This page describes the process of writing a get, from the uncommon perspective of a wife who is also the sofer. It originally appeared as a blog post at Hatam Soferet. See the page on gittin for general information on the Jewish divorce document.
Unlike a Torah, practically anyone’s allowed to write a get, according to the Mishnah. Gittin 2:5 says Anyone is kosher to write a get; even a deaf-mute, even a witless person, even a child. A woman may write her own get, and a man may write his own receipt, because the get is solely established by its signatories.
Well, I’m just a little bit of a halakha nerd, and it pleases me very much when unlikely halakhic situations apply to my own life. Not, you understand, that I would have chosen to get divorced, but accepting that as a fact of life, it’s clearly much cooler to write one’s own get.
So I did.
The actual process is very formal. There’s a whole ritual during which the woman stands silent while the rabbi, the husband, and two witnesses, establish that the husband wishes to divorce his wife here and now of his own free will. The husband appoints a scribe and instructs him to write the get, and instructs the witnesses to sign, and all while the woman doesn’t say anything.
As the sofer, I had a more active part. I got to accept the responsibility of writing the get.
I learned that although the wife is allowed to write the get, the husband isn’t allowed, which pleased me very much; the balance of power is not usually tipped that way. In any case, I was glad to be a real part of the process. I like my Judaism to be part of me – or should that be, I like to be part of my Judaism?
Having accepted responsibility for writing it, I wrote it, copying from a text. You can’t write it in advance, and you can’t print it. This is because the verse says “he shall write for her a severance document,” and we take “writing” and “for her” very literally indeed. This is unlike a ketubah, where you may take a printed form and fill in the names – a get has to be produced wholly for the specific recipient, and has to be written, not printed.
Most of the text concerns itself with name and location. The city is not just named, but identified as being in the vicinity of bodies of water (the idea being that these are hard to mistake or mislay). The participants are not just named, but are named by all the names that they use or have previously used, so I’m Yonah Esther otherwiseknownas Yonah otherwiseknownas Jennifer otherwiseknownas Jen. That’s about two-thirds of the text. Then there’s a little bit at the end which says, more or less, I, Husband, am not being coerced and you, Wife, are free to go.
I made a couple of mistakes; these I fixed in the usual way, with a knife. I’d brought a friend for moral support, who was also a sofer, and he and the rabbi talked shop. It was most interesting to listen to.
When I was finished writing, the rabbi and the witnesses checked it through very carefully for mistakes. Then the witnesses signed it. It passed from my possession (as the scribe) into the X’s possession, and then he passed it back into my possession, this time in my role as wife. Ex-wife, that is. It was very amusing to be playing two parts, scribe and wife, especially when the script required the X to appoint the scribe Hatam-Soferet to write a get for the wife Hatam-Soferet.
After I had accepted it as my get, releasing me from the marriage, the rabbi took it and tore into it with a knife. This shows it has been used, so there is no possibility of anyone’s using it for another divorce.
The ceremony finishes with an admonition that now this get has been written, signed, and delivered, anyone who casts doubts on its validity is subject to excommunication and is a really bad person and doesn’t get any cookies. I like that very much: it’s a recognition that messing with this could really cause trouble, and we believe we’ve done it properly, and for the sake of Jewry, don’t go looking for problems. Very humane, and sensible.
So anyway, there we go. I’ve written my own get. I bet there aren’t many women around who can say that.