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Gett refusers thrive on fear, shame, threats and silence

  • MichelleBlumenauGoGetters
Michelle K Blumenau Alge, the co-founder of Go Getters - The SA Gett Network, takes us through her experience in this role and why it is important.
by MICHELLE BLUMENAU | Jul 27, 2017

Go Getters - the SA Gett Network, was established over a year ago to help abused women get their gets in South Africa. We recently got our ninth gett with the help of the Beth Din. 

When we started Go Getters, we really didn’t have an understanding of this underbelly of our community. It’s harrowing hearing stories of women affected by gett abuse. If you believe the abuse is confined to the gett, think again. Men, who have a need to dominate and control, abuse their children and spouses in various ways and financial and emotional abuse are the starting points. 

Through helping divorcees, Stacey Lewis of www.thedivorcesource.co.za also noticed the prevalence of financial abuse. She approached the Chevrah Kadisha Social Services with a way to deal with this issue. The Chev has trained the first group of volunteers to deal with protection orders and the basics of maintenance court.  The Chev has also set up a group of 20 lawyers who have stepped forward to help pro bono. 

The gett refusers we deal with are religious or secular, extort their spouses with the children, they refuse to move out of the marital home, they distress their children to the point of hospitalisation, they fire their lawyers repeatedly and extend their divorce trials, they abandon their children.

They send threatening messages, they manipulate and they lie. You probably know and like these men because it’s really important to them that you view them favourably. They thrive in an environment of fear, shame, threats and silence. Even their rabbis buy them.  

When you hear these stories you may just say, “ag shame”. This wasn’t something I was able to do. Neither could my co-founder, Balu Nivison, nor the Go Getters teams in Johannesburg and Cape Town. 

I met a couple in Cape Town when I lived there in the late eighties. They married, had four kids and it was always a treat to see them every year during my holidays in the city. 

The husband met a gentile woman and began an affair. He fathered a child with her when she was newly-married to someone else. In 2012, I met them and their illegitimate son to find out what happened. 

He told me that he planned to make his Jewish wife pay for a gett. I first felt the now familiar red-black, shaking outrage that does not allow me to relent. 

He fathered two more illegitimate children and they proudly announced each pregnancy on Facebook. Post the civil divorce where the judge ordered him to pay both child and spousal maintenance, he married this non-Jewish woman, wearing a kippah.

Go Getters was born at that time; we began begging both of them to release the Jewish wife prior to their civil marriage. 

The Beth Din and many community members intervened, but the pleas fell on the deaf ears of this perverted couple. Eventually he demanded R2,5 million to give the gett. This was refused.

The Beth Din excommunicated the husband with breathtaking swiftness. To date, since the civil divorce was finalised in November 2015, he has paid maintenance once. 

The courts have failed the Jewish wife and cherem did not help her either. She remains spiritually married to this beast. 

We are told that the dysfunctional South African legal system protects Jewish women from this problem. Really? 

People say that the Beth Din should free her and other agunot. They can’t. They tell me gett refusers should be beaten. Maimonides ruled that if a man refused to grant a divorce, he was to be whipped without mercy until he did so. No one has offered Go Getters this service and, in any event, it is illegal here. 

To me, gett refusal is the equivalent of enslaving another. It’s the removal of free choice to have relationships, to marry and to have more children. It’s a monstrous form of domestic abuse. 

One of the reasons for the agunah crisis worldwide is increased lack of respect for authority. The Beth Din can threaten a man with cherem, and that’s where it ends. We realised a civil society intervention was needed to support the Beth Din. 

We needed to find ways to fight the bullies. We do this using community networks. We are skilled in social and traditional media. Exposing the abuse to close friends and family or depending on the legal circumstance, arranging for arrest, seems to be the most effective way to enhance an abuser’s willing gett giving. 

We proceed with no fear. We simply have no tolerance for these absurd cases of gett abuse. We will do all that’s necessary to stamp it out. 

Hear more at Limmud Joburg on Sunday, August 6, 09:15-10:15. Follow Go Getters at www.facebook.com/SAGettNetwork

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