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On the Record

Riki Goldstein

He’s a steady presence at London chuppahs, a faithful officer trusted by the kehillah and the Commonwealth. In a country where legal dictates govern the niceties of marriage and death, Marriage Secretary Mr. Michoel Mannes is the dependable liaison positioned at the edge of these fateful scenes

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

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Even for this seasoned registrar, keeping up with the changing laws can get challenging. “Until four years ago, only 16 days were needed between the notice and the ceremony. Now the government is very wary about sham marriages and foreigners. The latest legal development is that if one party to the marriage comes from outside the European Union, they have to apply for permission from the Home Office to marry in England, at least 70 days before serving notice of marriage” (Photos: )

The young chassan arrives at Heathrow Airport with his shtreimel or hat box in one hand, and brand new coat over the other arm. The family streams along behind him, exhausted but exhilarated: the wedding is only two days away. 

At immigration, the officer scans the young man and then the family crowded behind him. “Purpose of visit to the UK?” 

“I’m getting married on Tuesday.” A touch of pride, a touch of nerves. 

And in place of congratulation, the entire family faces deportation. 

“You cannot arrive in England and marry days later,” states Mr. Michoel Mannes, registrar of marriages and deaths for the Adass Yisroel community. In his position at the heart of the kehillah, he serves as a gatekeeper of sorts, escorting new couples through the legal niceties of marriage — and helping the newly bereaved navigate the bureaucracy surrounding death and burial. 

AGAINST A BACKGROUND of widespread sham marriages and illegitimate benefit claims, the UK government has recently tightened the laws governing civil marriage. Legally, both groom and bride have to be present in England for eight days before they give “notice of marriage” at the local registry office, and that notice must be served a minimum of 29 days and a maximum of a year before the marriage ceremony. An alternative would be to conduct the civil marriage in the registry office at a different time. 

The chuppah, or Jewish religious marriage, has long been recognized as a legal marriage under British law — as long as it’s witnessed and registered by a government-recognized marriage secretary. Mr. Mannes has held this office for 16 years, registering thousands of marriages in the Adass communities of London. The other large batei din and communal organizations also register marriages around England. All keep copies of kesubos and marriage certificates for future reference. 

“Members of the community call our offices to book the date of their chuppah,” Mr. Mannes explains how the process usually works. “They complete a form, and I or another authorized staff member will attend the chuppah, bringing along the official registry book for the couple to sign, which signifies their civil marriage. This is then entered into the marriage records at the town hall, as well as our own kehillah’s records — which date from 1929 — and those of the Jewish community in England at large, which go back centuries. The government, too, is punctilious about recording statistics on marriage in the community.” 

In his 16 years on the job, the number of Adass-registered marriages has almost doubled. In the busy seasons, the marriage officers need to squeeze several weddings into their daily schedules; the record is five chuppahs on one day. They come fully equipped with chuppah amenities such as wine, a glass to break, and an extra kittel for the occasional forgetful chassan. (Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Behind the Scenes, Pesach Mega-Issue 5777)

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