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Getting a Get

A secular divorce is insufficient for an observant Jew. After a secular divorce, in order to subsequently marry a religious Jew, they must first obtain a “Get” or Jewish Bill of Divorcement. Ironically, the Get is a “no fault” document. Jewish divorce must originate with the husband (unless otherwise agreed), as only a man may authorize a scribe to write the divorce, and further, to request two other religious Jews to witness the document. Failing to obtain a Jewish divorce may leave a Jewish woman unable to marry another religious Jew – or to suffer the fate of being considered an “agunah,” or one who is permanently unable to marry, frequently treated as an outsider and shunned by other religious Jews because of her ghastly status. Agunot are considered to be “chained women.”

For most Jews, the marriage begins with a Ketubah – a Jewish marriage contract. It is a legal document, frequently written in Aramaic, and beautifully decorated. The Ketubah functions as a premarital agreement, spelling out the rights and obligations of each party to the marriage. Ironically, divorce was contemplated even in early Ketubahs, as such documents not only set out dowry, but what the wife was to receive in the event of divorce. At a religious Jewish wedding, the wife is often asked to march around her husband seven times – symbolically breaking all of his other ties to the community, as the connection between spouses is second only to their devotion to God. In a Conservative Ketubah, there is now often language that provides that if ever the marriage is dissolved through a secular divorce, either party may invoke the authority of the Beth Din, or Rabbinical Assembly, to grant a Jewish divorce.

The Get process may take place in a rabbi’s office. If the parties reside in different cities, or if there is conflict between the parties, the process may either take place in the party’s respective cities of residence, or via proxy or power of attorney. The process traditionally includes:

  • The Husband requesting a Get, and initiating the process. The cost is nominal, frequently under $500 (often taking the form of a donation to the shul or synagogue where the ceremony takes place).
  • Empaneling a Beth Din, or Sanhedrin, typically consisting of a panel of at least three religious men, to act as a tribunal.
  • An acknowledgement that each party understands what is going to happen, and is acting of their own free choice, without duress or coercion.
  • The Husband’s authorizing the scribe to write the document.
  • The standard Get is a twelve line document, hand written by the husband or the husband’s agent, written purposefully for this husband, this wife, and for the express purpose of effecting a divorce.
  • The writing, witnessing, and delivery are strictly prescribed by Jewish Law. Since according to Jewish Law a marriage is valid until the death of one of the parties or until there is a Jewish divorce, a Get is necessary to dissolve the marital bonds between two living partners. Neither partner may remarry in the absence of a duly executed Get.
  • The Get is delivered by the husband into the hands of the wife in a ceremony in the presence of a Beth Din (Rabbinical Court). The wife is to present truly with “clean hands” – no jewelry to sully her acceptance of the document.
  • For a truly “kosher” divorce, just as one rents or tears the material over one’s heart (now symbolically done with a black ribbon, worn over the heart during the shiva process upon the death of a loved one), so the head of the tribunal tears the final document, to reflect that the broken hearts have been divided and set free.
  • Once delivered, the Get remains in the archives of the Mesadder Gittin (officiating rabbi), who will issue a certificate of Jewish Divorce (Hebrew: P’tur) to the husband and wife, attesting that they are free to remarry.
  • Orthodox and Conservative rabbinic organizations have educated and certified some rabbis to act as a Mesadder Gittin, a rabbi learned in the laws and procedures of writing and delivering a Jewish Bill of Divorcement, or Get. The Mesadder Gittin can be contacted by either party to the divorce, or, often, by a rabbi who is helping the couple through this process.

A Jewish Get may be obtained locally, or through Kayama.org, among other resources.

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