The Jewish Divorce Document


         

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The Get

By Elaine Rosenberg Miller

She woke up that morning and something propelled her to pick it up.

A dibbuyk, a spirit. But wasn't a dibbuyk. It was something else. It was there. She had to retrieve it but she wouldn't. And then, that day or the day before, she realized or convinced herself, that it was hopeless.

She took her daughters with here because it was Sunday and she had no where to leave them or she hadn't tried to find a place.

She told them that we were going to the Metro Zoo in south Miami. They watched the agitated tigers pace around an algae streaked temple-like structure and waved at the orangutans idly swinging in truck tires suspended from rope cables.

"You can't do it," she taunted herself.

"I have to stop and see a rabbi in Miami," she said as they exited the zoo.

They were accustomed to her visiting rabbis when they traveled. The younger girl was six. Her sister was eleven. She put a skirt on over her shorts in the synagogue parking lot. They were used to that, too. Modesty.

"Do we have to wear a dress?" they asked.

"Not this time," she said.

"Can we come in with you?" they pleaded as she opened the door to the building.

She didn't tell the older one why she had gone until the next year. She never told the younger one.

Afterwards, she traveled back north on the interstate. Her unwieldy SUV sailed along the highway as if it were driverless.

Had this really happened?

Three strange men watched her.

She was told to put her hands out, palms up.

The ritual was hundreds of years old.

She stifled a cold sob.

Who were these people?

Why was she here?

Still, she went forward.

A get. The Hebrew word resembled the English verb to obtain, receive And yet, the Hebrew meant to break apart. To separate. Can one receive a splitting apart?

She followed the instructions. When the rabbi wrote his Hebrew name on the document she proudly added "HaKohain". The kohainim were the priestly class. Their sons were kohains.

Had the rabbi said that she could never remarry him? Even if he hadn't she already knew it. Jewish law states that a kohain can not marry a divorcee. Even his former wife.

"Do you know what it is said about the word get?" an elderly woman in her study class had once asked her. "The letters gimmel and tet never appear together in the Torah. Get represents separation. It is written that the altar cries when a man divorces his first wife."

Their lives together began when he appeared in their graduate school lobby wearing a magen david, a "Shield of David" impressed on a metal ornament hung around his neck.

"You are Jewish?" she asked, finger pointing.

His hair was black. He had long, arched eyebrows framing large brown, almond shaped eyes. She had thought he was Greek. Boston had many Greek and Italian people.

She had never thought he was Jewish.

Now, it was Jewish law that would cleave them apart forever.

"He is now a stranger to you," the rabbi had said.

"What does that mean?" she thought wildly.

In months to follow, she would come to know. She would repeatedly tell herself, "He is now a stranger to you."

In the past, she had rushed to forgive, comfort, reconcile. Now she found herself saying "It is prohibited. He is a stranger to you."

The synagogue was bare, even shoddy. The air conditioning rattled noisily. The air was moist and warm.

"I am looking for the rabbi," she said to a man mopping the floor.

"Over there" he answered in his Hispanic accent.

She knocked on the door.

She heard a voice.

"Come in", it said.

A man sat at a desk, surrounded by books.

The girls peered around her body as she attempted to block their view.

"I called this morning, " she said.

"Yes, come in. The witnesses are late."

"Is there somewhere my daughters can wait?" she asked.

She placed them in the adjoining library.

The rabbi never asked the reason for their separation, if there was a chance of reconstructing their marriage, if she was certain of what she was doing.

The witnesses arrived.

She did not shake their hands.

It was not done in orthodox circles.

The rabbi read from a preprinted form.

She recalled their kettubah, their marriage contract, written on parchment. Her Holocaust survivor uncle, now gone, had signed it. She had been named after his mother. She had the document framed. Navy blue velvet matting. The color of generations of skullcaps worn by men. When she sought a divorce, she hid it under their bed, afraid of its gaze.

She was told to take three steps forward.

The men stood alongside her in the narrow office.

She recalled their wedding.

They stood under an arch of cascading autumn colors, tangerine, lemonade, ivory blooms. She circled him, as he stood in his tuxedo, seven times, holding her gown, unveiled.

The ceremony sped along, then the rabbi asked him if he wanted to marry her and he answered, loudly, "I do very much,"

The celebrants laughed.

She felt unease.

Like a wind-up toy, she completed the instructions for receiving a get.

Still, the rabbi had not asked a single question about him, them, her.

She longed for a paternal comment, a word of compassion.

Finally, get in hand, she turned to leave.

The rabbi spoke.

"So," he asked, "are you dating?"

~~~~~~~

from the November 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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