April 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Why Does a Get Always Have 12 Lines?

The 12 Lines

It is well-known that a get (Jewish divorce document) is always 12 lines long. Rav Melech Schachter even told me that a get was colloquially referred to as the “12 lines” in Eastern Europe. The first Tosafot in Masechet Gittin mentions this practice, as does the Rosh (Gittin 1:2), unlike the Rambam, who does not. However, despite the Rambam’s omission, all Jews accepted this practice, as noted by the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 125:11).

I have administered approximately 3 thousand Gittin in my 30 years of practice and have never seen a get not being 12 lines long. I did not see one during my three years of training in more than a dozen batei din in the United States and Israel. I have witnessed Gittin from all over the Jewish world, and each one has been 12 lines in length, without exception.

Get scribes ensure a get is 12 lines in length. For Gittin with a few names and nicknames (we write the individual’s names and nicknames in a get), scribes often need to stretch certain letters, and when there are many names and nicknames, they write smaller letters.

 

Classic Explanations

Tosafot offers two celebrated explanations for the practice. First, “get” in gematria is the numerical equivalent of 12 (gimmel is three, and tet is nine). Second, four lines separate Breishit from Shemot, Shemot from Vayikra and Vayikra from Bamidbar. Thus, 12 lines separate the primary sefarim of the Torah, making 12 lines appropriate for a document splitting a couple. Sefer Devarim is not included, since it has a different character than the other Torah books (which I clarify in articles archived at Torah Academy of Bergen County’s Kol Torah website: https://www.koltorah.org/halachah/what-is-sefer-devarim-part-1-by-rabbi-chaim-jachter).

 

Two New Explanations

Standardizing the get to 12 lines is most helpful regarding this ultra-sensitive document. A Jewish funeral’s simple, straightforward nature also characterizes the Jewish divorce ceremony. It is a simple, direct and standard process (although, it is a high-precision procedure that must be overseen and executed by thoroughly trained and universally-recognized professionals). The 12-line practice precludes attempting to include special provisions in a get. The get is a standard document in which the only four variables are the date, locations, parties’ names and witnesses’ names. There are no exceptions.

Another suggestion emerges from the Maharal’s approach to the numbers six and seven. The Maharal (Tiferet Yisrael, chapters 1-2) says the number six indicates incomplete nature, and the number seven represents completed nature. For example, the world was unfinished after six days of creation, which Shabbat finished on day seven.

Accordingly, we emphasize the number seven at a wedding, where two incomplete individuals complete themselves (see Yevamot 63a). These include the seven days of simcha, the sheva brachot and the seven times a bride circles the groom at an Ashkenazic wedding. However, in the get, a completed couple becomes incomplete. The couple formerly united under the number seven, now separates into two unfinished people. Thus, we have two people at a get—each represented by the number six. The two sixes add up to twelve, the number of lines in the get.

 

Conclusion

One should not be shocked at such an important document, described in the Torah as “sefer keritut (book of excision; Devarim 24:1),” containing only one page and consisting of only 12 lines. We find a similarly brief document composed at a critical juncture in our history. David Ben-Gurion’s order establishing Tzahal—the Israel Defense Forces—was only one page long and consisted of only 20 lines. Sometimes brevity is best, especially regarding matters of great sensitivity and import.


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.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles