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The heat is being turned up on get refusers

  • Get
A woman who has, after five years, been freed from the chains of being refused a get (Jewish divorce), will be talking about her experiences at a programme organised by the Go-Getters, the SA Get Network, and the Union of Jewish Women at the HOD in Orchards in Johannesburg on August 2.
by BRIAN JOSSELOWITZ | Jul 20, 2016

One of the speakers is Michelle Blumenau Alge, co-founder of Go-Getters, who will talk about the importance of community participation in the get issue.

The agunah - “woman in chains” - Rachel (not her real name as her civil divorce is not final), has been separated for five years.

She told Jewish Report: “It was practically impossible to get my get. The nature of my husband made it exceptionally challenging, as he was opposed to giving it to me. It was a difficult situation until I approached Rosh Beth Din Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag directly. 

“He has been wonderful. The get would have been part of the civil divorce, which is not close to being finalised at this stage. My husband only recently gave me the get due to his anxiety of public exposure following the reports in the SA Jewish Report and the campaign run by the Go-Getters in partnership with the Union of Jewish Women (Cape Town) branch.” Rachel’s topic is “My get nightmare and divorce settlement”. Other speakers on the programme include Rabbi Kurtstag on “The get system and get refusers (women too)”. Advocate (and mediator) Liza Segal will discuss the legal situation in South Africa, followed by a question and answer session and refreshments.

The organisations who are pleased that the spotlight is now falling on the get refuser issue include Koleinu SA, the UJW and Shalom Bayit.

Wendy Hendler, co-founder and director of Koleinu SA, said: “Koleinu believes that get refusal is a form of domestic abuse which in South African law falls under the definition of ‘a serious invasion of the complainant’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security’, according to the Domestic Violence Act.

“This form of emotional or psychological abuse is one spouse’s attempt to control the other through intimidation and coercion without resorting to physical tactics. This argument was used successfully in 2015 in Melbourne, Australia to criminalise this behaviour and impose a jail sentence on the perpetrator if found guilty.

“This is a precedent that should be applied in South Africa. Koleinu is currently gathering a group of lawyers to try and introduce this ruling into South African law. We are encouraged by the latest Beth Din policy of excommunicating violators of the spouse’s right to liberty.”

Koleinu SA is a non-profit organisation launched in 2013 in response to the rising incidence of abuse cases, including sexual abuse. It provides a confidential and anonymous helpline to support victims of abuse and also has an educational and advocacy wing to raise awareness.

Lynne Raphaely, national president of UJW SA, said the organisation is committed to the promotion of the rights and status of women. “Denying a woman a get and keeping her ‘chained’ is viewed as a human rights abuse. It is a form of emotional as well as domestic abuse and it is therefore incumbent upon us to condemn those who perpetrate the unacceptable behaviour of keeping women in chains.”

Irene Zuckerman of Shalom Bayit, an organisation that helps bring domestic abuse in the Jewish community into the open and make women aware that “they aren’t alone” in this, said: “It’s often not only the get that is being refused during these times but in most cases there is financial abuse as well. 

“Children are caught up in the ongoing harassment during this time. There is also, of course, the issue of security for the wife, children and probably her whole family and a strong stance has to be taken against a husband who goes against both Jewish and South African law.”

* Tickets are R50 each. For more information, e-mail info@ujw.co.za or phone (011) 648-1053.

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