Write the Get Name

From: Sheina

Dear Rabbi,

Unfortunately, my sister is getting divorced and there’s some question regarding the spelling of her name on the get. The rabbis involved require that it be written in Hebrew with a particular spelling that is different than the way we’ve always spelled her name. She feels uncomfortable with this and I was wondering if there are any insights you might be able to share with us on this.

Dear Sheina,

Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is very unfortunate and I’m sorry to hear of your sister’s plight. Divorce is certainly difficult enough as it is such that naturally everyone involved should want to make it the least uncomfortable as possible.

However, regarding this detail, namely the way her name should be spelled in the get, I encourage her to accept the guidance of the rabbis involved, who I assume to be experts in the field.

I understand that your sister may very well see this as a violation of her independence or a way of maintaining her dignity in a very difficult situation, but regardless of who initiated the divorce, since the marriage is to be dissolved, it should be done according to the Halacha to ensure that she will be freed from her current marriage, allowing the possibility of marrying someone else.

One of the very important requirements of ensuring a valid get involves the names therein, where spelling is one particular but essential factor. And while I appreciate that it may be difficult to accept that there are halachically required spellings for the wide range of traditional names, particularly regarding Ashkenazic/Yiddish names whose halachic spelling may seem awkward compared to current, popular convention, nevertheless, as far as the get is concerned, she should accept the halachic spelling.

Given the overall difficulty of divorce, and the significant ramifications of not being properly divorced, this relatively minor discomfort should be tolerated for her ultimate good. And regarding the spelling of her name in informal contexts, she may continue to spell it as she’d like.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin had a daughter who got married and moved to a distant town such that her main contact with the family was through letters. Once, after having sent a letter to his daughter through a courier, the rabbi went through great pains to recall the letter. The rabbi’s son, Rav Yitzchak, thought that this was very peculiar, since he was aware of the contents of the letter, which didn’t seem particularly significant. And what’s more, once the letter was returned he saw his father copy the new letter word for word from the original, seeming to make no changes before resending it.

After looking into the matter, he understood that it had come to the attention of Rabbi Chaim that in the town in which his daughter lived, there was a controversy over how to spell a certain woman’s name in her get, and this name happened to be the same as his daughter’s. The rabbi recalled that he had not been particular about how he spelled his daughter’s name in the first letter and was concerned, given the publicity of the case, that his “mis-spelling” might be used as proof how to spell the name for the purpose of the get. To avoid any misunderstanding and mishap, he went through such great efforts to recall the letter, in order to re-write his daughter’s name according to the halachic spelling.

We see from this story that even if Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin was not always meticulous in the spelling of names in an informal context, he nevertheless took very seriously the correct spelling of names in such halachically important contexts as the get. This is what I advise your sister to do as well.

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