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Healing the Jewish Divorce Ceremony and Ourselves

By Tirzah Firestone

This is the story of a Jewish divorce process and the healing it provided for a couple in our Chavurah. I have a fond fantasy about what happened on the day of the ritual and I will share that first. I believe that the beauty and holiness of the separating couple, the circle around them, and the ceremony itself created a deep resonance that penetrated the collective unconscious of our tradition. My fantasy or no? The Get process has been so abrasive and void of mutuality in the past, especially for women, the Grushah1, that it has actually created more negative leftovers for the couple than freedom from marital karma and forgiveness. The Get ceremony that we created and experienced was deeply mutual and given to feeling the pain and death throughout it. Flowing in a way that only God could have determined, it ultimately released the couple into love for and freedom from each other. I imagined the souls in the Yeshivah Shel Ma'alakh (the holy convocation above) sighing in relief that we are finally getting it down here on the earth plane. That is, finally using the Jewish tradition for what it was truly meant: to create love and freedom.

Most Chavurot of any age know the pain of a separating couple. With Beth and Jay it was no different. There was a new lover on the scene and almost despite itself, the community found itself taking sides, having opinions, trying to mediate. The stellium of fall holidays was most painful; how could the Chavurah possibly support both the single partner and the new lovers insistent upon inclusion into the holiday services? The group subtly began to tear. In an open meeting, we resolved to move forward with Beth and Jay's cooperation: they would alternate at our home services, and the newly formed couple would visit a neighboring Chavurah in the next state for a portion of the holidays. But the pressure was still felt. Finally after Sukkot, on a beautiful Sunday, the Uncoupling Ceremony was held.

Beth and Jay arrived separately, raw and still disagreeing about the contents of their ceremony. There are two rabbis engaged to help/officiate, upon the advice of Reb Zalman that a male and a female rabbi should be present to maintain balance for the couple. The wisdom of this advice cannot be understated! It is necessary to hear both party's respective pain equally and fully. In this matter, two are better than one. The woman drops into her listening and the man focuses the thoughts and then one flounders and the other holds the pieces. And with this kind of weaving the feelings and the needs of the husband and wife are finally circumscribed.

A group of eight friends arrives, four men and four women. We expand the circle, the air ripe with unvoiced feelings. The male rabbi leads us in a niggun which slowly catches on. And then he speaks. Sensing that there may still be side-talking, even judgment in our hearts, he penetrates the air with a piece of Torah. There is an Ideal plane, he explains, and our world. On the Ideal plane, God may have created a "perfect" plan, "perfect" soul-mates, a "perfect" package. Yet when this Ideal concept reaches us, it is subject to time and space, and to us. Our Will, that which makes us more creative than the angels, is our ability to shape our "givens". This Will is seen in God's eyes to be the crown of creation. God looks respectfully at our work, at our choices here. God steps back lovingly, "cuts us slack." And so should we.

A deep breath. Then a second. The air is lightening. The female rabbi completes the talk with an image to contemplate as the men and women move into separate quarters. It is one from Chasidut. When two people come together in a loving bond, she explains, an angel is created. It is sustained and nourished by their ongoing union and commitment. But when their bond is broken, when the couple severs or loses their bond, the angel itself dissipates and must be released.

With these thoughts in mind, the women gather around Beth and lead her upstairs to the study. In her arms she clutches a white cloth doll she has found on a windowsill. She weeps into it. The women light a candle and encircle her. Then a patchwork of silence, joined tears, Beth's ruminations and staccato wise words to her to forgive, to release. Below us in the men's circle, a glass smashes. Jay wails an enormous man's cry. It moves through the house and into the women. And the room seems to steam as we pass the next hour shaping and scribing Beth's Get, her document of release. This will be her final gift to Jay, as his will be to her. It is written in English, in words of the heart. The formal version, the breaking of the wedding contract, has been scribed in the traditional Hebrew form by the rabbis.

Now it is time for the men and women to regather. Beth, still clutching her white angel doll, stands facing Jay in the center of their witnessing friends. She has asked to begin the exchange of documents. But many minutes pass before she can bring herself to read hers. In the dense silence surrounding her bowed head, one can feel her making her way, bushwacking through her broken dreams, her doubts, her disbelief, to get to this moment.

