What are “mamzerim?” How are they treated within Jewish communities?
It can be important to get a get for the sake of any future children. If a Jewish woman remarries without having received a get, even if she has received a state law (civil) divorce, the children of her second marriage are technically considered illegitimate (mamzerim), and will not be accepted into many Jewish communities. If someone is considered a mamzer (singular of mamzerim), the label “mamzerim” will be placed on the next ten generations of his/her family. However, if a man remarries without a get, his children are not considered mamzerim.
The fact that future generations of a mamzer are considered mamzerim may motivate even Reform, Reconstructionist, and unaffiliated Jews to get a get for the sake of their future children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Though the Reform and Reconstructionist movements accept a civil divorce as sufficient to constitute a Jewish divorce, many liberal rabbis will counsel divorcing couples to get a get if possible, in order to conform with a stricter interpretation of Jewish law.
The Reform movement rejects the entire concept of mamzerim, and accepts any child of any Jewish parent as a Jew who is able to marry into the community and participate in services. The Conservative movement holds the position that a congregation should not dig into a member’s background, which basically implies that a Conservative synagogue can accept mamzerim. In Orthodox circles, mamzerim are not permitted to participate in the religious life of the community in any way. This means that a mamzer cannot participate in a synagogue, or marry a Jew either in an Orthodox community or in the State of Israel.