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Mayim explains the Jewish tradition of a ‘get’

There are challenges and rewards to the religious way of releasing from marriage
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 08/10/2015 at 5:50 PM EDT

This is the third post in a series of articles by Mayim about her divorce. For all the posts, click here.

As a woman who is observant-ish and has led an observant lifestyle, divorce presents some very interesting challenges. I don’t know that I am yet ready to present my personal decisions about some of these challenges, but I wanted to share what the challenges are in hopes that other women might find them helpful.

Jewish weddings are held in a religious ceremony that has its own set of laws and rituals. A Jewish wedding is sealed with a ketubah, a marriage contract ensuring protection for the woman in case of mistreatment, neglect, or refusal of rights, such as–not kidding–the right to be sexually satisfied by your husband. Judaism is one of the first religions producing a document (thousands of years ago, mind you) that held the woman’s rights in any esteem, so it’s a very big deal.

A get is the legal way of releasing the husband from his contract. Historically, men could marry several women, so the main point was freeing her from the union. A get is a written document that has to be composed by a sofer (scribe) in the presence of a Beit Din (court of Jewish law). Ironically, men are the ones who grant a get, even if a woman is the one who initiates it. This has led to the circumstance of countless women being “agunot” or “chained women,” not allowed to be released from their marital contracts and, thus, unable in religious circles to remarry or have children without their children being deemed illegitimate if their husbands don’t want to let them be free. It’s a mess, and I actually narrated an amazing documentary about the lengths some women go to get a get. (It’s called Women Unchained.)

There are ways to protect yourself from becoming a “chained woman” and many Orthodox rabbis are creating halakhic prenuptials so that this situation does not happen. But let’s say you are not a religious woman. Why should you care about a get?

First of all, the halakhic prenuptial should be included in every ketubah, no matter the couple’s denomination, since you never know where you will end up religiously (really, you don’t), and it doesn’t hurt to have this extra tiny bit of protection just in case.

Second of all, civil divorce is lengthy and can be legally complicated and miserable, and a civil divorce is mainly nuts and bolts. Once you complete your divorce papers and child custody agreements, you are done and simply wait for your divorce to go through. In the State of California, we wait six months after filing for a divorce to be final.

In contrast, a get proceeding is one of psychological and emotional completion. A get is performed by a select group of rabbis who create a Beit Din, typically in a synagogue, and they complete the divorce in a historically and emotionally authentic environment. The term “closure” has never made more sense to me than in the get proceeding. It provides a tremendous sense of closure for both parties. Just as you are married according to the laws of Moses and Israel, so will you be divorced.

When people tell me, “Oh, I could never sit in a room with my ex for that amount of time. That’s ridiculous,” it makes me think of what a powerful thing it would be if throughout divorce proceedings, we almost-divorcees conducted ourselves in a manner which would eventually lead us to a get proceeding. Meaning, what if your interactions were all predicated on the fact that at the end of it all, you would sit in a room for 90 minutes and watch your divorce contract be written? Would you curse at each other as much leading up to it? Would you try and draw things out, or would you look for the simplest and kindest resolutions as you could? Wouldn’t it be great practice to be civil and polite considering all of the years you will have to be around each other if you share children?

The get process is the last joint venture you partake in as a couple, but it’s a great model for your future relationship, especially if you have kids together. I’m not advocating for sitting nicely and demurely in a room with a man who abused you or your children; I am simply pointing out that those cases aside, if you can’t imagine sitting for 90 minutes in a room with your ex, how do you intend to conduct yourself for the next years as you co-parent?

The get process, like much of Judaism, forces you to not run from grief. It’s the mourning process for your marriage, and just like the period of shiva, which Jews observe for the seven days following a death of a spouse, child, parent or sibling, the get allows you space to grieve, a place to put your grief, and a set of rituals designed to help you through it.

A version of this post previously appeared on Mayim’s blog on, June 12, 2013.

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