Don’t Get a Get

August 22, 2008

Our anniversary is coming up soon, the anniversary of the day that (among other things) we signed our ketubah. Traditionally in Judaism, the ketubah is a marriage contract, not unlike the modern-day prenup, listing the material goods that the husband vows to provide the wife, and the settlement that will occur in case of divorce. Relative to other practices a couple thousand years ago, it was very progressive in terms of offering rights to women, but at the same time, there was an overtone of the bride as property, something to be acquired.

Because DH and I are not traditional people, our ketubah says nothing about contractual obligations. Instead, we made beautiful promises such as cherishing each other’s uniqueness; creating a home filled with reverence for learning, loving, and generosity; and my favorite, doing everything within our power to permit each of us to become the persons we are yet to be. Surrounding these heartfelt words is a vibrant painting. It is a joy to look at our ketubah on the wall every day. It reminds me to help my husband to become the person he is yet to be, and to strive to develop myself. It reminds me of how much we loved each other on that day, and how much more we love each other now.

Recently, I had a different experience with a ketubah. DH and I were in a marvelous European city, in a Jewish museum attached to one of the most remarkable synagogues in the world, and the tour guide was showing us different artifacts. When we got to the ketubah section, the guide told us about the nature of the Jewish marriage contract. It was all information that we’ve heard dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Then she said something that neither DH nor I had ever heard before.

Even though the ketubah theoretically offered the option for divorce, it was very difficult to obtain a get, or rabbinically-approved divorce. The husband always had the advantage; he was the one to initiate the divorce, and he was the one with the choices. Unlike today, you couldn’t get divorced just because you were unhappy. It would have to be a situation like infidelity. Or a couple who hadn’t had any children after being married for a really long time, like 10 or 15 years.

Her matter-of-fact little piece of information knocked the wind out of me. DH later told me that he had a similar reaction.

We have been married for over 10 years, and obviously we have no children. According to ancient law, our marriage is a failure.

There are so many ways in which I place no stake in Jewish law, but this one really got to me.

After my initial visceral reaction to our own situation, I thought of all of the infertile couples over the millenia (and some of the highly observant Jews today). The expectation to have kids, and lots of them, right after the wedding. The questions, and looks, and disapproval when the kids kept not materializing. The blame (probably directed at the wife, regardless of the actual cause). The endless trips to the mikvah after every failed cycle. The desperate prayers. Finally, the official decree that the failure to produce children meant that the marriage must end. Maybe the husband could have a chance to try again with a new wife. After 10 or 15 years, the original wife’s clock might have run out (even if the original IF cause had been male factor). After 10 or 15 years, with future children unlikely, who else would want her? Being a divorced woman meant something different in that world than it does here. It meant that it was all over.

Not that this situation was fair for the men. Imagine spending 10 or 15 years with a woman, loving her very much, but being forced by your family, your community, your society, to divorce her because together you had failed to produce children. The men were able to remarry, but it might not have been so easy to find a second wife when people questioned your ability to do your duty and give her children.

I was pissed. Pissed at the religion, pissed at the power structure, pissed at the close-mindedness, pissed at the judgment, pissed at what these poor people had to endure.

And I’ve been pissed for months, right up until writing this post. Now, suddenly, I am grateful.

As much as IF has been incredibly awful for me, I am so grateful to have so many choices. I could opt not to have children for years after my wedding, and it was acceptable. I could choose to devote my life to something other than raising a family, so that during the years of IF I had purpose (and, sometimes, distraction). I could choose from an array of medical technologies to raise our odds. I could choose to step away from those technologies when it all became too much. I could choose several other avenues to bring a child into the family, if it comes to that. Though I hope I never have to, I could even choose to step away forever, and live without children but with my marvelous husband who treats me as an equal and shoulders these burdens equally. I would get plenty of flack for some of these choices (and I already have, sometimes), but I still have the power to choose.

Whoever would have imagined that a thoughtless tour guide and someone else’s ketubah could make me feel good about my infertility?

26 Responses to “Don’t Get a Get”

  1. Kim Says:

    Wow! Isn’t it amazing how just looking at things a bit differently can change them so drastically. I am one to find a silver lining in everything – even if it takes me a month or year later! iclw

  2. I’m so glad you were able to find the “good” in this. It is a real eye opener to think how differently our situations could be even as short as 30 years ago.

