We just got married, and I found out that my husband is suffering from impotency (impotence). If I didn't know about this prior to marriage, can this marriage be annulled? Isn't this a basic fact that I should have been told before I was asked to consent to marriage? What is the reason for marriage anyway, if not to have children?
It sounds that you have have just experienced a huge betrayal of trust, no matter what the reasons you may have been given for it. I can barely begin to imagine your pain and shock, anger and disappointment. A man's ability to have intercourse with you, for pleasure and procreation is part of the marital understanding in Judaism as I understand our tradition and practices. While your husband may not be infertile, impotence undisclosed would seem to me to be in breech of contractual assumptions and expectations. One option is the one you mention, annulment (under the principle of kedushei taut) and a get, a Jewish divorce process and document, to ensure your future marriageability would likely be arranged at your request of the rabbi who did your marriage.
AND since you hadn't detected his impotence sooner, you sound possibly Orthodox or a virgin, or celibate until marriage in this relationship. Maybe he's not impotent. Has the man you just married had a medical work-up for impotence? It might not be a permanent or long-term condition. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be emotional, especially for those who are scared and inexperienced and perhaps not well prepared. Was this an arranged marriage and not a big time or heart investment? Or a deep love? A first or second marriage? Be sure to consult your or rebbetzin, rabbi, or a religious counselor immediately for Jewish intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual guidance and probably a good trauma therapist as well. If you find it hard to secure support that feels safe and professional, please be in touch through this website and I will be glad to assist you in navigating professional networks.
It's been some days since you had this incident. So, a question. Why did you want to be with this husband, beyond having children? Is any of that "good stuff" still accessible for your spirit, i.e., your full kavannah for the marriage? Remember, he may have viable sperm and artificial insemination might work out. Pleasure can be given in many ways and some people are able to live and love in the context of such a disability, should he actually prove to be medically impotent. Consider pausing before leaping out of this marriage in horror, is there something precious yet? Things are seldom what they seem. If he didn't know ED would happen, then consider a process of trust-rebuilding with the help of a professional. Likely you are a deeply good person and know this already - that you need to be very careful for his and your reputation in the community and so don't scream this situation all over town. Judaism has beautifully developed ethics about who "needs to know," and the two of you need to be sure to discuss that with your rabbi, as well. The rules of ethical speech would be a whole other article to write for Jewish Values Online.
All that said, if you elect annulment or divorce, you will also need a lawyer to deal with your civil marriage annulment or divorce issues depending upon your state or country of residence.
Though it has rarely been used, there is a concept of “kidushei taut”, invalid creation of a marriage because of mistaken information, in which a marriage can be annulled.Rabbi Michael Broyde explains that according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein if the following conditions are met, a marriage can be annulled without a Get, a divorce decree.
(1) The woman must discover a serious defect present in her husband after they are married.
(2) That defect must have been present in the husband at the time of the marriage.
(3) The woman must have been unaware of the defect at the time of marriage.
(4) The woman must discontinue marital relations with her husband either immediately or very soon after the discovery of the defect.
Furthermore Rabbi Broyde deals directly with our question.
… a man who is blind or lame or impotent priorto his marriage, and hides that pattern from his fiancee. If the other conditions are present, … could be (a) case(s) of error in the enactment, as the condition was clearly present at the time of the marriage.(I have edited the statement for clarity.)
I must add, however, that I believe the woman would still be urged to obtain a Get from her husband without which present orthodox policy would make it difficult for her to remarry.
Yes, your husband should definitely have told you about this before marriage, but understand that impotence is a major embarrassment for a man, and he may have hoped that marriage would somehow have magically resolved his problem, so do not assume that he was deliberately trying to deceive you. Yes, to answer your question directly , there is such a thing as annulment in Jewish law (haf'qa'at kiddushin) on the grounds of "a mistaken acquisition" (meqah ta'ut). Orthodox rabbis are generally reticent to use this remedy in Jewish law, but the Conservative rabbinate will do this through the National Bet Din. See your local Conservative rabbi to initiate the process.
That said, if you loved your husband enough to marry him, you may want to work with him to overcome the problem. There are, after all, medications and other means available to respond to erectile dysfunction. Furthermore, if children is your primary objective, even if the means to respond to erectile dysfunction do not work in his case, there are means to retrieve sperm from him for use in artificial insemination or, if necessary, in in vitro fertilization. The lattter, of course, may address the problem of having children, but it would not address your needs for sexual satisfaction. I would recommend talking with your husband about all of this openly, honestly, and sympathetically in order to try to overcome his problem so that you can stay married to the man you loved enough to marry him. Only if nothing works to meet your needs (and his) should you contemplate annulment.
Yours is a question on three different levels, each of them much too complex to answer adequately in this space. Let’s try, however, to set forth the major issues.
The first level is the legal one: you ask “can this marriage be annulled?” Since you submitted your question to this forum, I assume you want to know how Jewish law would answer it. And, as a matter of fact, Jewish law (halakhah) does recognize impotence and male sterility as potential grounds for divorce (see Shulchan Arukh, Even Ha`ezer 154:6-7). The application of these rules, as you might expect, is a very technical matter, and you would be well-advised, should you choose to follow this path and seek a Jewish divorce, to consult a knowledgeable and sympathetic rabbi for assistance. I say “divorce” rather than “annulment,” because the question of marriage annulment (hafka`at kidushin) is quite contested within the rabbinical community. Most Orthodox rabbis will tell you that, although the Talmud and numerous post-Talmudic authorities speak of the power of Jewish courts to annul marriages under certain circumstances, rabbis today do not enjoy this power. Many liberal rabbis will disagree.
The second level in your question is the moral one. Did your husband knowingly deceive you about his impotence? If so, he clearly acted in bad faith. Marriage should always be based upon open and honest communication between the partners. If your husband knew of his impotence – which is hardly an insignificant matter – and chose to hide that fact from you, then he has wronged you, and you have a right to be angry and to demand relief. (Of course, his version of the story may well differ from yours.)
The third level is what I’d call the personal or interpersonal one. After all, you ask: “What is the reason for marriage anyway, if not to have children?” That’s a very good question, and it admits of various answers; having children is an important reason for marriage, but it’s not the only one. I would suggest – since I’m a rabbi and a professional buttinsky – that you consider speaking to a counselor, either as a couple or as an individual. A good counselor, rabbinical or otherwise, would want to explore with you the reasons why you married this man, despite the obvious problems of communication between the two of you. Given that impotence is a medically treatable condition, and given that fertility technologies exist that could enable you to become parents, the counselor might ask you to consider why you believe that ending the marriage is the best option. This does not mean, of course, that you are wrong to want a divorce, that you are wrong to be angry, or that your husband is blameless in this matter. It is rather to suggest that the issues here extend beyond the boundaries of legal or moral judgment and that, before you make your decision, you have thought carefully and prayerfully about those issues.
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