Get What? Ending a Jewish Marriage Is More Than a Civil Issue

Uncategorized Aug 18, 2020

As a woman who is observant and has led a somewhat observant lifestyle (except for a crab or lobster roll here and there), divorce presented an interesting hiccup.  You see, in Judaism it takes a lot more than lawyers, a judge and a final divorce decree to declare your divorce is final.  It involves uncoupling in the eyes of G-d via a get, or a divorce document, handed to the woman by the man in front of witnesses and a Jewish court.  And with it comes a lot of old school of thought challenges, outdated customs plus a spiritual “cutting of the cord” that changed me from that day forward.

When a Jewish woman and man get married, part of the wedding planning process involves picking out a ketubah, or a Jewish marriage contract.  The ketubahis signed before the ceremony, and its purpose is to outline the rights and responsibilities of the groom to his bride. It is typically framed like a work of art and displayed in your home – I always joked it was a reminder to him about the dowry my parents paid him to marry me.  And because I cannot read Hebrew, I was always a little skittish about what elsewas in that contract.  Little did I know it was actually meant to protect ME. In fact, Judaism is one of the first religions to have a document that held women’s rights in any esteem, so I would say that is quite a big deal! And to be completely honest, it was something I was told to do and it meant a lot to my religious family.  So, I complied as I always did (even though I was an adult) and added it to the wedding to-do list.  Little did I know, or even think about at the time, that this ketubahwould be something I would have to undo once I filed for divorce.

On the day when I told my family that my sixteen-year marriage was ending in divorce, my mother reminded me that we will also need to get a get.  I remember saying to her “get a what?”  She reminded me that we not only needed to be divorced according to the civil laws of the state of California, but also in the eyes of G-d.  Divorce was messy enough – and here my family is adding one more thing to my divorce to-do list.  I was already so overwhelmed, frustrated and sad about dividing 16 years of our marriage on paper.  And even when my civil divorce judgement was filed, I didn’t feel much different.  I remember calling my best friend telling her it was done, but in the same sentence said “I don’t feel any different. Why don’t I feel a release?  Why do I feel so sad?”  She reminded me that the emotional process had always been different for me, and perhaps it needed time to sink in. 

As I struggled to answer these questions, my mother called to check in and see how I was doing, which she did often.  Our energies have always been in sync and we know when something is going on with the other.  Call it mother/daughter intuition.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve always recognized it as our special spiritual connection.  And thankfully she is really good at reminding me to do things, because she has that sixth sense to know that sometimes I get busy and forget (I know many of you can relate).  But in this case, I was grateful. Because that day she asked me if I made the appointment for the get. Yikes, no.  I hate telling my mom I forgot to do something . . . so I said I would do it as soon as we hung up the phone.  I contacted my rabbi, who explained my next steps of the get.  He connected me to another rabbi, who would create a Beit Din, or a Jewish rabbinical court, which would complete the divorce in a historically and emotionally relevant ceremony.  I had no idea how much closure the getwould bring me at the time, but I felt a spiritual need to complete it as soon as possible.  So, the appointment was made and the check was written. I notified my ex-husband of the date he needed to be present to complete our divorce according to the laws of Moses and Israel. 

At the time, in my mind, I was simply checking a box.  A box governed by the law of Judaism . . . and my parents.  I knew how much it meant to my mom and, to be honest, even though I had no intentions at the time of ever getting remarried, what if I change my mind?  This will give me the choice to re-marry and by a rabbi.  Kind of like an insurance policy.  So why the heck not!  Just in case.

When the day arrived, I was so nervous.  Unsure of what was going to happen.  How I would feel and react to seeing my ex-husband again.  We don’t see each other often and when we do it is because we are dropping off the kids or at a sporting event.  Even then we do not speak with one another.  Will I have to sit next to him?  Will I have to face him?  The anxiety was building in my stomach as I drove to the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.  I made my way to the basement where the rabbi’s office was located.  I was the first to arrive, and tried the door.  It was locked.  Good, it will give me time to meditate and breathe.  Deeply.  I asked my angels for guidance and support, to be with me no matter what.  And all of a sudden, the anxiety was washed away and instead I was wrapped in the warmth of warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold day.  I was not alone. 

