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Jewish Divorce 101

Jewish Divorce 101

The basic procedure of the Jewish divorce -- the mutual agreement, the document, the ceremony, and the aftermath

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When a man takes a wife and is intimate with her, and it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes because he discovers in her an unseemly matter, and he writes for her a document of severance, gives it into her hand, and sends her away from his house. She leaves his house and goes and marries another man -- Deuteronomy 24:1-2.

The "Get"

According to biblical law, a married couple is released from the bonds of matrimony only through the transmission of a bill of divorce from the husband to the wife. This document, commonly known by its Aramaic name, "get," serves not only as a proof of the dissolution of the marriage in the event that one or both wish to remarry, it actually effects the divorce.

G‑d, who prescribed a formula for the fusion of souls, also gave instructions how two souls can be severed.While Jewish law requires one to follow the law of the land, and thus necessitates a civil divorce as well, a civil divorce cannot serve as a substitute for a halachic (conforming to the strictures of Jewish law) get. Without a get, no matter how long the couple is separated, and no matter how many civil documents they may have in their file cabinet, in the eyes of Jewish law the couple is still 100% married.

Marriage is not merely an agreement between two individuals which can be dissolved at will, it is a union of souls. The same G‑d who prescribed a formula for the fusion of souls -- the formula followed beneath the wedding canopy -- also gave detailed instructions how these two souls can revert to a state of independence.

The Document

The get is a dated and witnessed document wherein the husband expresses his unqualified intention to divorce his wife and sever all ties with her. Click here for the text of the get document.

The get is written by an expert scribe acting as the husband's agent. Each get is individually tailored to the particular divorcing couple. One of the most important rules governing the writing of the get is the requirement that it be written specifically for the husband and wife who will be using it. This precludes the use of form documents.

Although technically the get can be written in any language -- provided it contains the key words and phrases mandated by Jewish law -- the universally accepted Jewish custom is to write it in Aramaic. It is also an age-old tradition for the get to be written in twelve lines (the numerical value of the Hebrew word "get"). The witnesses sign beneath the twelfth line.

The Transmission

The entire get procedure is performed in front of a beth din (rabbinical court consisting of three rabbis). Though technically only the presence of the husband, wife, and two witnesses is required to effect the divorce, practically, the get process is so complex that it cannot be done correctly unless done in the presence of experts in the field. In fact, rabbinic law automatically invalidates any get which was not written and transmitted in front of experts.

After the document is written by the scribe, the husband hands it to his wife in the presence of two kosher witnesses. At this point the marriage has been dissolved and the beth din will give both parties a certificate confirming their new marital status.

Rabbinic law automatically invalidates any get which was not transmitted in front of professionalsOn occasion, circumstances prevent the husband and wife from appearing together in a beth din. In such an instance, the husband can appoint an emissary to act in his stead and bring the bill of divorce to his wife. Or, alternatively, the wife can appoint an agent to accept the get on her behalf. The appointment of such an agent is a halachically complex procedure in of itself, and must also be done in the presence of a beth din.

A Mutual Agreement

A key requirement in the get process is the complete acquiescence of both parties to the proceedings. "And it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes" teaches us that the document is only valid if it stems from the husband's desire to divorce his wife.1

Originally the wife's consent wasn't required in order for her husband to divorce her. This changed approximately 1000 years ago when the noted German scholar, Rabbi Gershom "the Light of the Diaspora," prohibited a man from divorcing his wife without her approval.

Consent is only considered to be such when both husband and wife are sane and sober minded at the time of the divorce.

The Aftermath

Once the couple is divorced, they are encouraged to maintain minimal contact if any. The sages were concerned that the previous intimacy and comfort level that they shared with each other can lead them to behavior inappropriate for an unmarried couple. In fact, Jewish law places certain restrictions on the ex-couple from residing together in the same housing complex.

That said, the couple is not precluded from remarrying each other; in fact, it is considered to be a special mitzvah to remarry a divorced spouse.2

Footnotes
1.

Nevertheless, in a situation where the beth din determines -- based on halachic criteria -- that the woman has demonstrated sufficient grounds for divorce, the beth din is empowered to employ all measures at their disposal to compel the husband to "consent" to divorce his wife. For more on this subject, see The Agunah.

2.

Two exceptions to this rule: a) if the husband is a Kohen, in which case he is prohibited from marrying any divorcee, including his own. b) If the ex-wife marries another man in the interim. Even if her second husband divorces her or dies, she may never remarry her first husband.

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Anonymous NY July 26, 2017

Is the Get process the same for Ashkenazim and for the Sephardi? If there are differences, what would be the difference for Sephardi? Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org August 3, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

There is a misconception about differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Both keep the same Torah and Mitzvot, though there may be nuances of difference between the two. For example, both pray three times daily, though there may some different order in, or wording of, the prayers. Both will blow Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, though the Sephardi Shofar may be more spiral in form. Both marry under a Chupah, though what the Chupah is made of may be different. Even the so called big difference of eating legumes on Passover is also minor in comparison to everything about Passover we do in common - the Seder, eating Matzah, not eating nor possessing any unleavened. Similarly, though there are some differences in the Get, it is more of a scholarly nature dealing with how certain things are written, which the rabbi and scribe will deal with. Thus the articles about a Get, are the same for Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

Reply

Anonymous April 3, 2017

What are the acceptable Scriptural reasons for a divorce? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org April 5, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Although the Torah doesn't outright say that there needs to be a reason, divorce for no reason is usually discouraged. If the couple sees no way to reconciliation, then they don't need an actual "reason." Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org March 21, 2017