"In the name of God, in the tradition of Moses and Miriam and Israel, for the sake of the highest degree of consciousness both in ourselves and in the world. I, Beth, on this day, October 31, 1990, do honor the creation of the angel of our marriage and the time we shared together. I have grown by virtue of the companionship we shared, the support of my individuality, our commitment to communication and truth and by our sharing and celebration of Judaism.

I hereby release and let go of the Angel of our marriage, and I am thus released, Karmically and temporally, in Heaven, on Earth, and to the four directions as your wife companion, and partner. And I release you, Jay, as my husband, companion, and partner, Karmically, temporally, in Heaven, on Earth, and to the four directions.

May we both be blessed by God to fulfill our own destinies. I forgive us both for how we missed the mark.

On this day, in the wholeness of my being, according to our tradition, I depart as a free woman. I stand as a free woman in dignity and strength, in the Jewish community, in the world and before myself. I stand restored to a single unit, as a whole and complete woman, spiritually, emotionally, physically.

God, create peace from on high, create peace for us, in our hearts, for all of Israel and the Earth and let us say, Amen!

Beth, daughter of ____________"

Again, with pause and great Kavanah - intention, Beth tosses the document into Jay's shaking hands. 2

And now it is Jay's turn. He looks at her and then away. His whole body is shaking now. With deliberation, he begins:

"In the name of God, in the tradition of Moses and Miriam and Israel, for the sake of the highest degree of consciousness, both in ourselves and in the world, I, Jay, on the first day of the week, the second day of the month of Cheshvan, in the year 5751, take responsibility for creating an angel of innocence, expectation, and love, and now dismiss this angel who has become wiser, stronger, and fuller.

I take with me as I leave this marriage, the fulfilled dreams and memories that I have experienced. I leave this marriage with increased sensitivity to my grief and my passion, my ability to hear and be heard by myself and others, with an increased clarity of my needs and wants in future relationships, with an increased confidence in myself.

I release the dreams and visions that I had hoped for this marriage, I release my expectations that I have placed on you, and I release to you that part of my heart that you will always hold.

In the wholeness of my being, I am Jay."

Jay waits for Beth to put out her hands. They look at each other. Then he releases his gift into them. The moment is so full. It envelopes us all in a timeless orb. Then, a ripping: like the rending of a mourner's clothes, the Hebrew Gittim are held firmly between the doleful couple and torn on each of the four sides. This is performed with power and solemnity. There is no mistake now. The task is complete.

The next step is to uncoil the seven circles that the couple made around one another at their wedding. We stand and chant, most of us weeping openly now. We offer first Jay the strength to release Beth. As he encircles her, his hands gesture to her body a withdrawing and releasing of the seven energetic bonds which connected their centers. Then it is Beth's turn to undo her marriage coils. As she uncircles Jay, we sing and watch. And suddenly some-thing quite strange happens. A limb from the little cloth doll she holds falls to the floor. The angel is truly disintegrating now.

Havdalah: wine and sweetgrass, candle and dove-filled etrog. We remained wrapped in this timeless circle. Beth and Jay hold the candle together as we sing a partial havdalah, the ritual of transition from one state of consciousness to the other. The fire is hot and the fragrance lifts and escorts the angel of this marriage on Its way. The male rabbi extinguishes the candle in the cool, sweet wine. And with the essence of the fire, he annoints Beth and Jay, first touching their foreheads..."so you shall always think well of one another"...and then their eyes..."so you shall always see the good in one another"...and then their mouths and hearts. The circle is tight and a river of tears runs between us. Whose tears? There is healing for us all. It is happening right before our eyes, right inside of each one of us.

The couple, now uncoupled, stand opposite one another, now free to go. Yet they remain. We all do. And then they hug. "I wish you well," I hear Jay whisper to Beth. "And you, dear one," she responds. Exhausted and utterly happy, they can afford each other these blessings now, their hearts free of holding, full of forgiven space.

And theirs are not the only ones.


1. Grushah: Literally, "She who has been chased out." This Talmudic title applies to any divorcee, regardless of her standing vis-a-vis her husband. There is actually no legal forum for the woman to initiate a divorce in Judaism, nor to serve her husband with a Get, a Writ of Divorce. Thus far, the Get must be served by the husband only, halakhically.
2. The tradition had the man toss the writ into the hands of the woman, as opposed to handing it to her, as a symbol of utter release.
Complete Ceremony

Found in: Divorce

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