Within minutes, the rest of the clergy arrived along with my ex-husband. Ninety minutes in a room with him, the rabbi, two witnesses and a scribe.  It was like a scene out of a movie you watched in history class about the “old days.”  I remember looking around the room and thinking to myself “how did I get here?” And I was reminded this was my choice. I listened to my gut and respected myself enough to do what was best for me.  Tears started running down my face.  Tears of sadness, grief and joy.  In the background I heard Hebrew and English, interchangeably.  I turned away from the table and tried to wipe them discreetly so my Ex wouldn’t see the emotion I felt.  And then I decided I didn’t care.  Let him see this is authentically how I feel.  That this is me - me in grief.  I am not hiding or running from it anymore.

After confirming my ex-husband and I were uninterested in reconciling or working on our marriage, the get ceremony began.  The last venture we will partake in as a couple.  Much of the ceremony is the husband speaking in English and Hebrew along with the rabbi.  And after confirming our Hebrew names and those of our parents, the Scribe began to hand write our geton parchment with an ink quill. No joke.  I felt transported to another time and place.  He was so precise with every letter, making sure not to touch one letter to the next or it would be void.  We sat in silence as this took place for at least 30 minutes.  During that time, I sat there and watched the Scribe closely.  And I kept thinking how fascinating the world is.  Judaism is.  And how the meaning behind this ceremony is so important.  I didn’t understand it until that moment. 

For the two years prior to that day I had struggled with letting go, spiritually, of my ex-husband.  We had been together for 22 years and I know we had also been in past lives together. No matter how many energy healers I saw, nothing worked.  I still felt connected to him.  And suddenly in this room, as the Scribe was writing, I began to feel a release. I felt it in my chest which made breathing easier and my heart was inflating with blood, pumping at a normal pace and with warmth again.  I could feel my angels supporting me, hear them tell me it was almost over.  To stay in the moment and feel what was needed to move on in this life. 

Once the Scribe was done he passed it to the rabbi to approve and then to the witnesses to sign.  The rabbi was the last to sign the document and he carefully folded it up in a way that symbolic and established by our ancestors for many generations.  He handed it to my ex-husband and told him to hand it to me as a gesture of allowing me to re-marry.  Yes, the purpose of the getis to allow the woman to remarry and be free of their husband. He handed it to me.  He was unable to look me in the eye.  I eagerly accepted the folded parchment and passed it back to the rabbi acknowledging my acceptance.  The rabbi then reached into his desk and pulled out an Exacto knife, which he used to slash the document that was just so meticulously created. He declared our getcomplete.  Simultaneously, tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt my mouth slowly forming a smile.  It was finally over.  And for the first time in a while, I felt like I could breathe again.  I felt like I could breathe as the woman I became as a result of all I had been through.  And she rose up and out of my body waiting to be freed.  It was finally over.

The rabbi then asked if I wanted to say anything to my ex-husband as it was custom for the woman to have the opportunity to speak.  Back in the day, women were not allowed to voice their opinions very often, so this was a time they were given to speak freely.  At first my mind started racing around how old customs have not been “updated” to be more made more modern given women have the same rights as men.  Nonetheless, I accepted his offer.  I thanked them for their time and for conducting a beautiful tradition.  I mentioned it must be updated to fit with how the world works, which got me some smiles, and said I was timid walking into the room.  I was unsure of what the ceremony would be like and yet afterwards, I had so much gratitude for what it did for me spiritually. I explained that I had been trying to disconnect from “this man” since we separated and nothing I did worked. Until today.  I gave thanks for finally freeing my soul in this lifetime from him and for the gift of deep breathing that was truly all mine now.  To try to keep with modern times, the rabbi then asked my ex-husband if he had anything to say and he declined.  At that moment we were told it was over and we could leave. I thanked everyone and as I felt a lump welling up in my throat, I walked out the door quickly, and with a skip in my step.

I remember walking down the hall, pushing open the doors of the building, looking up at the clear blue sky and saying over and over again “thank you G-d, thank you G-d, thank you G-d.”  Tears of joy were streaming down my cheeks and I was breathing so deeply for the first time in years.  I started running to my car, eager to start my life free of him spiritually.  I called my mom, and the first words out of my mouth were “I am so glad you pushed me because it is finally allover.”

Closure took on a new meaning to me from that day forward.  I always believed it to mean “get over it and move on.”  That day it meant acceptance that our chapter was over, reclaiming my power over my well-being and self and feeling the strength to move on.  And none of the above required participation of another.  That day it was just me (the future), the rabbi (the present), and that parchment (the past) in the room.  A triad, so to speak.  I walked out of that room with my angels and spirits cheering for me, trusting my life was just beginning.  My soul was free and I could clearly see the gifts of my divorce.  And for the last time I flipped the sign from “I do” to “I’m done.”  And I get to decide what’s next.

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