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Pioneers in Helping Women Move On

Dissolving a Jewish marriage can be a fraught experience, not only because of the highly charged emotions involved, but also because of the particular strictures a Jewish divorce entails. Now there are women qualified to see you through the process. Rabbi Chana Thompson Shor and Rabbi Karen Reiss Medwed are the first two women ever to be certified as mesadrot gittin, official arrangers/facilitators of a religious Jewish divorce. It’s a highly specialized task, which requires counseling skills and expert knowledge of Jewish law, plus the ability to execute the very particular calligraphic requirements of a get, the Jewish bill of divorce. These two women have completed a course — offered for the first time in a generation by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary — to train additional rabbis for this specific function.

Unlike the ketubah, the wedding contract, which can be ornamented and created as a blank form in advance, with names of bride, groom and witnesses filled in later, a get must be written by the arranging rabbi specifically on behalf the particular divorcing spouses and must follow a strict form of 12 lines, with spaces between the lines and some letters elongated to prevent additional words from being added in the spaces. Shor said “the main thing that makes writing a get to order difficult is adapting this strict form to an undetermined number of words. That is, I must write it in 12 lines exactly the same length, even if the groom’s name is ‘Asher Yisrael Zevulun who is known as Felix and who is also known as Sruli, son of Yerachme’el Gershon haLevy who is known as George and also known as Joe and as Joey’ and the bride’s name is ‘Chaya Sheyna Batya who is known as Cheryl and as Cher, daugher of Mendel Zalman Ber Dov haKohen who is also known as Mendy and as Mike and as Moe’.”

The get is handed to the wife by the husband, then returned to the rabbi, who then cuts it to be sure it will not be re-used and stores it away. If the wife lives far away, part of the job of the facilitator of a Jewish divorce can include arranging for the delivery of the document to the wife. The get indicates that the woman is free to be with any other man, and that no one can tamper with this separation of the [former] spouses, which has taken place in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.

Bible scribe Jen Taylor Friedman (hasoferet.com/ritual/gittin.shtml), who wrote her own get when she divorced in 2008, demonstrates the writing style of a get. Fear not, the text she uses as her example here is a poem, not an actual get.

Friedman told Lilith “I really, really wanted to learn to write gittin, but the only place for women to learn in the USA seems to be a course open only to rabbis. I learned the minimum on my own, so that I could write my own get under supervision from a qualified mesader gittin.

And writing my own get — fantastic from a mishnah geekery point of view, given that the mishnah says isha kotevet et gitah [“a woman writes her own get”] — was the most extraordinarily liberating experience. The ceremony is exceedingly passive, when you’re the woman. It’s you, your ex, and three other guys, and you don’t have to do anything except take possession of the document — so being an active participant redressed the balance satisfactorily.”