A Jewish divorce goes something like this: After all attempts at reconciliation have failed, and the husband and wife have either been granted a civil divorce or have mutually agreed to seek one, they arrange to appear before a beit din, a Jewish court of law. The beit din consists of three rabbis, each of whom is an expert in the intricate laws of gittin, Jewish divorce.
Since Jewish divorce is not a decree of the court but rather a transaction between two parties, various authorities maintain that a single expert suffices. (The prevalent custom in America is to require only one rabbi.) In either case, a sofer (scribe) and two male witnesses must also be present. The wife will often bring along a friend to help her get through the trying time; so will the husband. The appointment with the beit din or officiating rabbi can be scheduled by one’s own rabbi, lawyer, or by the parties themselves.
Writing the Get
First the scribe must write the writ of divorce. Before he begins the actual writing, however, he makes a formal gift of his materials to the husband, who must authorize the writing of the get on his behalf. The husband lifts the writing materials and offers them back to the sofer, saying, “I give you this paper, ink, and pen and all the writing material, and I instruct you to write for me a get to divorce my wife.”
The sofer hand-letters the get, filling in the details such as the names of the two parties, the city, the time, and the standard text of the writ of divorce in which the husband attests to divorcing his wife and setting her free to marry any other man. It generally takes an hour for the scribe to write the get in Hebrew lettering, during which time the man and woman to be divorced usually wait in separate rooms.
Questioning the Participants
After the sofer finishes his writing task, he and the witnesses make a distinguishing mark on the get. The witnesses read the document and affix their signatures to it. One of the three rabbis of the beit din will then ask the following questions:
To the sofer:
- “Is this the get you have written?”
- “Is there any special mark by which you can identify it?”
- “Did the husband tell you to write the get?”
- “Were the witnesses present, at least during the time you wrote the first line?”
To the witnesses:
- “Did you hear the husband order the sofer to write a get for his wife?”
- “Is this your signature?”
- “Did the husband tell you to sign it?”
Then the get is read again.
To the husband:
- “Do you give this get of your own free will?”
- “Did you perhaps make a statement you may have forgotten that might cancel all other statements you made?”
To the wife:
- “Do you accept this get of your own free will?”
- “Have you made any statement or vow that would compel you to accept this get against your will?”
- “Have you made any statement that would nullify the get?”
To those present: “If there is anyone who wishes to protest, let him do so now.”
Delivering the Get
The husband then calls upon the witnesses to witness the delivery of the get. The rabbi tells the wife to remove all the jewelry from her hands and to hold her hands together with the palms open, facing upward, so as to receive the get. The sofer folds the get and hands it to the rabbi. The rabbi hands it to the husband who, with both hands, drops it into the palms of his wife [she has to be sitting on a chair and not wailing since it is forbidden to transfer the get to a woman who is moving.]. He says, “This is your get, and with it you are divorced from me from this time henceforth, so that you are free to become the wife of any man.” The wife holds up her hands with the get in them, walks a few paces, and returns.
She hands the get to the rabbi, who reads it again with the witnesses who are asked once more to identify the get and signatures. The rabbi pronounces an ancient ban against those who try to invalidate a get after it has been transferred. Then the four corners of the get are torn, so that it cannot be used again. It is placed in the files of the beit din for safekeeping, and the rabbis give each party a shetar piturin, a document of release, stating that the get from X to Y is effective, and each is now free to remarry.
If either of the parties cannot, or desires not, to be present, he/she can appoint an agent to stand in. The husband must place the get that he authorized and was written for him by the sofer in the hands of the agent, who proceeds to deliver the get to the woman or her agent on a day that is specified in the get. The laws of agency are quite complex, which is why the rabbis of the beit din prefer both parties to be present. Nevertheless, agents for the principals are used whenever necessary.
Excerpted with permission of the author from “Jewish Divorce Law” in Lilith Magazine, Summer, 1977.
Pronounced: SO-fair (ai as in hair), Origin: Hebrew, a scribe, one who transcribes religious works, especially the Torah.