Jewish Divorce

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am divorced and interested in remarrying one day in the hopefully not-too-distant future. My ex-husband is not religious and not too interested in doing a Jewish divorce, since in his eyes the secular divorce we had is sufficient. If I told him it’s very important to me, he would probably do it. I’d rather not go there at all if I don’t have to. In this kind of situation is it enough to go to a rabbi to get his blessing to get married or is it necessary to do what it takes to get a Jewish divorce?

In a Quandry

Dear In a Quandry,

The Torah says, “If a man marries a woman and lives with her, and it will be that she will not find favor in his eyes…and he wrote her a bill of divorce and presented it into her hand, and sent her from his house, and she left his house and went and married another man…”  

From this we learn that the only way the Torah allows a woman to marry another man, (as long as the first husband is alive), is by writing a “bill of divorce”, the one prescribed by the Torah, known in rabbinical literature as a “get”.  Myriad laws are learned from these short verses, and comprise an entire tractate of the Talmud called Gittin, or Divorce Contracts. 

Among some of the directives outlined in those pages are that the get needs be hand-written by an accomplished scribe, utilizing the same parchment, ink and quill employed to hand-write a Torah scroll.  A generic blank get cannot be produced to just fill in the appropriate information. The entire get must be especially written from start to finish by the husband or by a trained scribe who the husband appoints as his proxy to write it for him, for the sake of divorcing his wife. Furthermore, the get must be presented by the husband and put into the hands of his wife. This may be done either directly from his hands to hers or via an appointed messenger if they live in different locales, or if one of the two or both prefer not to be in the same room. 

The get is commonly written only after all other legal proceedings and/or monetary, custody and other decisions have already been made and a secular divorce decree is in force or in due process. This is in order to accord the get the finality that it represents. This is customary – but at times extenuating circumstances necessitate reversing the order. 

There is also an emotional factor that comes into play, with a lot of comfort when the entire process is completed with a religious act. A get can bring a profound feeling of closure to the relationship, as the couple feels, in a sense, that God has signed off on the process. In the Torah in the above verse the term for bill of divorce is “sefer kerisus”, which literally translates as “a book (document) of severance”. This connotes finality. 

 With the giving of the get, the spiritual ties are formally cut. It’s healing for this to take place after all other issues have been completed, rather than there still being matters lingering.

Another reason is that there is always the hope that as the couple is going through the complicated legal issues, they will have a change of heart, and decide to stay together. The Talmud says that the altar sheds tears every time a couple is divorced, as the altar is the place of peace, and the couple has suffered a deep division. Therefore, customarily the get is left for last, with hopes of reconciliation.

However, in a situation where it’s necessary to execute the get first, or concern that if it’s not done immediately then it might not be done at all — by all means the get should be performed before the other matters have been finished to ensure a kosher Jewish divorce.

The deeper perspective which emanates from this process is an insight into the holiness of Jewish marriage.  A Jewish marriage is called a kiddushin, a sanctification, which literally translates as “separateness”. The couple become separate from the rest of the world, sanctified, and as one flesh. This is a very sacred, hallowed state of being. The only way to sever that union of oneness is through a spiritual separation, the get, which the Torah very appropriately refers to as a “book of severance”. Once they have become as one, they can’t simply separate; they need to be severed, or cut apart to become separate again. Only after the get continues the verse , “and she left his house and married another man”. 

A divorce, the presentation of a get, although at times is necessary, it is considered one of the saddest of occurrences. The Talmud says that every time a get is given, “the holy altar sheds tears”. The Temple and its service was said to “bring peace between God and the world” and peace throughout the world. Conversely, a Jewish home with peace in the home is analogous to the Temple itself. The get, the severance of that holy convocation, brings that holy place and its altar to tears. 

On the other hand, a get is far from considered all bad. The section of the Mishna dealing with the laws of marriage (Tractate Kiddushin) appears after the laws of divorce (Tractate Gittin). Why would this be? Divorce is only possible after marriage, so Gittin should follow Kiddushin?!

The Talmud explains this ordering of the two tractates of the Mishna is, in fact, profoundly precise. It was ordered this way because the Torah provides the “cure before the sickness”! There are times that a marriage simply was not meant to be from the get-go. Other times the relationship may have eroded over time due to bad decisions or actions and a downwards spiral to the point of no return; the very union has become a type of sickness. When the relationship has arrived at the point of no return the get is there as the cure.

With what we have discussed, you can clearly see that the blessings of a Rabbi alone would not be sufficient to spiritually sever your connection with your ex. Although this process may be somewhat difficult for you, it is crucial and more than worth the investment of time and effort to receive a proper Jewish divorce, a get, because otherwise you will remain spiritually connected forever. The get will enable you to begin a fresh, new and joyous life. 


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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