There is an obvious anomaly concerning the Get procedure,
an anomaly that is manifest in all countries outside Israel.
This is the reality that a Rabbi who is authorized by the
appropriate authority can supervise and finalize a marriage, with that marriage
being recognized by the state and country in which it is performed as legally
However, that very Rabbi, or other Rabbinic authority, is
as a general rule never given the right to terminate such marriage through the
In other words, a couple who is married by a Rabbi, and
through the marriage arranged by the Rabbi had both the religious and secular
requirements fulfilled, cannot terminate the marriage in that self-same manner.
When it comes to divorce, the religious and the secular do not meet. The secular
requirements for divorce must be finalized in a civil court.
It should be noted that until a few generations ago, a
religious divorce was recognized as valid by the courts. Marriage and divorce
(which was quite rare) were in the hands of the religious authorities until
relatively recently, when civil divorce became a possibility. Governments began
to legislate divorce laws, and now civil divorce is a generally prevailing
requisite even for those who receive a religious divorce.
Divorce as Havdalah
This means that when it comes to divorce, the couple must
go through two procedures. In addition to the secular divorce, the couple must
go through the procedure of a religious divorce, a Get. The religious divorce
serves to terminate the sanctity of the union at the other end, much as
havdalah, or the separation ceremony at the end of Shabbat (Sabbath) or
Yom Tov (Festival) brings to an end the sanctity of the special day.
Anything that is sacred is sacred at both ends. A sacred
day is sanctified at the outset via Kiddush (sanctification), and its
sanctity is terminated via a separation (havdalah), a disjoining of the
day from the ordinary. Sanctity does not evaporate on its own. Marriage too, as
a sacred union, is sanctified at both ends; through Kiddushin and
Nisuin (Sanctification and Uplifting) to bind the union, and a Get to
dissolve the union.
The Israel Reality
In Israel, a divorce which is finalized in Rabbinical Court
is recognized as binding, and accepted as divorce for all purposes. And, at the
risk of Israel becoming a Las Vegas or Mexico, a couple who goes to Israel and
resides there for the necessary length of time to establish residence by
prescribed statute, and then is divorced via a Rabbinical Court in Israel, could
then have that divorce accepted in other countries as the legally binding civil
The fact that the secular courts do not recognize the
Rabbinical Court when it comes to divorce is unfortunate, since such recognition
could alleviate the burden of the divorcing couple, and also significantly cut
down the legal expenses that are incurred at the time of the dissolution of the
marriage. Additionally, the prospect that a Rabbinical Court can dissolve the
marriage in all its aspects would serve to increase the chances that the couple
would divorce via Jewish law, rather than submit their claims and counterclaims
to a civil court, whose parameters of judgment often run contrary to Jewish law.
There is a critical difference between the divorce
procedure in a civil court, and the divorce procedure that unfolds in a
Rabbinical Court. In a civil court, the couple who seeks a divorce is pronounced
as divorced by the court. It is the court, through its power, which decrees that
the husband and wife are no longer a marital unit. However, in a Bet Din,
the supervising Rabbis are not the ones who pronounce husband and wife as
divorced. The divorce action is effected through the wife accepting the bill of
divorce, called Get, from her husband. The Rabbinical Court gives its imprimatur
to the fact that the divorce has been carried out properly, and that it is
therefore in effect. But they do not make a pronouncement by decree; they make a
pronouncement about an act that has taken place between the two litigants,
husband and wife.
This does not mean that the Rabbinical Court is a
non-participant in the events that unfold. They are quite actively involved, but
their active involvement is to assure and to ensure that the procedure of
divorce takes place properly.
The divorce, or Get procedure, is relatively simple. It
involves the husband instructing a scribe (sofer), in the presence of the
presiding Bet Din (Rabbinical Court), to write a Bill of Divorce, a Get, on his behalf, for his wife. The scribe undertakes this charge of the
husband, and writes the Get. The Bill of Divorce, the Get, is then given
by the husband to his wife in the presence of the Rabbinical Tribunal of three
individuals, and two witnesses to the actual transmission of the divorce from
the husband to the wife.