    I am grateful to have the options that we have today.

  3. Arpee Says:

    I learned something new today – ketubah. You and your husband’s ketubah sounds like the Christian’s marriage vows. (I hope the comparison does not offend you. Some are generic, some are custom like my husband’s and mine.)

    Anyway, this spurred me to do a word search from the 5 books and look what I found in Deuteronomy 24:1-3:
    a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”
    …scary, women had to be in their best behaviors then lest they want to be divorced!

    You are right, we have it good with our ability to make choices today.

  4. Trish Says:

    Here from IComLeavWe…
    wow I didn’t know that either – I was a failure too in that case …very harsh ideas and times . Thank goodness times have changed.
    I wish you continued happiness and that your dreams come true.

    (adoption,pregnancy loss, IVF twins)
    My Little Drummer Boys

  5. bobbie Says:

    My husband and I did not have a ketubah, but nonetheless I agree, it’s interesting how times have changed.

    Good luck in your journey!

    (Visiting for ICLW)

  6. Vikki Says:

    I find the history of marriage and the individual religions to be fascinating. However, I can see how that would have disturbed you. Look how healthy you are though to be able to turn it around and see the progress your religion, culture, and society has made. I am Catholic and still carry around some of the traditional burdens and guilts of my religion. I didn’t marry in the Catholic church because my husband is not Catholic. Hence my curiosity into all different religions and spiritual cultures! Keep up the positive attitude.

    (Visit from ICLW)
    P.S. Thanks for viewing my blog.

  7. Shanez Says:

    In reading the first part of your post I thought it so sweet that you and your husband have such a great reminder of your love to look at everyday.

    So glad that the present is here and that we don’t live back then. It’s hard to begin to imagine what women and men went through.


  8. ICLW Visitor…

    I definitely like your non-traditional approach to your ketubah than the traditional one, but the perspective you gained from writing about the traditional one is interesting, too.

    I grew up Catholic and have been to tons of Catholic weddings – fertility and having children almost always plays some role in the more traditional ones. There was a particular wedding I went to – probably 15 years ago, so long before I even wanted kids or knew I was infertile – and the bride was led by the men in the ceremony to a statue of the Virgin Mary to pray for children. Even then it made me realllly uncomfortable to equate children with a successful marriage.

  9. Cece Says:

    I’m not jewish, but my husband is. And in his family, pretty much the only reason you get married is because you are ready to have childern. So imagine everyone’s surprise when 1, 2, 3 years after we got married, no babies. And all the prying questions. One day, after my second loss, my MIL called me to tell me that my SIL was pregnant (they had gotten married 3 months before). I just totally started bawling. She finally understood the pain I was going through (maybe a little).

    But I agree with you – without IF – I would have had the 4+ years of marriage to both really enjoy my DH to myself, but we’ve both also gotten to a much better place in our jobs, finanaically, and just in general. I would have loved to be a mother of a 3 year old right now – but my life would certainly have turned out differently.

  10. Marie Says:

    That is unbelievably sad and well, it pisses me off to. Imagine the Woman’s perspective. Barren and left for more fertile pastures???

    Uggg that is sick.

    Happy Progression to us!!

  11. Nity Says:

    I had never heard of a ketubah until I house-sat for a Jewish friend. (We did know any Jewish people growing up overseas.) I thought it was beautiful! I couldn’t believe how elaborate and precious it was to see the ketubah on their wall.

    It is amazing to hear how you have changed perspectives – from pissed to grateful. I cannot even imagine the shame the woman must face in past cultures. The possibility to divorce because they couldn’t reproduce. If you look at several stories – i.e. Abraham and Isaac – of how people waited SO SO long to have a baby without leaving the wife – it’s kind of amazing given the idea the tour guide proposed.

    I love your grateful list. :o)


  12. Carmen Says:

    I am visiting here from Alicia’s (Pieces of Me) Blog. My first reaction reading your post was ‘Wow’. That was a real shock to me too. Pretty unbelievable. I love the idea of the Ketubah being up in your home as a reminder though. What a beautiful thing to be reminded of everyday of the commitment you made to eachother. Perhaps I should think of doing the same with mine & my husband’s wedding vows… I’m glad you were able to turn the comments around and see the good in it all. Have you looked into any other sources to see if her comment was actually valid? Like the last person commented, it’s hard to believe given there were some relationships in the Bible that lasted YEARS without any children being conceived!

