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What is the role of the Beth Din in Jewish Divorce?

Following on from our last blog explaining the Get, we explore the role of the Beth Din and why they have to be involved when a marriage breaks down.

To start with a Beth Din is a rabbinical court of Judaism that is composed of at least three rabbis who are responsible for matters of Jewish religious law and the settlement of civil disputes between Jews.

When presiding over Jewish Divorce the rabbis are there to make sure that every single detail is correct. It is very important that the process is executed exactly because if any minor detail was done incorrectly it would invalidate the divorce. Such is the pressure and seriousness of the proceedings some rabbis will fast on the day they preside over a divorce.

As mentioned in our blog about the Get, the entire procedure is performed in front of the Beth Din. Technically only the husband, wife and two witnesses are required to affect the divorce but the Get process is so complex that it cannot be done correctly unless done in the presence of experts. And because of this, rabbinic law invalidates any Get that is not written and transmitted in front of these experts.

The divorce proceedings must take place in daylight and not on any major Jewish holiday or on Shabbat. It is also not recommended to schedule proceedings on Fridays or prior to major holidays as it is presumed that people would be pressured, hurrying, and lacking the presence of mind for the complex deliberations.

Sometimes the Beth Din may request the couple to undergo marriage counselling as one last attempt to salvage the marriage before proceeding with the divorce. They also have the power to turn away a couple wishing to divorce if all other options have not been considered.

There are several things the rabbis must do prior to starting the proceedings.

• The rabbis question the husband and wife regarding their willingness to divorce. The rabbis must be fully convinced that they both agree to it.

• The couple's names are checked exactly including any nicknames. Their father's names have to be taken. And it must be determined whether the husband or father of the wife, is a Levite, Kohen or Israelite. All this information must be 100% accurate as it is included in the Get document.

• The rabbis have to find our whether the couple is of Ashkenazi or Sephardic descent. There are several details of the Get which are subject to a difference of custom between the two groups.

• Finally, the rabbis must check that there is no relationship between the witnesses, rabbis, scribe, and the husband or wife.

After these checks have been made the husband is told of the costs of the divorce proceedings which include the imbursement to the rabbis, the scribe and any other costs.

He is then requested to make a declaration where he annuls any statement or vow he may have made previously which could prevent the divorce. This process is called bittul moda’ah.

Finally, the last thing the rabbis do before writing up the Get is to call for a scribe and two witnesses. According to Jewish law, these must be "righteous" men so they are asked to repent for any misdeeds they may have done. This can sometimes be a recital of the viduy, or confession, normally reserved for Yom Kippur.

In our next blog, we will look at the writing of the Get and what the complexities are of this unique document. For more information, you might like to read our previous blog Jewish Divorce in England and Wales Explained.

If you are considering separating from your spouse or long-term partner Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer both flexible pricing and fixed fees for family law and Jewish divorce legal services. For an initial consultation call the Family Solicitors at Slater and Gordon UK on freephone 0800 916 9055 or alternatively contact us online and we will call you.

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