This, essentially, is the divorce procedure. However, there
are many attendant details that enter into the picture, and these should be
The Get Procedure Precise Requisites
Firstly, the scribe must write the divorce specifically for
the husband who is making the request, and for his wife. This must be the
scribe's intention. If per chance there is another couple in the city who come
for a divorce a few days later who by coincidence have identical names, this
divorce cannot be used for them, if for whatever reason it had not yet been
used. Each divorce is reserved exclusively for the couple for whom it had been
The Rabbinical Court, for its part, takes great pains to be
one hundred percent sure about the exact names of the couple that is involved.
The meticulousness with which this is approached is sometimes unnerving to the
couple, but is essential to the divorce procedure.
The couple must be aware even beforehand, that any
responsible Rabbinical Court takes the matter of divorce very seriously, and
looks upon the Get, as well as the procedure of transmitting the Get, as sacred.
It is sacred because it is via this Get that the mitzvah (commandment),
the obligation to separate via a Get, is fulfilled.
It does sound odd that to divorce one's wife is a mitzvah,
a fulfillment of a sacred obligation. However, it is not a mitzvah that one must
run after, such as the mitzvah to give charity, or the mitzvah to place a
mezuzah (parchment scroll of biblical excerpts), on one's door.
This is a mitzvah of a conditional nature, much along the
lines of the mitzvah to properly prepare an animal before eating it. If one
refrains from eating meat, then there is no reason to fulfill this commandment.
But if one desires to eat meat, then the only way to do so is via the prescribed
procedure known as shehitah, or ritual preparation of the animal.
Similarly, when the couple has reached the stage wherein
divorce is the only alternative, then it is a mitzvah to do so via a Get.
Marriage is holy, and its holiness endures to the very last moment, inclusive.
With Full Wits
The scribe, the sofer, who is to write the Get,
gives the quill, ink, and paper to the husband. The husband, having "acquired"
these basic ingredients for writing the Get, then gives these items back to the
scribe, asking the scribe to write "his" (the husband's) Get with his
(the husband's) materials.
A matter of overriding concern to the Rabbinical Court in
the granting of the divorce is the need to be reassured that both husband and
wife are involved in this procedure of their own free will. Questions will be
asked of both the husband and wife, to assure that the husband is giving the Get
and the wife is accepting the Get free from duress or coercion, and also free
from any sworn undertaking that may have the effect of being under duress or
This is vital because the element of free willingness in
divorce is critical.
The husband who delegates the scribe to write the Bill of
Divorce must assure the court that he is doing so with his full wits and with
his free will. Before the wife accepts the Bill of Divorce, she likewise must
reassure the court that she is accepting this Bill of Divorce of her own free
will, and is not being forced into it.
Proof of Divorce
The Get, which is a document written in Torah (Five Books of Moses on parchment scroll) type script on twelve lines, twelve
lines being the Hebrew numerical equivalent of the word Get (ג-gimmel
= 3, ט-tet = 9), is then given by the
husband to the wife. The wife takes the Get, lifts it up, and walks with it a
little bit to indicate having taken title to it. The Get is then read aloud by
the Rabbinical Court once again, it having been read previously in the divorce
procedure. It is then cut, to prevent its being used again, and put away.
The Get Procedure
Both husband and wife are then given a document which is
known as a ptur. This document, signed by all the members of the
Rabbinical tribunal, testifies to the fact that the divorce between the husband
and wife has been finalized, and each is free to pursue other marital
Often, the wife is disappointed that the very document
through which she has been divorced is not retained by her, as is the case with
the ketubah, but this is not an issue of concern. However, it does help
to know in advance that the document of divorce is not the document of proof of
The divorce procedure is relatively straightforward, and
when compared with the more complicated procedure that is involved in the civil
divorce, stands out for its relative simplicity. However, the fact that the
divorce procedure is relatively simple does not mean that it is not traumatic.
