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A get or gett (; Hebrew: , plural gittin ) is a divorce document in Jewish religious law, which must be presented by a husband to his wife to effectuate their divorce. The essential part of the get is very short: the text states "You are hereby permitted to all men", which means that the woman is no longer married and that the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights that a husband holds in regard to her in a Jewish marriage.
The biblical term for the divorce document, described in Deuteronomy 24, is "Sefer Keritut", (Hebrew: ). The word get may have its origins in the Sumerian word for document, GID.DA. It appears to have passed from Sumerian into Akkadian as gittu, and from there into Mishnaic Hebrew. In fact in the Mishnah, get can refer to any legal document although it refers primarily to a divorce document. (Tosefet Beracha to Ki Tisa)
A number of popular etymological speculations were offered by early modern Rabbinic authorities. According to Shiltei Giborim (mentioned in the talmudic dictionary Aruch HaShalem S.V. Get), it refers to the stone agate, which purportedly has some form of anti-magnetic property symbolizing the divorce. The Gaon of Vilna posits that the Hebrew letters of Gimel and Tet of the word get are the only letters of the Hebrew alphabet that cannot make a word together, again symbolizing the divorce. Rabbi Baruch Epstein states that it comes from the Latin word gestus "action, gesture", which refers to any legal document. Marcus Jastrow posits a Semitic root, arguing that it derives from the Hebrew word for engraving (Hebrew: ).
Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg posits that after the Bar Kochba revolt the Romans decreed that all documents be processed in a Roman court (in order to weaken Jewish nationalism). The term get may have entered the vernacular language during this time.
Halakha requires specific formalities for a get to be considered valid.
Any deviation from these requirements invalidates the get and the divorce procedure.
A get must be given of the free will of the husband; however, consent of the wife is not Biblically mandated (nevertheless, Ashkenazic tradition provides that a husband may not divorce his wife without her consent). A get may not be given out of fear of any obligation either party undertook to fulfill in a separation agreement. Such an agreement may provide for matters such as custody of the children and their maintenance, and property settlement. But either party may withdraw from such an agreement, on the question of the dissolution of the marriage only, if they can satisfy the court of a genuine desire to restore matrimonial harmony. In such a situation all the recognised matrimonial obligations continue to apply. On the other hand, pecuniary conditions stipulated by the parties in the separation agreement would still be valid and enforceable, though the marriage state continues to exist.
The laws of gittin only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband. However, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. The court, if finding just cause as prescribed in very rare cases in Jewish law, will require the husband to divorce his wife. In such cases, a husband who refused the court's demand that he divorce his wife would be subjected to various penalties in order to pressure him into granting a divorce. Such penalties included monetary punishments, and corporal punishment--including forcing the husband to spend the night at an unmarked grave (with the implication that it could become his grave). In modern-day Israel, rabbinical courts have the power to sentence a husband to prison to compel him to grant his wife a get. Rabbinical courts outside of Israel do not have power to enforce such penalties. This sometimes leads to a situation in which the husband makes demands of the court and of his wife, demanding a monetary settlement or other benefits, such as child custody, in exchange for the get. Prominent Jewish feminists have fought against such demands in recent decades.
Prominent Orthodox rabbis have pointed to many years of rabbinical sources that state that any coercion can invalidate a get except in the most extreme of cases, and have spoken out against "get organizations", which they claim have often inflamed situations that could have otherwise been resolved amicably.
Sometimes a man will completely refuse to grant a divorce. This leaves his wife with no possibility of remarriage within Orthodox Judaism. Such a woman is called a mesorevet get (literally "refused a divorce"), if a court determined she is entitled to a divorce. Such a man who refuses to give his wife a get is frequently spurned by Modern Orthodox communities, and excluded from communal religious activities, in an effort to force a get.
While it is widely assumed that the problem lies primarily in men refusing to grant a get to their wives and that it is a widespread issue, in Israel, figures released from the chief rabbinate show that women equally refuse to accept a get and that the numbers are a couple of hundred on each side. However, such a husband has the option of seeking a Heter meah rabbanim, while no similar option exists for the wife.
In the Conservative movement a traditional get is required. However, in cases where the husband refuses to grant the get and the Bet Din (Rabbinic Court) has ruled that the husband's refusal is not justified, the marital condition may be terminated by hafqa'at kiddushin, or annulment of the marriage. This requires a majority vote of the Joint Bet Din of the movement, which is made up of nine rabbinic scholars. Upon their authorization of the process, the Bet Din may issue a certificate of annulment. This protocol is viewed as extreme and is invoked only in cases of dire necessity.
The rules governing the get are subject to the civil law of the country, which has precedence over the Jewish marital law.
On the other hand, if a civil divorce is obtained, there is still a need under Jewish law, for the Jewish divorce procedure outlined in this article to be followed if the couple wishes to be considered divorced according to religious Jewish law or to remarry under religious law: i.e., the husband would still need to deliver the get to the wife and the wife to accept it. Otherwise, the couple may be divorced under the civil law ("the law of the land") while still be considered to be married under Jewish law, with all the consequences which follow from that status. It is religiously forbidden for either spouse to remarry without a get and doing so is considered adultery according to Jewish law, and children conceived in it mamzerim.
In 2001, New York Supreme Court Justice Gerald Garson was applauded by feminists for ordering an Orthodox Jewish man to pay his wife $500 a week for life, because the man refused to grant her a get. Many Orthodox rabbis have spoken out against the validity of gets obtained through civil courts. Garson was convicted in 2007 of accepting bribes to manipulate the outcomes of divorce proceedings, and was imprisoned from June 2007 until December 2009.
One of the most contentious gitin in history was probably the "Get of Cleves" of the late 18th century, which caused a rift between several rabbinic courts in Western Europe. The case involved a husband who at times exhibited signs of mental illness (in which paranoia was a contributing symptom) who gave his wife a Get. As a Get can only be given by a "sane" individual, much analysis and debate ensued regarding how to classify this individual as well as the precise definition of insanity in Halakha.
In 2013, a divorce gang headed by rabbis in New York and New Jersey that forced gets through the use of kidnapping and torture was closed down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A second one that utilized murder was closed in 2016.