General Note:

Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: "One who is not well versed in the laws of divorce and marriage should not involve himself in such matters." Rabbi Asi repeated in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: "[Those who disregard this directive] are more destructive than the generation which caused the great Flood..." — Talmud, Kiddushin 6a.

Presiding over a divorce is a very solemn task, with possibly grave consequences if the process is not executed exactly is dictated by Jewish law. A minor detail done incorrectly could invalidate the divorce, and can result in the illegitimate "re"-marriage of an innocently unsuspecting — but technically fully married — individual. In fact, considering the seriousness of the proceedings, many rabbis will fast on the day when they preside over a divorce.

The divorce proceedings are quite tedious — the entire procedure lasting a number of hours. This, too, is a result of the seriousness of the event. No trivial detail is overlooked; the time is taken to double and triple check to ensure that the document and everything associated with the divorce is written and executed flawlessly.

The Place and Time

Time is taken to double and triple check to ensure that the get written and executed flawlesslyThe entire get procedure is performed in front of a beth din (rabbinical court consisting of at least 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. Because of this reason, rabbinic law automatically invalidates any get which was not written and transmitted in front of experts.

Ideally the divorce proceedings must take place during daylight hours. Divorces are not scheduled for Shabbat and major Jewish holidays when writing is prohibited, or Rosh Chodesh (semi-festive days inaugurating the Jewish new month). Nor is it recommended to schedule the proceedings for Fridays or the day preceding a major Jewish holiday — considering that on these days people are pressured and hurrying, and lack the presence of mind for the necessary composed deliberations.

Depending on the circumstances, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the marriage, the beth din may request the couple to undergo marriage counseling before proceeding with the divorce.

Preliminary Tasks

Before starting with the actual proceedings, there are several important facts which the rabbis must verify:

  • The husband and wife are questioned regarding their willingness to go through with the divorce. The rabbis must be convinced that both of them fully acquiesce to be divorced.
  • Time is spent to verify the exact names of the couple, as well as their nicknames, and the names of their fathers. It also must be determined whether the husband, or the father of the wife, is a Kohen, Levite or Israelite. All this information is included in the get document, and must be one hundred percent accurate.
    The parties are also asked whether either one of them is adopted. This would obviously affect how their lineage is written in to the get.
  • The rabbis find out whether the couple is of Ashkenazi or Sephardic descent. There are several details of the get which are subject to a difference of custom between the two groups.
  • The rabbis ascertain that there is no filial relationship whatsoever between the witnesses, rabbis, scribe, and the husband or wife — or between each other.

Before starting with the proceedings, there are several important facts which the rabbis must verifyThe husband is notified of the costs of the divorce proceedings — the imbursement due to the rabbis and scribe as well as any other ancillary costs.1 In many instances, the costs of the proceedings are equally divided between both parties.

The husband is then asked to release any vow he may have made with regards to divorce. Whether he vowed not to divorce — an obvious problem — or vowed to give a divorce — which constitutes a compulsion to do so, and hence is a problem too — he asks the rabbinical court to release him of all such vows, and the court does so.

[For the convenience of all the parties involved, most beth dins that administer divorces have all the speaking parts printed up on papers or placards.]

The husband is then requested to make a declaration wherein he annuls any statement he may have made which could harm the divorce. This process is called "bittul moda'ah."2

The rabbis then call for a scribe and two witnesses,3 all three of them upstanding and G‑d fearing individuals.

According to Jewish law, the witnesses must be "righteous" men. The rabbis therefore request of them to take a moment to repent for any misdeeds they may have done. In certain communities it is customary for the witnesses to recite the viduy (confession) normally reserved for Yom Kippur.

The Writing of the Get

The verse stipulates that "he — the husband — writes for her a document of severance."4 Therefore the husband must verbally appoint the scribe to be his proxy before he starts penning the document. Furthermore, the supplies used to write the get must belong to the husband, therefore, before writing the get, the scribe transfers ownership of the paper, quill and inkwell to the husband. The husband lifts up these materials, thus completing a legal transfer of ownership, and then hands them back to the scribe.

Before doing all the above the husband asks the witnesses to listen as he appoints the scribe to be his agent, and asks them to watch as he gives him all the implements — not as a gift, but merely for use in writing the document on his behalf.

The husband then verbally appoints the witnesses.

The rabbis then instruct the husband not to speak anything related to the divorce until after the get is handed to his wife, lest he inadvertently say something which can invalidate the proceedings.

The scribe notifies the witnesses that he will be writing the get as the husband's agentThe scribe then uses a sharp tool to etch twelve horizontal lines on the paper, which will guide him when he writes the get. Beneath the twelve lines he etches two small lines, where the witnesses will attach their signatures. He also etches margin lines on the two sides of the paper.

The scribe notifies the witnesses that he will be writing the get as the husband's agent, and while having in mind the particular man and woman for whom it is intended. He then commences his task, writing the entire documents without interruptions. At the very least, the witnesses have to see the scribe writing the first line of the document. The rabbis then inspect the document, ensuring that all was written according to exact specifications.

The witnesses read the document and sign it.

The rabbis then question the scribe and the witnesses, asking them to verbally affirm that every detail was done correctly. When the rabbis are confident that this is the case, they and the witnesses read the get aloud, slowly and clearly.

At this time, the rabbis request again of the husband to declare that he annuls any statement he may have made which could harm the divorce.5 The wife, too, is asked whether she agrees to accept the get, and she responds in the affirmative.

The Ketubah

The wife now produces her ketubah (wedding contract). The wife is then asked to absolve her husband of the ketubah debt. Instead, a financial agreement which meets the wife's approval is worked out. The ketubah is then torn.

The Administering of the Get

The rabbis notify all those present regarding an ancient cherem (excommunication) imposed upon anyone who casts aspersions on the legitimacy of a get after it is given. Anyone who has any reason whatsoever to doubt the validity of the get is asked to present his misgivings now, or forever hold his silence.

The get is folded in a special way which will allow the entire document to fit in to the woman's hands when it is handed to her. The document is handed to the husband, and its contents are explained to him, as well as the significance of the act he is about to perform. He is instructed what to say when he gives the get, as well as what he is to be thinking when he hands over the get — that he is unconditionally releasing her from her marital bonds. The witnesses are positioned so that they will have a perfect view of the transmission of the get.

The rabbis inform both parties that this is not "the end"; rather it is the beginning of a new pathThe woman is instructed to remove all rings, Band-Aids, or anything which would constitute a separation between her hands and the get — for the Torah says, "and he gives it into her hand." She is told to hold both hands beside each other, cupped, palms up, fingers slightly raised.

The husband holds the get and says:

"This is your divorce. Accept this document of divorce and with this you are divorced from me from here on. You are now permitted to marry any man."

The man then allows the get to fall in the woman's hands.6

The woman is instructed to close her fingers around the document and to lift it up. She then puts it under her arm and walks four cubits (approximately 6 feet).7

The Conclusion

Once again the rabbis cross-examine the scribe and witnesses to ensure that all was done properly.

The get is then cut in a specified manner, and filed in the beth din archives. The man and woman are both given an official document which certifies that they have undergone a halachic divorce.

The woman is notified that she may not remarry for another 92 days.8 The rabbis also caution them against maintaining any further involvement with each other.

Lastly, the rabbis inform both parties that this is not "the end"; rather it is the beginning of a new path, a path which will hopefully bring peace and contentment to both of them.