The Parting of Ways
The Fundamentals of Jewish Divorce
“It is not good for man to be alone”
When G-d created the world, He looked “and saw that it was good.” Only one condition G-d declared to be not good: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Man and woman were blessed that they “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Married life was to be a union of equals. “I shall make for him,” G-d said, “a helpmate suitable for him.” For the Jew, the Torah created the climate for man’s greatest happiness, “Shalom Bayis, domestic tranquility.”
And yet, this highest state of Jewish blessing can fail. The Torah recognizes that the bonds of matrimony are sometimes to be severed. Where this is necessary, Judaism has established the institution of divorce. The Torah expresses the basic principles which may make divorce advisable or even mandatory. The Talmud lists and discusses many grounds, both for the husband and for the wife, which are sufficient for the granting of a divorce.
However, the radical step of divorce is never to be taken lightly. The Talmud states, “The altar of G-d weeps when a man divorces his wife.” All too often husband and wife separate on inadequate grounds where Rabbinic counseling could have brought them connubial joy and Shalom Bayis.
The Role of the Rabbi
The Rabbi, the spiritual leader in Israel, is an understanding and wise family counselor. Married people should learn to consult him, not when their decision to separate is irrevocable, but when they first feel that the blessings of married life are being jeopardized. It is when the minor disagreements and conflicts which may develop in many a home become serious that they need the objective wisdom of the Rabbi. The teachings of our faith can often bring back the blessings of G-d into a home about to be torn apart by a rift between husband and wife.
Where reconciliation is impossible and civil divorce proceedings have been instituted, it is essential that both parties consult an Orthodox Rabbi. There are problems and pitfalls of which attorneys are not aware, but which the Rabbi can solve and provide against before the granting of a civil divorce. lt is often too late to correct these matters after the civil divorce has been procured!
Get – Religious Divorce
Since a Jewish man and woman are married not only by the authority of the state, but through religious vows as well, a severance of their marital relations is not completed by the obtaining of a civil divorce alone. Indeed even where no religious wedding ceremony took place, a Jewish divorce is required. The couple is still bound to each other in the eyes of G-d . They are still husband and wife and may not remarry without a religious divorce.
The Jewish laws of marriage and divorce are not the same as their civil counterparts. These laws which concern family relations are most stringent , detailed and specific and are vital to the parties affected. None but Rabbis especially trained and expert in this field should undertake the preparation of a Jewish divorce. Jewish people should be alerted to this precaution.
In our days many men without training and without authority often undertake to arrange for a Jewish divorce. Such a divorce will not be accepted by a responsible Rabbi.
Such a divorce may not only leave the conflict between the parties unresolved, it may create new and even more serious problems. The task of obtaining a Jewish divorce should be entrusted only to an Orthodox Rabbi.
Importance of Obtaining a Get
Although a marriage may have been nullified in a civil court, a Jewish divorce may be indicated. Where the legality of a Jewish divorce is questionable, not only is the status of the parties to the divorce unresolved, but the religious legality of a subsequent marriage is in doubt. The wife, for example, may find herself forbidden by Jewish law to both the first and the second husband.
Furthermore, the illegitimacy of children born to both parties may lead to an ineradicable stigma and an uncorrectable impediment to their marriage. Only an Orthodox Rabbi and his Rabbinic Court (Beth Din) should therefore be engaged to arrange for the granting of a religious divorce. Only such a divorce will be accepted by all Rabbis and by Jewish communities everywhere.
The Get Document
The religious divorce is termed “Get.” The Get is a religious document of twelve lines of text. It bears the signature of two witnesses and attests to the termination of the state of marriage between the two individuals of the Jewish faith named in it.
In practice, a scribe (Sofer) is authorized by the husband to write the “Get” in his and his wife’s names. Two Jews are then authorized by him to sign this document. The Get is then delivered to the wife either by the husband himself or by his duly authorized agent in the presence of two witnesses. The entire procedure is performed in the presence of a Beth Din.
As the woman’s interests are protected in Jewish marriage so are they protected in Jewish divorce. In both cases, both parties must be of like mind and give their consent. As a general rule a Get requires the voluntary participation of both parties – the man for its preparation and delivery, the woman for its acceptance.
The Rabbi is usually most helpful in persuading an unwilling mate to cooperate in the fulfillment of the requirements of a Get, and in locating a party whose whereabouts are unknown. It is not mandatory that both parties be in the same city for a Get to be obtained. A properly authorized and written Get can be delivered in the city of the wife through a local Beth Din.
The above was written by Rabbi Moses Mescheloff.