Experience has shown that the procedure, even though
entered into by the full agreement of the husband and wife, is a traumatic
event. It could hardly be otherwise. The divorce carries with it many
emotion-laden feelings, not the least of which is the feeling that so many years
of life have been wasted; that an investment in time and emotion has gone awry.
It is quite likely that even a spouse who is eagerly
looking forward to getting rid of a terrible mate will still be overcome with
emotion at the time of the divorce. This is so because it brings back all the
memories of the terrible marriage, and all that had been endured over a
protracted period of time.
Usually, the husband handles this situation with less
difficulty than the wife. This does not mean that the husband feels less
affected; only that often the male feels constrained to put up a brave front to
maintain the male macho image of imperviousness to emotional feelings. The wife,
on the other hand, almost invariably is emotionally overcome at the divorce
The Talmud urges the husband to be extremely sensitive to
the vulnerability of his wife, and to the reality that any pain that is
inflicted upon her may cause her to cry (Baba Mezia, 59a). This is an
ethical imperative within marriage that continues to the very end. Specifically
with regard to the divorce procedure, it speaks of the husband's obligation to
be sensitive to the wife's feelings at the time of the divorce.
Divorcing is painful enough as it is. The husband's
insensitive, callous, or biting attitude at that point in time only makes
matters worse, and is effectively a breach of his ethical responsibilities as a
husband, which do not end until after the divorce is finalized. The wife too
should avoid comments or gestures which pour salt on open wounds.
Jewish Divorce Ethics Court Sensitivity
Likewise, the Rabbinical Court must be singularly aware of
the sensitivity of the wife who is receiving the divorce, and must take great
pains to assure that the divorce procedure does not leave the wife permanently
traumatized, through her being treated more as an object than as a human being.
The Rabbinical Court has an obligation to properly carry
out not only the legal details of the divorce procedure; it must also be
attentive to the ethical, person-to-person responsibilities. The ways of the
Torah are the ways of pleasantness (Proverbs, 3:17). The ways of the Torah must
be so pleasant that even in unpleasant circumstances, they project an aura of
The members of the Rabbinical Court dare not, in their
attention to legal detail, overlook their obligation to human detail.
The Get Procedure Helpful Gestures
How can a Rabbinical Court help to make the divorce
procedure more pleasant? The first thing that the Rabbinical Court invariably
must do is to assure that the divorcing husband and wife feel comfortable. Inquiring of their welfare, asking how they feel, offering a glass of water, are
all helpful approaches which will personalize the encounter, and raise it up
from being a simple legal transaction.
Another helpful gesture on the part of the Rabbinical
tribunal would be to reassure the husband and wife that the procedure is harmless and painless. They should explain in advance the significance of the Get, the nature of the procedure and its importance, and exactly what will
take place during the procedure. Quite often, the anxiety of the woman in
anticipation of the divorce process is related to the normal anxiety associated
with venturing into the realm of the unknown. The divorce is traumatic even with
all its details known in advance. But with some of the unknown elements becoming
clear, the level of trauma is significantly reduced.
The Rabbis may, in advance, suggest to both husband and
wife that they each bring along a friend to be at their respective sides, and
reading material to help pass the time when the divorce is being written.
There is another interesting nuance to the Get procedure
which can serve to reduce some of the trauma. Especially in instances when the
divorce is less than amicable, it is possible for the husband and wife to take
care of their specific roles within the divorce procedure without actually
seeing each other.
In other words, the husband can delegate the scribe to
write the divorce, and at the same time also delegate an agent, who acts on his
behalf, as a surrogate husband, to deliver the Get to his wife. In this
way, the wife can be spared the further agony of having to confront the
estranged spouse during the actual delivery of the divorce. It should be noted
that Rabbinical Courts generally try to avoid this type of vicarious delivery.
This particular nuance within the divorce procedure is also
quite useful in instances when the husband and wife who have been separated now
live in different cities, such that the actual direct transmission of the
divorce is complicated. Sending it via the mail from the presiding Bet Din
for writing the divorce, to the Bet Din for the transmission of the
divorce, serves to overcome the geographic barriers, and makes a complicated
circumstance much more simple.
