Exorcising the Get: A Ritual of Healing

The author created a ritual to exorcise the pain she experienced when she was required to receive her get with utter passivity.

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"Stand face to face," they said. "You, g'veret [madame], put up your hands, no, not like that, your thumbs are up, you see they show eagerness that way, they mustn't show eagerness, yes, like that, absolutely flat, they have to be flat. Now, Adoni [sir], say the words, 'Ha-ray aht megurehshet lee--Behold you are divorced from me.'" And my husband and I stared straight into one another's eyes, and he said, "Ha-ray aht megurehshet lee," and echoing in my ears were the words of marriage, "Ha-ray aht mekudehshet lee--Behold you are sanctified to me," and the rabbi said, "Now, Adoni, drop the get into her hands, keep your thumbs down, g'veret, absolutely flat, g'veret," and he dropped the get into my hands.

Still I was silent, still I said nothing, and the rabbi said, "Now you, g'veret, hold the get up high, you are showing it to the world, g'veret, good, now walk to the four corners of the room holding up the get, to that corner, and to that corner," and I held up the get high for the world to see, and I marched like a shtetl woman [a woman from a small East European town] to the four corners of the room, arms outstretched. The rabbi was pleased and he said, "Come here." I went to the bench and stood before the rabbis, and one ripped a corner of the get and said, "You are free to remarry."

Passivity Brings Pain

I didn't know then--I didn't know until years later in the room in Los Angeles--that being forced into silence, being forbidden to speak, being rendered unutterably passive, even my thumbs forced down, being made to receive the words, "Ha-ray aht megurehshet lee," made me feel I was being divorced from the good, from the holy, from the sacred, from life itself, humiliated--oh, humiliated so--made me feel I was being punished for seeking an end to the marriage, made me feel thrust into hell.

And that is what, for women, the Orthodox divorce ritual probably was intended to do.

Not until I relived the get ceremony in my spiritual exercise did I awaken to my buried pain, did I come face to face with the humiliation for women written into the ceremony, did I realize the price I had paid. I knew if I were to free myself from its impact on me, I had to create a ritual of exorcism. I needed to exorcise the get.

The Ritual of Exorcism

And so, on Memorial Day weekend 1990, I gathered together with a group of women for the exorcism. An inner voice I have learned to trust told me the way to do it was to replay what had been... dismembering its parts. Every step in the original ceremony needed to be undone: the questioning by the rabbi; the writing of the get; the words of divorce; the march around the room; the ripping of the document; the declaration of freedom.

Women in Orthodox Judaism are not permitted to serve as witnesses: women in my divorce exorcism were my witnesses. A close friend stood in as "rabbi"; this time around, she asked me why I wanted the divorce. Standing face to face with her, in words that had been pent up in me for too many years, I spoke the truth of my former marriage as I had experienced it. Then I "read out" my own get. When I had said all I needed to say, I pronounced the words I had needed so long ago to be free to pronounce:

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Miriyam Glazer

Miriyam Glazer, professor of literature at the University of Judaism, is author of Dancing on the Edge of the World: Jewish Stories of Faith, Inspiration, and Love and Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers. She is studying for the Conservative rabbinate. She married again in September 2003.