Obtaining a Get
A beit din is a rabbinical court, usually consisting of three rabbis, though sometimes it consists of one rabbi and two learned secular members of the community. A beit din can be convened for many reasons, such as to oversee a person’s conversion or to facilitate the get process.
If a husband requests a get, the beit din meets only once, to witness the writing of the sefer k’ritot and its delivery to the man’s wife. In this case, the beit din will not question either party but will simply oversee the process. The husband has the sofer write the sefer k’ritot in his presence and that of two witnesses. The wife does not have to be present at this process, though she typically is. Traditionally, the husband delivers the get to his wife and places it in her hands. Her ritual acceptance of the document validates the divorce. The wife then returns the document to the beit din, who cut it to make sure it can never be used again and then files it away. The beit din gives both the husband and the wife a p’tur, or statement of release, which says that they have received a get and are free to remarry.
If a wife seeks a get, the beit din must first meet to hear her case since she does not have the right under Jewish law to grant a divorce. If the beit din decides her case is valid, the rabbis of the beit din will issue a summons requiring her husband to appear before them to give the get. It is important to note that even with such a summons, the beit din cannot actually force the husband to give a get, as halacha requires that the get must be given of a man’s own free will. There is ongoing debate about how to define “free will” and what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable pressure for the beit din and the community to exert in such a case. Outside the State of Israel, a beit din has no civil legal authority, so a recalcitrant or abusive husband may simply choose to ignore the summons.
If a husband eventually agrees to give his wife a get, a beit din generally will not require a woman to appear if she is in danger of further domestic violence or other harm or in a case where geographical distance makes attendance impossible. If the woman cannot attend or it is unsafe to do so, the beit din can appoint an agent for the husband to bring her the scroll of severance. Her physical acceptance of the document still validates the divorce. It is important if the abused woman is in hiding that she consult with her rabbi or other advocate to assist her so her location can remain confidential through the get process. Before a woman consults with her rabbi she will want to make sure that her conversations are kept confidential.
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