enter the congregation of the Lord”. The phrase does not imply that the child is not Jewish, that if a male he is not counted towards a minyan, or that he is debarred from holding communal office. A mamzer’s only (though serious) impediment is that he or she may not marry a non-mamzer.

    Obviously the child is suffering from the sins of the parents, and the halachah uses every possible leniency in applying the law, but prevention is better than cure, and couples who think of breaking the law should think again.

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