Question: My wife and I are beginning the proceedings for a divorce. We want to get a Jewish divorce as well as a civil one. Our civil divorce will probably take a while to be finalized. Can we get a Jewish divorce while we wait for the civil divorce to go through? How long do get proceedings usually take?
Answer: I’m so sorry to hear about your divorce, Louis, but it’s good that you’re thinking about both the civil and the religious divorce. Traditional Jewish law doesn’t recognize civil divorces, so if you skipped the Jewish divorce, you would still be married in the eyes of Jewish law, and would thus be unable to remarry according to Jewish law. A Jewish divorce document is called a get, and according to Jewish law it must be given to the wife by the husband, though you will probably both have to speak to the rabbi in charge of your divorce proceedings ahead of time.
If you’re Reform, you may be able to skip the get. Many Reform rabbis do not require a get if you have a civil divorce, but it’s best to consult with your rabbi and see what he or she suggests.
I spoke to Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, chairman of the Joint Bet Din of the Conservative Movement, about the timeframe for your get. First, he recommended that you be in contact with a local mesader gittin, a rabbi who oversees gets. Start by asking your personal rabbi who he or she recommends for gittin (the plural of get).
Rabbi Rabinowitz also said that, “In general we will give a get before a civil divorce as long as they’ve begun the process [of getting a civil divorce] and they’re not living together in the same house.” This is to ensure that one does not give a get to a couple that isn’t committed to going through the process of divorce. And when asked how long the process of a get takes, he suggested that it has to do with how busy the mesader gittin is. If he isn’t busy, it can go quite quickly. From the time you contact the mesader gittin until the giving and receiving of the get can be just a few days.
I also consulted with the Chicago Rabbinical Council, an Orthodox organization that provides gittin services. Their website says that they prefer not to give a get before the civil divorce has been completed, but that under special circumstances they will make exceptions. You have to make an appointment with the CRC Beit Din (religious court) for the get ceremony, and the procedure itself takes about 1 1/2 hours.
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