By Alisa Peskin-Shepherd
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, I’d like to write about how we’ve helped a number of Jewish clients in their pursuit of a civil divorce. When we work together, many share details of their Jewish divorce, or get.
That’s a document that the husband must give to the wife, releasing her from the marriage. It must be witnessed and approved by a beit din, or Jewish court, and the wife must accept it from the husband to complete the process of Jewish divorce
While a civil divorce is legal in the United States, if a client wants to remarry under Jewish law, they must also have a Jewish divorce. In the Orthodox Jewish world, a woman without a get cannot remarry, though a man can.
Our Orthodox Jewish clients have reported that their rabbis instructed them to seek a religious divorce before pursuing the civil one, while Jews from Conservative and Reform traditions prioritize the civil divorce above all else.
Some men make it hard for women to divorce. There is an ongoing issue regarding agunot, or chained women, in the Orthodox world, when a husband refuses to grant the get. Recently, I’ve had some female clients tell me that they were not allowed to retain a civil attorney until after they’ve gone before the religious court – even though in at least one instance, a husband was permitted to do so.
Historically, a wife’s consent was not required for her husband to divorce her. But about 1,000 years ago, the German scholar Rabbi Gershom, known as “the Light of the Diaspora,” prohibited a man from divorcing his wife without her approval.
Once divorced, according to Jewish Law, it is a special mitzvah if the couple decide to remarry.
Check out this VICE story on how a protest at a husband’s house won a Jewish woman her divorce.