Monday, November 28, 2022

We discern the Torah’s balanced approach to divorce by contrasting it with two extreme approaches to divorce. On one end, the Catholic religion forbids divorce; at the other extreme, in some Islamic traditions, we find the triple talaq, or instant divorce, by pronouncing talaq three times.

The Torah rejects both extremes. The Torah (Devarim 24:1) provides for divorce since sometimes it is necessary and unavoidable. The Chafetz Chaim’s son Rav Aryeh Leib relates (Dugma MiDarkei Avi zt”l number 86) that the Chafetz Chaim once counseled a couple to divorce. A ben Torah who observed this interaction was astonished, considering that the Chafetz Chaim expended great effort to resolve conflicts and bring peace between parties. The Chafetz Chaim responded that the halachot of gittin indicate that sometimes divorce is the best way to bring peace.

Nonetheless, the Torah creates a deliberate divorce process in many ways. First, the Torah requires the husband to write a divorce document and hand it to his wife. Moreover, the word “lah” in Devarim 24:1(“V’katav lah sefer keritut, he shall write her a bull of divorce”) teaches that the get must be written for the divorce of a particular couple (Gittin 24b). Unlike a ketuba in which one fills in the blanks, the entire get must be written lishma, specifically for the divorcing couple.


Slowing Down the Process

Our mesorah, tradition, slows down the process even more. The procedure of Jewish divorce is much more halachically complex than a Torah marriage. Therefore, since the time of the Gemara (Gittin 5b mentions that Rabi Achi was appointed to administer Gittin; we find no such appointment regarding Siddur Kiddushin, marriage administration).

Gittin are administered only by a select group of specially trained rabbanim who are experts in hilchot gittin. For example, today in North America, there are approximately forty rabbis who are mesadrei gittin, get administrators. By contrast, every community rabbi serves as a mesader kiddushin.

We customarily write a get in (slightly modified) ktav ashurit, the script used for writing a sefer Torah (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 126:1). Accordingly, only a trained scribe can write a get. Moreover, there are many special and challenging halachot for writing a get, requiring a special scribe for writing gittin. Examples include the get being 12 lines long and having a letter extending upwards (typically the letter lamed) and a letter extending downwards (typically the letter nun) on the get’s every line (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 125:11 and 18).

Finally, unlike a wedding that can occur everywhere, a get may be written only in specific areas. The custom (see Bet Shmuel 128:18) is to write gittin only in a city that rests on at least two bodies of water. For example, in a get, we identify Teaneck as “the city that rests upon the Hackensack River and the Overpeck Creek.” In addition, we do not administer in a particular locale without first obtaining the endorsement of leading Torah authorities (Aruch HaShulchan, Even HaEzer 128:39). In Teaneck, before writing Ashkenazic gittin, we received the approval of Rav Nota Greenblatt, Rav Gedalia Schwartz, Rav Peretz Steinberg, Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig. In addition, Rav Shlomo Amar approved how we write Sephardic gittin in Teaneck.

All these requirements slow down the process of Jewish divorce. Unlike marriage, our tradition makes it challenging to conduct a get. The goal is to limit and control the procedure of divorce. Divorce is doable, but a couple must be resolute that there is no chance for reconciliation.


Making Sure Necessary Gittin Are Completed

Torah Academy of Bergen County students argued that these many requirements would discourage marginally affiliated people who are divorcing from receiving a proper get. I responded that this is the challenge of the mesader gittin. A Jewish divorce administrator must carefully tread a fine line. On the one hand, he must discern when it is appropriate to slow down a couple rushing too hastily to divorce. We must exercise particular caution when administering a get where the husband is a kohen. Once a kohen divorces his wife, the couple cannot remarry. In the time of the Mishna, a special get known as the get mekushar was administered when the husband was a kohen. A get mekushar is written in a very cumbersome way to slow down a kohen who divorces his wife. Since we no longer administer a get mekushar (Tosafot Bava Batra 160b s.v. Tiknu; the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch do not present the laws of Get Mekushar), mesadrei gittun must ensure that kohanim act responsibly. One of my most important life accomplishments was convincing a young kohen not to divorce his wife very early in their marriage. I saw the couple with their four children happily interacting at a simcha years later—it was a profound and sobering experience.

On the other hand, a mesader ittin must know when it is time to act swiftly and quickly. I once assembled a staff to administer a get within 20 minutes. A recalcitrant spouse had finally agreed to participate in a get, and I hastened to seize the opportunity to resolve a situation of igun (where one spouse unjustly refuses to give or receive a get).


Conclusion: A Delicate Balance

The Torah sets forth an option for divorce in Sefer Devarim, indicating that at least sometimes divorce is an appropriate option. On the other hand, Sefer Malachi 2:16 states that Hashem hates divorce. The Gemara (Gittin 90b) even says that the mizbeach weeps over divorce.

As a community, we hope to keep our divorce rate low but make it available when necessary. An Eastern European-born get administrator observed in the 1980s that divorce in the prewar Eastern European Jewish communities was too infrequent (unfortunately, there seems to have been a social stigma against divorcing even when necessary), but in North America, it is too common. May Hashem grant us the wisdom to strike a proper Torah balance regarding divorce.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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