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    I. Fathers-in-Law
    There is a deep
    lesson in the fact that
    there is no English
    equivalent of the
    word “mechutanim.”
    Mechutanim are the

    parents of your son-
    or daughter-in-law (mechutan is the male

    part of the mechutanim). When your
    child marries, you gain not only a son or
    daughter but also a set of corresponding
    parents who become your mechutanim,
    as the two families join together. I believe
    that the lack of English equivalent reflects
    the difference between the Jewish view of
    marriage and Western society’s vision of
    a couple starting out new, leaving behind
    the past. To Jews, marriage is a joining of
    families. To Western society in general,
    marriage is a joining of two individuals
    into a couple. However, mechutanim is not
    a biblical word. Nor does it appear in the
    Talmud. I do not believe it existed in the
    time of Rashi and Rambam. The first I have
    seen of the term is in the sixteenth century,
    in an Egyptian responsum of the Radbaz,
    as we shall see shortly. The word seems
    to have gained usage sometime between
    the years 1200 and 1500 (Rambam died

    in 1204 and Radbaz was born roughly in
    A significant discussion of mechutanim
    revolves around the roles of witnesses and
    judges. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 28b) says:
    “The father of the groom and the father
    of the bride can testify about each other.
    There are considered to each other only
    like a lid on a barrel.” Note that the Talmud
    does not have a term for mechutanim and
    instead uses the lengthy terms of “father
    of the groom (avi chassan)” and “father
    of the bride avi kallah).” When explaining
    these terms, Rashi describes Reuven’s
    son who marries Shimon’s daughter,
    without invoking the term mechutanim.
    The Gemara says that mechutanim are
    not joined into a single unit, like different
    parts of a utensil, but rather like a lid to a
    pot. They are related but not connected.
    Therefore, they can serve as witnesses for
    each other. If they literally became close
    family, they would not be allowed to testify
    about each other.
    II. Judging a Mechutan
    There is a general rule that someone for
    whom you cannot testify, you also cannot
    serve as a judge on a case involving him.
    However, there are exceptions to this rule.

    An unattributed gloss to the Mordechai
    (Sanhedrin, end of no. 721) quotes a
    responsum of an unnamed Gaon who rules
    that just like mechutanim cannot serve as
    witnesses for each other, they also cannot
    serve as judges. Even if one mechutan
    serves in a formally appointed position
    as judge, a litigant against the judge’s
    mechutan can invalidate the judge for this
    case because of their relationship.
    Rav Yosef Kolon (Maharik; 15th cen.,
    Italy; Responsa, no. 21) addresses the
    issue of a rabbi serving as a judge on
    a case in which his mechutan is one of
    the litigants. Maharik quotes Rambam’s
    Mishnah commentary to Niddah (6:5).
    The Mishnah (Niddah 6:5) says that there
    are some people who may testify about
    each other but may not serve as judges for
    each other. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 29a)
    says that one the exception the Mishnah
    has in mind is someone blind in one eye.
    Rambam asks why the Mishnah does not
    also have in mind two people who love
    or hate each other, who also may testify
    but may not judge each other. Rambam
    explains that the Mishnah omits these
    exceptions because these strong feelings
    of affection or the opposite often change
    quickly. Maharik notes that Rambam does
    not ask why the Mishnah does not have
    mechutanim in mind. It must be, argues
    Maharik, that mechutanim are not an
    exception. Rather, they may neither
    testify nor judge each other. (Neither
    Rashi, Rambam nor Maharik use the
    term mechutanim.)
    Significantly, Rav Moshe Isserles
    (Rema; 16th cen., Poland; Shulchan
    Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 33:6) rules
    like the Gaon that mechutanim should
    not serve as judges for each other.
    However, taking into account Maharik’s
    leniency, after the fact (bedieved) such
    a judgment would be valid. However,
    there is more to say on the subject. Rav
    Meir (Maharam) Lublin (17th cen.,
    Poland; Responsa, no. 63) was asked
    by someone who found Maharik’s
    deduction from Rambam’s commentary
    to be quite weak. Maharam Lublin
    defends Maharik’s deduction but
    concludes that his own opinion is that
    a mechutan is just like someone who
    loves you. Is there any greater friend
    than a mechutan?
    III. Not All Mechutanim Love Each
    Earlier, Rav David Ben Zimra
    (Radbaz, 16th cen., Egypt; Responsa
    1:631), a contemporary of Rema, was
    asked about this subject. He deduces
    that a mechutan can serve as a judge
    from Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, not his

    Mishnah commentary. Rambam (Mishneh
    Torah, Hilchos Eidus 13:11) says that
    mechutanim (without using that term) may
    testify about each other. When Rambam
    (ibid., 16:6) lists all the exceptions to the
    rule that someone who may testify may
    also judge, he does not include mechutanim
    in the list of exceptions. This deduction is
    much stronger than Maharik’s deduction
    from Rambam’s Mishnah commentary,
    which Radbaz quotes as well.
    Radbaz also makes the following
    important point: “I have already seen many
    mechutanim who hate each other.” Just
    because your children marry does not mean
    that you become automatic best friends.
    Some mechutanim maintain very warm
    and close relationships, as I do with my
    mechutanim. Others are not best friends.
    Therefore, we cannot automatically
    disqualify mechutanim. If they are close
    friends then they fall under the general
    disqualify of a friend serving as a judge.
    If they hate each other, they fall under
    that category. And if they are somewhere
    in between, they are qualified to judge
    each other. There is no need for a special
    category of mechutanim.
    In practice, there are many different
    opinions with a variety of nuances.
    Pischei Teshuvah (Choshen Mishpat
    7:15) provides a lengthy summary of later
    views. However, the very fact that such a
    conversation exists points to the important
    nature of the mechutan relationship in the
    Jewish community.