The first Mishna (Yevamot 1:1) in Massechet Yevamot (2a) discusses the situation where a man with more than one wife dies such that one of these two wives is prohibited to marry her brother-in-law – with the rule being that both women are exempt from yibum.
With this in mind, the Mishna (Yevamot 3:8) in today’s daf (Yevamot 30b) raises the question of whether this law still stands in a situation where it is not entirely certain that those women were married to the man who died (i.e. where doubt exists whether the formal act of marriage occurred – which is known as ספק קידושין, or where doubt exists whether, at some stage or another, one of them had received a divorce from her husband before he died – which is known as ספק גירושין).
As the Mishna explains, given the possibility that they were married (and therefore neither yibum or halitzah is required), and given the possibility that they were not married (and therefore either yibum or halitzah is required), yibum may not be performed with the co-wife but halitzah is required.
Looking beyond this Mishna and its related halachot, I was then thinking about the words ספק קידושין and ספק גירושין which, in this case, are clearly speaking about a situation where some doubt exists about whether a technical Jewish marriage or divorce has occurred, and this then led me to consider whether there are marriages where all the technical aspects were performed correctly but it is highly questionable whether what exists between those two people can truly be called a marriage, and whether – in rarer cases – there are divorces where all the technical aspects were performed correctly, but the couple still choose to overlap each other’s lives to such an extent that it appears that the couple have yet to accept the fact that they are now divorced.
Halachically, we would never call these instances of ספק קידושין and ספק גירושין. Still, in a similar vein to the kinds of cases of ספק קידושין and ספק גירושין described in our Mishna, such relationships are very confusing because they reflect a status where neither party truly knows where they stand with the other.
Though infrequent, there are instances where halacha considers a couple to have a ספק קידושין or ספק גירושין. But what is less rare is where a couple that are halachically married live in constant doubt about the comfort within, and the quality of, their marriage. And where this is so, their task is to think carefully about the options they have – individually and as a couple – to make things better for themselves.