Ritual for Divorce - Weathering the Storm

The passage of divorce. To what does this compare?
To the earth when it moves and quakes and shifts beneath our feet, and everything shifts place.
Things shatter, re-arrange, foundations crack.

Years have passed.
I return to share some tools to help those who follow, for those who are traveling through
the craggy pass of divorce.

I knew at that time that I needed to punctuate that passage, that time of crisis, leave-taking, and death.
And I knew as well that that time held unprecedented possibilities, for deepening and growth.

I chose to travel through a traditional Jewish divorce with a bet din (rabbinical court).
I needed a time-bound ceremony that reached into the past, connecting with others of my people
who had traveled through the very same gate through which I was passing.

I also wanted to stand in the traditional ceremony as an equal participant.
Rather than having the ceremony "happen" to me, I wanted to sculpt that time.
So I shaped new forms to stand with the old.

First I looked back at the wedding ceremony, to undo the bonds that once bound, to relinquish the vows made,
of seeing the other as sacred, of setting myself apart.

I was deeply struck by the powerful loneliness of divorce.
Unlike one mourning a death, for divorce there's no burial and no shivah. (7 ritualized day of mourning)
No one brings over food, comes and stays near to offer comfort, nor holds one's hand.
One does not rise in schul (synagogue) for the kaddish surrounded by community.

Thus I strove to create ritual to mark this time.

Drawing from Rituals of Weddings and Mourning:
Just as the time before a wedding, the evening before the get ceremony, I began my fast.
In the morning I recited the Viddui ( the confessional, acknowledging having gotten off the path) recited before
one's marriage, on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), and on one's death bed.

Paralleling Yom Kippur, I wore no jewelry and no makeup. I dressed in white, color of purity, cleansing, holiness.

Aloneness and companionship:
The evening and morning before the get ceremony, I was alone. I needed time to spiritually center myself.
As done at death, the rest of the day, I arranged for a changing shomeret (shifts) of friends who drove me,
stayed with me through the traditional ceremony as my witnesses and with whom I shared my evening meal.

The ceremony and my document: (below)
I purchased special paper and the evening before the get ceremony I wrote out by hand a letter of release
to my husband. The document blended sections reminiscent of the ketubah (marriage contract) as well as of the
traditional get (divorce document).

The next day the traditional ceremony began with the acknowledgment that no party was there under duress.
While the scribe was writing the get, my husband and I were dismissed for a few hours.

During that time I met with a woman friend, who read aloud the document I had written, and who listened as I
in turn, read it aloud to her.
Both the reading and the listening made what was happening that day more real, and having that witnessed
by someone who cared about me, greatly comforted me.

When returning to the bet din, the get, my husband's release of me was read.
It was handed to me and as is tradition, I walked with it, signifying my acceptance of it, then silently
dropped it into my ex-husband's hands.
Certificates were prepared officially certifying the legal status of the divorce. 
As we rose to leave I handed my document of release to my ex-husband, thus completing for me,
the get ceremony.

After the ceremony:
On returning home, using water, symbol of life, purification and renewal, I washed, as is customary to do when
leaving the graveside. I changed from clothes of white to garments of color.

I shared my evening meal, prepared by women friends, a meal of consolation.
Lighting colored candles, we spoke of endings, beginnings, the road of color, reflecting on
what we wanted for ourselves as women standing in the world.

The evening concluded as we all walked around the block, done traditionally at the conclusion of Shivah,
making a circle symbolizing life's continuity, honoring how life's path would now be different.

Additional Thoughts:
It may happen that some on the Bet Din (Rabbinical court) may be uncomfortable with your sadness, with tears.
Claim your emotions regardless. It is your passage, not a time to take care of others.

Divorce is a journey as well for one's extended family, parents, and siblings.
They too have strong residues of pain, anger, hurt and sorrow, that often have few condoned routes
through which to be processed.

We may need to instruct those who love us on how best to help us as we struggle through the process of divorce.
We may need to ask them just to listen, without attempting to cheer us up, assure us of better days,
or relate stories of others who have it worse.
People who love us can feel helpless and may not know how to aid us.
We need teach them what it is that would feel comforting and/or feel supportive and how to best be with us
at that time.

Find the support needed. Work through the feelings, the grief, the pieces that need examining
in your relationship past. Look at the part you played.
Do this for yourself, and if parenting, for your children.

Divorce is a passage, where when we do our work and emerge, nothing remains the same.

Our traditions enable us to go into the waves, open us up, break through the numbness and aids us feel
the surge of powerful emotions embedded in this time.

If we go with it, experience it, and confront the issues, potential is released for the refining of our spirits,
the stretching of our souls, the realigning of our lives.

To what does this compare?
To the earth when it moves and quakes and shifts beneath our feel and everything shifts places.
Things shatter, re-arrange, and we rise up, and move to create, again, the story of our lives.

Form of Release:

On the ____day of the week, the ____ day of ___________57__ since the Creation of the World,
the ___________day of __________20___ as we reckon time here in _______(city) ,___________(state/province),
I ____________daughter of ________ and _______________(Hebrew name)______________
do depart from the bindings and vows of kedushin that took place _________years ago on ___________in _______________,__________ to ______________son of ___________and ___________(Hebrew name)__________________________________

This day I am no longer bound to the task and to the commitment to cherish and honor you in faithfulness
and in integrity as my husband. This day I am no longer bound to stand as wife, companion, and partner.

This day I am no longer bound by honor or by law to affirm and maintain kedusha within our relationship.
This day I am no longer set aside, special to only you. This day the kedushin vows become null and void.
I am no longer bound by the vows of kedushin.

Hereby I am no longer kedusha to you, no longer your wife, and you are no longer kadosh to me,
no longer my husband.

On this day according to our tradition I depart as a free woman.
I stand as a free agent in the Jewish community, in the world and before myself.
I stand having completed our people's traditional way of unbinding a marital relationship.
I stand as a Jewish woman with dignity and with strength restored to a single unit
as a whole and complete person.

This shall stand as a document of release and as a letter of freedom in accordance with the values
of the our people, Israel.

______________________________Hebrew name

Witness________________________Hebrew name___________________
Witness________________________Hebrew name___________________

Additional Notes:
Only a traditional get (Orthodox) is deemed "official" by all movements of Judaism.
Without this ceremony should a man or woman desire to marry again traditional rabbis will not officiate
at the wedding. It effects the status of future children, as without this ceremony they are seen being outside
the Jewish community and traditionally cannot ever marry another Jew.

In the traditional ceremony it is the man who "releases" his wife. The rabbinic court is composed of three men
in addition to the scribe. Technically the man summons his wife, although with pressure a woman can "persuade"
her spouse to grant her a get, but by law she has no recourse should he refuse.
Thus many will include this provision as well as stipulate how this will be paid for in the secular
divorce negotiations.

Shivah traditionally is a seven day period of mourning divided into stages, where a mourner remains at home
and where there are prescribed and numerous customs guiding dress, grooming, speech, prayer, food, and
contact with others.

The scribe calligraphers a handwritten one page Hebrew document called a get with special paper, pen,
quill and ink. There are special rules prescribing who can be a scribe, ritual requirements, etc.