Six rabbis in black suits sit around a table in the basement of a musty synagogue. The women sit across from them. Folding chairs come down from the tabletop. The rabbis don’t meet their eyes.
The head rabbi, shuckling forward and backward in his chair, opens a blue folder in front of the woman getting divorced. “Page 14,” he says.
She scans the words. It’s written like a script. There are words for “rabbi” and words for “wife.” She is the wife. Was the wife. Her civil divorce was official two months ago.
“Are you wearing any rings?” he asks.
She shows her bare hands.
He goes through the litany of things she must do. Respond to questions. Say certain Hebrew names. Listen to the mumbling of six rabbis reciting the archaic language of her Jewish divorce again and again and again.
He leads the men through the motions. He folds the get, a big piece of beige paper with thick, large black Hebrew writing. He has read it to her and translated it. She trusts that he was accurate.
He folds it in half, folds it in thirds, folds it again, then tucks one end into the other end. His fat hands struggle with the tucking. It takes several minutes and the room is silent. Her heart has been pounding since she walked through the door. She pulls at the jean jacket she is wearing, so no skin shows in front of the rabbis.
Finally, the paper is tucked into itself. The rabbi gives it to another rabbi, the one her ex-husband designated to represent him. She is told to stand. She is told to cup her hands a certain way. She is told not to grab the paper until it comes to its own rest in her cupped hands. Her heart thumps madly.
The rabbi puts the folded paper in her hands. She doesn’t move. When it seems to have settled, she folds her hands like the rabbi said. But he is not satisfied. Do it again, he says. She wants to scream at him to go fuck himself but she doesn’t. She doesn’t say a word. She folds her hands again over the paper. He makes her do it one more time until he is satisfied.
Then he tells her to lift her hands over her head. Then she must tuck the paper under her left arm. Then she must walk to the door. Then she must return to the table and put the stupid piece of paper on the tabletop. Then they must read it again, all six men, all mumbling, all standing a mass of black beards so their faces blur into one.
She glances at her friend several times. Her friend’s tiny diamond nose ring glints under the fluorescent lights. They smile at each other nervously.
When they finish reading, the rabbi pronounces her Jewish divorce official. He cuts the paper in six lines with a pocket knife and promises to keep it safe in the files of the board of rabbis. The board of rabbis who refused to return her calls two months earlier because she was the woman trying to wrest free of her marriage. The board of rabbis who responded when her ex-husband finally called.
But no matter now. It’s done. She is free to marry whomever she wants. Except she cannot remarry for 92 days. And she cannot marry a cohen, a high priest, because she is a divorcee.
But she should have only simchas, he says. And she should raise her children to be good yiddin, he says. When he says she should find only happiness, she bites her tongue because there are tears in her eyes.
After he says he’ll mail her a copy of the divorce decree, she and her friend scurry up the stale steps and out into the sunshine. She is hot in her jean jacket so she takes it off. Her bare arms drink in the sun.
“I’m so glad I was with you,” her friend says.
“I’m free,” she replies.