  13. Danielle Says:

    Happy anniversary to you and your husband! Sounds like you had a very beautiful day. Religion, at times, can be so cut and dry. I grew up Catholic and believed every bit of it until I was 16 and one of my friends killed himself. It was believed *still is* that if one kills them self, they go to hell. I was very confused and didn’t understand why my friend was going to hell because he was a confused child. As I grew up, I realized that I can believe religion and believe in God, but it isn’t ALWAYS black and white. How this relates to your entry, I have no idea now. In my head it made sense…now…not so much. I wish you nothing but a happy future and many many MANY more love-filled anniversaries.
    Take care,

  14. bellaandherfella Says:

    Here from ICLW.

    Happy Anniversary to you and your husband! Thank you for the lesson in your Faith. It was really interesting.

    It sounds like you have a loving, wonderful marriage that no one could EVER view as a failure.

    I hope your dreams of becoming parents comes true very soon!

  15. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    I am right there with you in feeling grateful for choices. Part of me thinks it would be nice to have started ttc years before I did, that I am to blame for waiting too long. But I really don’t think I’d rewrite my history because — even if I could turn back time — if I got dropped back into an earlier era of my life, I would want to make the same choices I already did. Having those choices is so important.

    (Did that make any sense at all? Can’t tell, I’m commenting while eating lunch!)

  16. babysmiling Says:

    @Carmen: Good question about looking into other sources. Here’s something I found from

    The Mishnah (Yevamot 6.6) says that when a married couple is childless for many years, the husband must take another wife in order to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply: “If a man has taken a wife and been with her ten years, and she has not born child, he may not abstain [from fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and multiply]. If he divorces her, she may be married by another man, and that man may live with her for ten years. If she has miscarried, she counts [the period of ten years] from the time of the miscarriage.”

    So apparently, if it’s in the Mishnah, it’s official. But the “good news” is that the clock restarts after a M/C, so our marriage wasn’t a failure in the first place because we were married 7 years before our first M/C and now the clock gets extended 10 years from our most recent M/C a couple of months ago. Should our marriage being “saved” by the M/Cs make me feel better? Maybe, but it’s not working.

  17. Ginny Says:

    This is a really great post & I’m glad that you are working through your hurt/anger. I can see how that was hard to hear, some things in the past are just tragic, especially for women.

    The right to choose is very powerful and I am so thankful that women have those rights currently. I hope they are never taken away from us!

  18. Shiona Says:

    This post was very informative. That’s great that you combined traditin with non tradition by not dealing with property issues. You have a very strong foundation and I hope you enjoy your aniversary. It’s also great that you were able to find the good out of this situation.

  19. Photogrl Says:

    Stopping by from ICLW…

    Beautiful post…really makes me think I need to look for more positives out of IF, too.

  20. Shaz Says:

    I just love this statement: “doing everything within our power to permit each of us to become the persons we are yet to be”
    I’m going to share that with my husband as soon as he gets home!

    Here from ICLW…

  21. Murgdan Says:

    Incredible that infidelity and infertility are so incredibly alike-sounding, yet worlds apart…and that they were treated as such equal things in the past.

  22. Sian Says:

    ICLW – What a brilliant post. I never knew about the ketubah. It is amazing how it can mean so many differnet things to different woman. Like it is a positive thing for you…..but may be quite demeaning for another. Very intersting.

  23. mdep Says:

    Clicked over from ICLW. I had never heard of the ketubah. I really enjoyed this post – it’s beautiful. I think it’s wonderful that you and your husband created such a beautiful and personal ketubah. And even though it took some months of being pissed, it’s come full circle to allow this other perspective. Glad to hear you are feeling grateful now!

  24. InDueTime Says:

    Hey, do you remember which link it was? I seriously don’t want to have to click each name again LOL

    Interesting aspect on religion. Glad you were born now instead of millions of years ago. Hugs sweetie.

  25. jaymee Says:

    It always amazes me when IF pops up in those unexpected places. What really amazes me is how grateful I am to have the options and how much that comforts me.


  26. Rebecca Says:

    Happy anniversary 🙂

    The signing of the ketubah sounds like a wonderful tradition, I wish their was more tradition in weddings these days.

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