This type of approach to the divorce situation works on a
transcontinental basis, creating a global nexus whereby a Get can be
delivered from any place to any place.
In cases when the divorce is delivered to the transmitting
Bet Din, or other circumstances for which a surrogate husband is used,
there is documentation that is read in the course of the Get procedure,
verifying the appointment of a surrogate to act on the husband's behalf.
The divorce is final at the precise moment the wife accepts
the divorce. Sometimes, especially when the divorce is delivered in a different
city from where the Get was written, it may take a few days before the wife
receives the ptur document. However, she is effectively considered
divorced from the time of acceptance of the divorce document, the Get.
The husband and wife who have divorced are allowed to
remarry each other, as long as the divorcing husband is not a kohen
(member of the priestly family). A kohen is not permitted to marry a
divorcee. Even though here it would be the kohen reuniting with the woman
he himself divorced, he still is not permitted to remarry her. However, as long
as the husband is not a kohen, and the wife has not married someone else
after the divorce, the couple, if in fact they do reconcile, would be permitted
Under normal circumstances, the woman who is divorced may
not remarry for 92 days after the granting of the divorce. This includes the day
of transmission of the divorce plus the day of the marriage itself, so that
there is a full 90-day interval between divorce and remarriage.
Although this stricture does not apply to men, the rule is
in no way indicative of a bias against women. This proviso is a precaution to
prevent a case of dubious paternity.
Simply put, should the divorced wife become pregnant within
the next few months, having remarried almost immediately after the divorce, it
will be impossible to discern whether her child is a nine-month baby from the
first husband, or a seven-month baby from the second husband. Because the true
paternal partner will not be known, the child will be in the untenable position
of not knowing who is the real father.
That doubt will effectively deprive the child of the
paternal guidance the child needs throughout life, aside of course from the
child being deprived of the financial support that is the obligation of the
father. Each possible father can legitimately claim that it is the other one who
is the real father, and is the one who has the attendant financial obligations.
The child falls between the cracks.
In order to prevent this, the simple enactment of waiting
90 days before remarrying creates the time interval that assures precise
knowledge of who is the paternal parent. Should the divorced wife have a child
within seven months after remarrying, it will be obvious that this child is from
her second husband, since they had already passed through a three month
A major exception to this proviso concerning having to wait
after the divorce is when the divorcing husband and wife decide to remarry each
other. Should they remarry, they can do so even within those 90 days, since the
first husband and the second husband are actually one and the same. We therefore
know without doubt who is the father.
Under normal circumstances, aside from husband and wife
remarrying, the 90-day wait is a constant. The argument of the woman that she is
not pregnant, or that she is too old to conceive, is not considered relevant to
the issue. The reason for this is quite simple. We do not desire to delve into
the more intimate questions of a woman's internal status, and decide questions
of can she or can she not. By making this an across-the-board regulation without
exception, we protect the dignity of the lady involved, and do not investigate
matters which belong strictly in the realm of the personal.
Exception can be made in situations when the husband and
wife have been legally divorced or separated for a while, and the wife just
reminded herself that before she remarries she needs a divorce. In such
circumstance, the fact of the legal separation, though only from a civil law
perspective, may be separation enough to allow for a waiving of the 90-day
Do Not Delay
As an important aside, a couple who is divorcing should not
delay obtaining a Get. They may understandably give more attention to the civil side, and the settling of financial and custodial issues. However, they should
take care of the Get immediately, even before the civil procedure is finalized.
Either of the couple who waits until just before remarrying to obtain a Get risks dealing with a former spouse now possibly jealous of the other's newfound
happiness, and unwilling to contribute to it by being cooperative.
This, in general, is the divorce procedure, with its main
components and its main implications. The exact manner in which the procedure is
carried through is slightly more complicated, because there are many details
that must be satisfied, but the most important concerns in the carrying through
of a divorce are that it be done in strict conformity with Jewish law, and
according to the sensitivities that are a basic component of Jewish ethics.