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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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Discussion (17)
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.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
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.
Anonymous
CT
November 17, 2013
FACING A DIVORCE
Well, after reading this, I must accept we will be facing a divorce in the few years. We have been married over 50 years and most of it has remained rather romantic, we had three arguments but after the kids ran off, we have been on an extended honeymoon, but I have to face that the end of our marriage is close. We both have serious health problems.

My problem is that my wife is still quite attractive, She deserves more than I ever gave her, I want her to start dating within a month of my demise. She thinks that would be improper. I think a Divorce party would give us proper closure that she could start dating, even day after our divorce, which won't cost much because our wedding was "til death do us part".

I think I'll get buried in an eastern "eunuch" outfit, so I can haunt her to get out and make out, if she even considers trying to become one of those miserable widows one see's wandering the streets.

I hope a divorce party could preclude all that.
Don
IDAHO
May 30, 2013
Cordial relations best for an only child
I would prefer not to have contact with my husband as it is very triggering but we are still co parenting, and to be completely estranged puts a burden on our only child that I do not think is fair.
Anonymous
NYC
May 28, 2013
Marriage
If a man doesn't get a civil divorce because of finances but gets a Jewish Divorce a "Get". Can he marry in a jewish union with someone else? Even though he is still married in a civil union?
Anonymous
March 2, 2012
an ouch
What can you do as a woman if romance that turned into marriage, was never what it was supposed to be?

What if you now fear remarriage?

How can you live a holy life?

What if what you wanted most in life was a family that was loyal / faithful?

and now you have no one to turn to
Anonymous
Westerville, OH/USA
September 15, 2011
Re:
The Torah mentions how a wife must take ownership of the get, hence, she lifts it up and walks with it a little bit to indicate having taken title to it.

It is then cut, to prevent its being used again, and put away.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
September 14, 2011
the 'ceremony'
I, thank G-d got divorced 4 years ago. The 'ex' was a dictator. The ceremony in which the papers were handed me was bizarre. If anyone could explain to me I'd be grateful. After the scribe had finished his work, we both had to go into the room when one rabbi was. the document was folded, and a corner cut he took it, placed it back on the table, I then had to pick it up put it under my armpit and walk to the door and then walk back to the bench and put it back! Why this strange series of events? I just couldn't wait to get out of there and screamed in relief when it (ceremony and marriage ) was all over.
O J
January 20, 2011
Purpose of Appearing Together/ Post Get Relations
I would rather not have my husband there when I am handed the Get. Does this mean my neshama/soul is not officially free? The marriage is not actually dissolved in a Kosher way?

We want to be civil and friendly for the sake of our only daughter. I understand the dangers of this in that it makes it harder to separate emotionally, but isn't it better for the children to have two parents who can be in the same room together without conflict, as co-parents??
Anonymous
NYC, NY
August 21, 2010
A reform rabbi said.....
I received a get via a Comservative rabbi. The get was written by an Orthodox scribe. This is the best situation I could for which I could obtain. (There were no children from the marriage.)

A Reform rabbi told me that he would perform my marriage service at my 2nd marriage. I have been divorced for over 10 years from my first marriage.

This is the only area in which I believe that the Orthodox community is wrong. The civil divorce (the law of the land in each of the 50 states in the USA) should be sufficient to allow a Jewish person to remarry. For example, the various Christian denominations don't require 2 divorces regarding 1 marriage.. To require 2 divorces regarding 1 marriage is unfair to men, women and the families.
Anonymous
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