Exorcising the Get: A Ritual of Healing
The author created a ritual to exorcise the pain she experienced when she was required to receive her get with utter passivity.
Reprinted by permission of the author from A Ceremonies Sampler (Woman's Institute for Continuing Jewish Education), edited by Elizabeth Resnick Levine.
This past year, while engaged in a spiritual exercise, I discovered that my body, psyche, and soul still held within them an old pain: the pain of my divorce, which had taken place over 10 years ago in Israel. In the exercise, I found myself standing alone, unaccustomedly quiet, my feet firm on the ground. Then my arms rose and the palms of my hands opened flat, toward the ceiling. An inner voice told me that even my thumbs had to lie flat. As I stood like that, memory washed over me and I realized I was reliving the experience of the get [Jewish bill of divorce]. My belly was burning with a sense of humiliation that 10 years ago I never knew I felt.
The experience shocked me: The divorce, after all, was a thing of the past, and in 1987 I had remarried. I hadn't known I still bore the bruises of the get ceremony--nor did I realize how profoundly humiliating an experience that get ceremony had been. To undergo the ceremony and thus to be legally divorced in the eyes of Israel, where in 1970 we had married, I had returned to the Negev city of Beersheba, our former home. By the time we were ready to go through with the divorce, the pain of our severance had lessened, if not healed. At least neither of us questioned that the time had come for the divorce.
Remembering the Divorce Ceremony
In Israel it is the Orthodox Rabbinate to which one must go, and it is their ritual of divorce that one must undergo. The Beersheba Rabbinate is housed in a dusty old stone building, built by the Turks. We showed the rabbinical officials our identity cards, marriage certificate, and ketubah [marriage contract], and while the scribe wrote out the bill of divorcement--the get--according to ancient prescription, we drank espressos with tearful eyes in a local cafe. Hours later they were ready for us; we were ushered into the inner chambers where, cloaked in black, high on the bench above us like judges, the rabbis sat. How many rabbis were there I couldn't say--what memory does conjure up for me, though, is that one of them seemed to be nodding off, bored to near sleep.
And my costume, yes my costume, comes back to me, too: feeling strange in the heat, the headscarf hiding my hair, as they insisted; the skirt to my ankles; the long sleeves. Who was this woman dressed as if from another time, in this stony place, standing before these men who addressed only my husband and looked quickly away from me?
"And are you agreeing to this from your own free will? free of any pressure?" they asked him in their Yiddish-inflected Hebrew. For an instant I feared he would say, "No, I never wanted this, she wanted this, it's all her fault, I tried my best, make us stay married, make her come back…. " But he didn't, he said, "Yes." They nodded and handed him the get. The divorcing ritual could begin.