By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I am divorced and interested in remarrying one day in the hopefully not-too-distant future. My ex-husband is not religious and not too interested in doing a Jewish divorce, since in his eyes the secular divorce we had is sufficient, but if I told him it’s very important to me, he would probably do it eventually. I’d rather not go there at all if I don’t have to. In this kind of situation is it enough to go to a rabbi to get his blessing to get married, or is it necessary to do what it takes to get a Jewish divorce?
—In a Quandary
The Torah says: “If a man marries a woman and lives with her, and it will be that she will not find favor in his eyes … and he wrote her a bill of divorce and presented it into her hand, and sent her from his house, and she left his house and went and married another man…” (Deuteronomy 24:1-2).
From this we learn that the only way the Torah allows a woman to marry another man is by a “bill of divorce,” known in rabbinical literature as a get. Myriad laws are learned from these short verses and comprise an entire tractate of the Talmud called Gittin, or Divorce Contracts. Among some of the directives outlined in those pages are that the get must be hand-written by an accomplished scribe, utilizing the same parchment, ink and quill employed to hand-write a Torah scroll. A generic blank get cannot be produced with information filled in. The entire get must be especially written from start to finish by the husband, or by the scribe whom he appoints as his proxy, for the sake of divorcing his own wife. Furthermore, the get must be presented by the husband and put into the hand of his wife. This is done either directly or via an appointed messenger if they live in different locales, or if one or both refuse to be in the same room.
Although there are exceptions, the get is commonly written after all other legal proceedings and/or monetary and other decisions have already been made and a secular divorce decree is in force. This is to give the get the finality that it represents. The word in the Hebrew text of the above verse for “bill of divorce” is “sefer keritut,” which more literally translates as “a book [document] which cuts them apart.” This means finality.
The deeper meaning is that a Jewish marriage is called a kiddushin, a sanctification, which is more profoundly and directly translated as “separate.” The couple become separate from the rest of the world, sanctified, and as one flesh. This is a very sacred, hallowed state of being. The only way to break that oneness is through a spiritual separation, called the get, which the Torah very appropriately refers to as a “book which cuts them apart.” Only after the get can the above verse continue — “and she left his house and married another man.”
A divorce, the presentation of a get, is considered one of the saddest occurrences. The Talmud says that every time a get is given, the holy altar sheds tears. On the other hand, the Talmud points out a fascinating observation. The Mishnah dealing with the laws of marriage is written after the laws of divorce. Why would this be? Divorce is only possible after marriage! The Talmud explains that the Torah wanted to provide the cure before the sickness. There are times that a marriage is not meant to be, or allowed, at times by wrong decisions or actions, to decay and spiral downward to the point of no return, so that the very union has become a type of sickness. The get is already there as the cure.
Although it might be somewhat difficult for you, it is well worth the investment of time and effort to receive a proper Jewish divorce, which will disconnect you spiritually and enable you to begin a fresh, new and joyous life.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.