HMS 5765-27: Judaism and Divorce II: The Procedure of Divorce

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

April 11, 2005 – Number 5765-27

Judaism and Divorce II: The Procedure of Divorce

Until modern times, the procedure for Jewish Divorce was performed on the same day. The initiation of the Get, the writing of the Get, the delivery of the get was all done with all the parties present. Today, for many reasons, we have divided the process into three distinct parts that happen at three different times. Thus it can take up to a month to complete the process, and yet this should be viewed as a step forward in Jewish ritual. Let us examine the three parts and then we will discuss the change.
The initiation of a get can be done by either the Husband or the Wife by going to a Rabbi and asking for a Get. It is that simple. Most Conservative Rabbis will not write a get themselves, but have associated themselves with an expert in Gittin (the Plural of Get) called a “Messader Gittin”. Each Messader Gitten has a form that will need to be filled out. The information required is simple. We need the English name of the Husband and Wife, and all other legal and nicknames that both of them use on a regular basis (i.e. Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby or Elaine, Elly, El, Lanie etc.) We will need the Hebrew/Yiddish name for the Husband and Wife as well as the Hebrew name of their Father. We will also need each father’s English name and all the legal and nicknames that the father uses on a regular basis. We will need to know if either party is a cohen or levi, if either party converted to Judaism. We will need the address and phone number of both the Husband and wife. We will need to know the date of the civil divorce and when and in which court it was recorded. We will need the English and Hebrew name of the Rabbi who will be delivering the Get. This may be the same Rabbi who is being called to initiate the get but if the wife is in a different city, it may be her Rabbi or a Rabbi who lives close by.
The Rabbi will also collect the money to pay for the Get at this time.
Before the information can be sent to Mesader Gittin, to write the Get, the Rabbi must call in the Husband and have him sign the form that he understands that a Get will be written and that he authorizes this writing and will not, in the future, rescind this authorization. His signature must be witnessed by two qualified witnesses that are not related to the Husband ( Usually the Rabbi and someone from his congregation will serve as witnesses). All of this is sent to the Mesader Gittin.
In the second part, the Get is actually Written. The Messader Gittin calls together a Bet Din, a Rabbinical Court that will oversee this Get. They commission a scribe to write the Get itself. The get is written on parchment with a quill pen. By tradition it has twelve lines. It states the location where the get is being written, not only the name of the city but a nearby mountain or river that will help locate the get. The language is basically the reverse language of the ketuba, the wedding contract. And states that the husband and wife are no longer in a “sanctified” relationship. It is signed by two witnesses from the Bet Din. A get is folded in a special way for delivery. Another form, a Haarsha-ah is created to identify that Get. It contains the names of those in the get and also a code by which the Get can be identified. It names the Messader Gitten as in charge of its delivery and any other Rabbis who will aid in delivering it. A blank form, “Record of Delivery” is enclosed with the Get and the package is sent to the Rabbi who will be delivering the Get.
The Rabbi who will deliver the Get then calls in the Wife. He also calls together a Bet Din of three people who are not related to the Husband, Wife or the Rabbi who is delivering the Get (The Rabbi is the Shaliach or Messenger of the original Bet Din from when the Get was written). The wife may bring a friend or relative to accompany her. First, the identity of the wife must be established by ID or if she is personally known to the Rabbi. Next the Hasha-ah and the Get are examined to make sure that the right Get is to be delivered. The main concerns about delivery are that the right people and the right Get come together. If not the couple are still married and that would be a disaster! Great care goes into making sure that all parts of the delivery are correct. The Get is read aloud, re-folded and given to the Shaliach. The Wife takes off any rings she is wearing and stands up. The Shaliach makes a declaration that by accepting this Get from her Husband she will be divorced and free to remarry if she chooses. He places the get in her cupped hands, and she walks a few steps toward the door to indicate that she has accepted the Get. She then gives the Get to the Bet Din who fill out the Record of Delivery form and return the entire package, Get, Haarsha-ah and Record of Delivery, to the Messader Gitten. When the Messader Gitten receives the package, he cuts the get to indicate it has been delivered, and issues a “patur” to the Husband to the Wife indicating that the divorce is finished and both are free to remarry. This patur will need to be shown to the Rabbi who will perform any future wedding.
Because the Get is a form of divorce, than any financial issues must also be resolved. We wait to deliver a Get until after the Secular divorce is final so all financial issues are resolved. When either the Husband or Wife refuse to accept the Get, the Get can not go forward. Such a couple remain married and can not remarry until the Get is delivered. Do not think that this can be used by one party to blackmail the other. There are ways for both the Husband and Wife to end the marriage without permission. These procedures are longer and harder but can be done. It is far simpler and easier for everyone when both parties, who already have a civil divorce, take care of the Jewish Divorce at the same time.
We can see how much easier it would be if all three parts of the process were done at the same time. It would take a few hours but we would need only one bet din and the Messader Gittin would not need a Shaliach. And yet, given modern divorce there are good reasons to divide the ceremony. First, often the Husband and Wife are no longer speaking to each other (or are not speaking civilized to each other) and it is better to keep them apart to prevent additional insults. Second, in our modern times, the Messader Gitten can be half way across the country and we can move the Get by overnight courier which helps make sure that the Messader Gittin for each community is qualified and well trained. We do not need the less qualified Rabbi just because he is in town. Finally, when the Husband and Wife were together, many Rabbis would try and reconcile the couple before they would write the Get. This was a major insult to both parties, who, having completed the Civil Divorce, were no longer interested in being together. It was particularly difficult when one of the parties was the victim of domestic violence. This three part process insures that each party is treated with dignity and there is little space for venting anger and resentment..

Next week: When Passover Falls on Saturday Night

Brenda Horowitz asks:
Is the concept of pikuach nefesh to be invoked only when the person is facing certain (or near certain) death? Or can it also be applied to circumstances when the contemplated action will improve the person’s quality of life . . . or perhaps even when it will only serve to make the person more comfortable?
I reply:
Pekuach nefesh, saving a life, applies only when the person is in danger of his or her life. Even if the danger is suspected or not certain, we take the course that will certainly prolong life. Improving the quality of life or making the person comfortable fall under the category of medical healing which is required by Jewish law if the person will have a greater quality of life or if that person can be made more comfortable

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