Wife refuses Get Yossi I am so sorry to hear about what you are going through - it is indeed surprising that no solution has been found to your predicament. Yet as perfect as a system may be, as soon as imperfect human beings are involved, there is a potential for things going wrong. Without knowing the particulars of your situation, I cannot even begin to consider what caused the breakdown of the system in your case. Hopefully, the both of you can resolve this very painful situation soon. Feel free to reach out to us privately via Ask the Rabbi, perhaps we can give you some suggestions. Reply

Yossi Australia March 16, 2017

Divorce In my case I have been told that I will never be able to divorce my wife, no matter how I seek to cut our ties... I have been separated from her for over seven years and because she refuses to accept the Gett, I have been told by the Beit Din... that I am stuck with her..... I find this totally unacceptable that jewish law doesn't find a solution for such a bizarre situation...... Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org September 20, 2016

Re: A question Often in the case of a missing husband, the rabbis will convene to declare the woman to be a widow based on evidence pointing to the husband's death. Reply

Tamara Canada September 20, 2016

A question What if the husband cannot be found? Can he be declared dead? In 1917 my grandmother remarried. Her first husband had disappeared leaving her stranded in England with three tiny children. We are seeking to know how she was able to remarry after four years having had no contact with her first husbad. Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org Los Angeles May 26, 2016

Child support and other post-divorce monetary obligations which are above that which is specified in the Ketubah are usually determined by the Rabbinical Court with the consent of both sides prior to the giving of the Get. Please see this link for more details about this and feel free to be in touch if you need assistance. Reply

Anonymous May 26, 2016

Are there any laws of alimony through a get? If there is no civil marriage. Please answer as soon as I can as I am lost in my situation. Thanks! Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org October 12, 2015

To: Marc Obtaining a Get is very important. You might not even need a signature from your ex-wife. The Beth Din can usually take care of it without you two even having to see each other.

I highly recommend that you take care of this as soon as possible. If you need assistance, I'll be happy to put you in touch with a rabbi. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org July 14, 2015

Re: When is a get not required? There are indeed situations like this in which a get might not be required. However, every specific case should be brought to a Rabbi who is an expert in these laws since the halacha can be different depending on the details.
Reply

Anonymous Sydney, Australia July 13, 2015

When is a get not required? Is a get required if two Jews marry in a civil ceremony but they never had a Jewish wedding or Ketubah? Reply

Anonymous USA May 4, 2015

Eliezer, "Thank You" for your response. I did follow your suggestion and contacted my attorney, She is Jewish. She researched my requested and advised that in general, most all courts do not recognize religious marriages seperately, as a clain to property, after a legal civil divorce is completed and all property issues are resolved. She did tell me some religous items could fall under legal claim, if one party claimed that the item was part of a religous requirement. There was a claim on a Grand Fathers Tefillin in NY and California also awarded a Bible, as a seperate claim, referencing that a Get was needed for one party to protect this property.
Would you please ask your associates again, about my basic question, if a Get is not obtained after a legal divorce is completed, is there any claim to property under a Jewish marriage alone.
Please advise, please respond, "Many Thanks". Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org April 29, 2015

Re: Legal Aspects Of Not Getting A Get You would need to speak to a lawyer about the validity of a Jewish marriage after a divorce, with no get. Reply

Anonymous April 29, 2015

Legal Aspects Of Not Getting A Get Please respond to my questions from earlier this month regarding legal aspects of not getting a Get. Mainly, does the wife have any legal claim to property upon husbands death, if a Get is not obtained but the couple is legally divorced and both persons re-marry. Does the Jewish marriage hold up in court?
Please advise. Many Thanks. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org April 21, 2015

To Anonymous in Vacouver A good place to start is in Maimonides's Laws of Divorce: www.chabad.org/957707 Reply

Anonymous vancouver April 20, 2015

Do you have sources for where we get the process of where we get the laws that surround the get and transmission. Reply

Mrs. Chana Benjaminson via mychabad.org March 12, 2015

To Anonymous Most opinions hold that a divorced woman should continue to cover her hair. In some cases there is room for leniency. It also may depend on the customs of the community you live in. The best thing would be for you to touch base with the local rabbi and talk to him about this matter. Good luck! Reply

Anonymous February 25, 2015

Once someone is divorced do they still need to cover their hair? Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC January 23, 2014

Re: How is this equal between husband & wife -The right of the wife to demand a divorce is as legally entrenched as is the right of the husband to demand a divorce. You can see this in detail here:

What you might be referring to is that the actual "get" document is given by the husband to the wife. This is because the get ceremony is a reversal from what happens in marriage when the husband enters into a sacred relationship by the ring that he puts on her finger.

-You refer to the Ketuba which is all about protecting the women and the responsibility the husband has towards her. You can read about that here. Reply

Anonymous CT January 21, 2014

How is this equal between husband & wife? "And it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes" teaches us that the document is only valid if it stems from the husband's desire to divorce his wife"

I am not Jewish. I am here researching what a friend of mine just went through. From my point of view, this is _not_ an equal dissolution if the man must be the source of the desire to divorce. This appears very much that it places the woman at a lower footing than the man in the eyes of your faith.

If marriage is an arrangement between two souls rather than two individuals, why would one soul / one opinion be placed at a higher standing just because of the gender that it's body / individual identity chooses to be in?

Also, I've heard in your faith that it is the husband's responsibility to make his wife happy. If that is true, where is his side of the contract seen in this situation?

I ask this question with an open mind & heart, in an interest in understanding your practice. Thank you. Reply

Dave Victoria September 8, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Hi there, I'm celebrating a divorce for a Jewish friend. Is there a traditional gift #mazeltov Reply

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