Get (divorce document)

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A get (גט, plural gittim or gittin) is the Hebrew word for a divorce document, which is presented by a husband to his wife on the occasion of their divorce. The essential text of the get is quite short: "You are hereby permitted to all men," i.e., you are no longer a married woman, and the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights which a husband holds in regard to his wife in a Jewish marriage.


The biblical term for get is "Sefer Keritot", (Hebrew: ספר כריתות‎). The origin of the word get is unclear. According to Shiltei Giborim (mentioned in the talmudic dictionary Aruch HaShalem S.V. Get) it refers to the stone agate which purportedly has some form of anti-magnetic property symbolizing the divorce. The Gaon of Vilna has mentioned that the Hebrew letters of Gimel and Tet of the word get are the only letters of the Hebrew alphabet that cannot make a word together again symbolizing the divorce. More probable is the explanation of Baruch Epstein who states that it comes from the Latin word Act which refers to any legal document. In fact in the Mishna, get can refer to any legal document although it refers primarily to a divorce document. (Tosefes Bracha to Ki Sisa)

Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg posits that after the Bar Kochba revolt the Romans decreed that all documents be processed in a Roman court (in order to weaken Jewish nationalism). It is probable that this is when the term "get" entered the vernacular. [1]


The rabbis have specified formal requirements for a get to be considered valid.

It must be written. Usually it will be written by a religious scribe, a sofer. It must have been written on the explicit instruction and free-willed approval of the husband, with the specific intention that it is to be used by the man and for the specific woman. (It cannot be initially written with blanks to be filled in later.)

It must be delivered to the wife, whose physical acceptance of the get is required to complete and validate the divorce process.

There are certain detailed requirements relating to the legal and religious nature of the get itself. For example:
  • It must be written on a fresh document, and there must be no possibility of cleanly erasing the text.
  • It may not be written on anything which is attached to the ground (for instance, a fig leaf).
  • The get may not be pre-dated.
Any deviation from these requirements invalidates the get and the divorce procedure.

A get must be given and received of the free will of the parties and not out of fear of any obligation either party undertook to fulfill in a separation agreement. Such an agreement may provide for matters such as custody of the children and their maintenance, and property settlement. But, either party may withdraw from such an agreement, on the question of the dissolution of the marriage only, if they can satisfy the court of a genuine desire restore matrimonial harmony. In such a situation all the recognised matrimonial obligations continue to apply. On the other hand, pecuniary conditions stipulated by the parties in the separation agreement would still be valid and enforceable, though the marriage state continues to exist.

Refusal to provide a get

The laws of gittin only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband. However, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. The court, finding just cause, will require the husband to divorce his wife.

Historically, a husband who refused the court's demand that he divorce his wife would be subjected to various penalties in order to pressure him into granting a divorce. Such penalties included excommunication, monetary punishments, and corporal punishment--including forcing the husband to spend the night at an unmarked grave (with the implication that it could become his grave). Today, however, rabbinical courts outside of Israel do not have sufficient power to enforce such penalties. This sometimes leads to a situation in which the husband makes demands of the court and of his wife, demanding a monetary settlement or other benefits, such as child custody, in exchange for the get. Jewish feminists have characterized such demands as "ransom."

Sometimes a man will completely refuse to grant a divorce. This leaves his wife with no possibility of remarriage within Orthodox Judaism. Such an unfortunate woman is called an agunah (literally a "chained" or "anchored" wife). A man who refuses to give his wife a get is frequently spurned by the Orthodox community, and excluded from communal religious activities. It is hoped that this pressure will encourage him to grant the divorce. A man who has already left the Orthodox Jewish community, however, may not care.

While it is widely assume that the problem lies primarily in men refusing to grant the get to their wives and that it is a widespread issue, in Israel, figures released from the chief rabbinate show that men are equally vicitmized and that the numbers are actually a couple of hundred on each side.[2]

Get conflict

Main article: Get (conflict)

Obviously, all of the rules set out in this article are subject to the laws of the land ("the civil law"). So, if the law of the land provides rules and procedures in respect of, say, custody of children and/or property settlement in the event of divorce then those law have precedence over any rule or procedure under Jewish law. For example, if the law of the land requires that persons wishing to obtain a divorce must apply to a civil court for an order to that effect, then that law must also be followed.

On the other hand, if a civil divorce is obtained, then there would still be an obligation, under Jewish law, for the Jewish divorce procedure outlined in this article to be followed: i.e., the husband would still need to deliver the get to the wife and the wife to accept it. Otherwise, the couple may be divorced under the civil law ("the law of the land") while still be considered to be married under Jewish law, with all the consequences which follow from that status.

New York Get Laws

  • 1983 Get Law : Domestic Relations Law §253
  • 1992 Get Law : DRL §236 (B)(5)(h) and DRL §236 (B)(6)(d)


One of the most contentious gitin in history was probably the "Get of Cleves" of the late 18th century, which caused a rift between several rabbinic courts in Western Europe[1]. The case involved a husband who at times exhibited signs of mental illness (quite possibly what might now be diagnosed as paranoia) who gave his wife a Get. As a Get can only be given by a "sane" individual, much ink was spilled regarding how to classify this individual as well as the precise definition of insanity in Halakha.


1. ^ Seridei Eish 3:134
2. ^ Rabbinate Stats: 180 Women, 185 Men 'Chained' by Spouses. Israelnationalnews (2007-08-23). Retrieved on 2007-08-26.

Literary references

  • Krich, Rochelle Majer Till Death Do Us Part (1992) ISBN 0-380-76533-0

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