Monday, June 24, 2019

Hey Cuz!

Today is celebrated as “Cousins Day.” Those whose parents have siblings, often have many great memories from shared family events, enjoyed in the company of cousins. With access to the internet, people today are researching their families and investigating family trees, learning of new relatives and distant cousins.

There are several interesting Jewish legal matters that pertain specifically to cousins.

While the Torah lists relatives who may not marry one another and whose marriages would be considered incestuous, it is notable that an uncle and a niece, and first cousins (and certainly more distant relations) are free to marry each other. Scriptures offers precedent for cousins marrying. After all, Rivka married Yitzchak, who was her father’s first cousin. Yaakov married Leah and Rachel, who were his first cousins. The daughters of Zelophchad, whose father died in the Sinai wilderness, petitioned Moses to acquire their father’s land, since there was no son to inherit his portion. In the end, they did inherit it, but they were told to marry men within their tribe, so the land would remain within their tribe of Menashe. While the text implies that they all married their uncles (see Numbers 36:11), according to Ba’al HaTurim, they married their cousins. The text of the scroll of Esther also indicates that Mordechai and Esther were first cousins, and the Midrash claims that they were indeed married to one another.

Please note that many municipal jurisdictions worldwide prohibit cousins from marrying due to the fear of negative recessive genes being transmitted to future generations. As such, 24 U.S. states do not permit cousins to marry, 17 states and the District of Columbia permit such marriages, and 7 states allow it conditionally (i.e. if one or both parties are of a certain advanced age, if one party is infertile, or if proof can be offered of genetic counseling). Jewish law recognizes secular law in many such cases, under the principle of dina d’malchuta dina, and, hence, Jewish law would not permit cousins from marrying if the local jurisdiction prohibited it.

Jewish law also does not allow two relatives to testify together as witnesses. First cousins, whose parents are siblings, are prohibited from joining together as witnesses. Second cousins, whose grandparents are siblings, may combine their testimony (Choshen Mishpat 33:32). A spouse of a relative has the same status as the relative.

There is no requirement for mourning when a cousin passes away.

Cousins, in Jewish law, are close, but not too close. Happy Cousins Day!

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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