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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.