Any Jew in Israel who wishes to get divorced, needs to arrange a get from a rabbinic court. All the civil ramifications of divorce: state recognition of you as single, with all its implications for salary, taxes, residence, social security, listing in the population registry, and the application of relevant criminal law, as well as the Jewish-traditional ones: permission to begin a new romantic relationship with a person, to marry him according to Jewish law, and bring children together into the world whose status is not questionable, are contingent upon issuance of this get. The rabbinical court is the correct address for divorce for every Jewish coupleincluding:
• A couple that was married in a Jewish ceremony within the framework of the Jewish rabbinate and the religious establishment in Israel;
• A couple that was married in a Jewish ceremony within the framework of a Jewish community abroad;
• An Israeli couple that was married in a civil service in another country;
• An immigrant couple that was married in a civil service when they were citizens of another country;
• A couple that was married in a private Jewish service (that is not recognized in Israel), e.g. within the framework of the Reform or Conservative movements;
• A couple that was married in a private ceremony possessing Jewish characteristics (that are not recognized in Israel), not within the framework of a Jewish community);
• A couple in which one partner is Jewish while the Jewishness of the second is in question;
• A couple in which one or both of the partners converted not within the civil conversion framework (e.g. through the Reform or Conservative movements);
• In certain exceptional cases, a couple that is ‘publicly recognized’ as living together (e.g. in certain cases when a couple was married, divorced, then resumed living together without remarrying and now wish to separate again).
If you were married in a Jewish marriage (civil or private), a Jewish get is absolutely necessary; without it, a rabbinical court cannot dissolve your marriage. If you were married in a civil marriage, a question mark hangs over your relationship: on the one hand, a non-traditional ceremony, which lacks Jewish components (and was held by choice) is not valid by Jewish law, and does not require a get. On the other hand, if your intention was to marry, and you signed a marriage document, gave your spouse a ring, consecrated your marriage, and were considered a married couple within the Jewish community, your union may fulfill the minimum halachic criteria. Therefore, in order to avoid any uncertainty, you will be expected to arrange a ‘get l’chumra’ (a get required as a stringency) or a ‘get m’safek’ (a get that is required because of uncertainty), just in case your marriage is in fact halachically valid, and binding until issuance of a get. The type of get required in your specific case will be determined in the course of the court deliberations held regarding your request for a ‘release from marriage’ that you file in rabbinical court.
Though a ‘get m’safek’ and a ‘get l’chumra’ are not written differently from a regular get, there are certain circumstances when the rabbinical court will decide to forego the requirement of get in these cases, and consider you unmarried even without a get and without your spouse’s consent to the divorce. The circumstances for such a rabbinic decision include a case where divorce is initiated by one side, while the other side has vanished, or a case where one side is mentally incompetent or has denied his spouse a get for an extended period of time and without any reason the court deems justified.
Practical Reasons for Writing a Get
If you are deliberating whether you should go to the trouble of having a get, or simply make do with having a lawyer draw up an agreement regarding division of shared property (or if you were married abroad, with civil divorce), it is important that you realize that it is to your advantage to have a get, if you choose to remarry and establish a new family, and that if you fail to do so, there will probably be a price to pay:
• Mamzerut (Illegitimacy) of the Children: A child who is conceived to a Jewish man and woman while the woman is married to a different man (even if they have been separated for many years) is considered in the eyes of halacha to be a ‘mamzer’ or ‘mamzeret’. The practical implication of such a status is that a mamzer is forbidden by Jewish law to marry any Jew except another mamzer or convert. This status of mamzer applies not only to the child of the forbidden union, but also to all of his future descendants. The rabbinical courts and marriage registrars do not actively investigate a person’s lineage, and they make every effort to avoid conferring a status of mamzer. If, however, a woman’s husband denies paternity of a child, there is a possibility that the child will be declared a ‘mamzer’ or ‘safek mamzer’, and be included in a list of ‘forbidden mates’ in Israel. Mamzer status depends on the moment of conception, and not on the moment of birth. Thus, even if a child’s mother manages to obtain a get during her pregnancy, before the child is born, the child will still be a mamzer. Though a mamzer has the option to marry in a civil ceremony abroad, conferral of this status would concern many Israeli families, either because of the significance they attach to traditional marriage, or because they want their child to be able to marry in whatever framework he eventually chooses.
• Barred Marriages: A woman who is romantically involved with a Jewish man while still married to another Jew, will not be able to marry her second partner in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony, even after she receives a get from her husband.