Times Of Israel: Post-Partum Repression


Post-Partum Repression

Rena Teeger

Is there any greater betrayal than a young mother losing custody of her newborn child through the combination of dubious medical assertions, illegitimate legal strategies and the indecent use of power and influence?

When situations like this arise, we as a community must ask ourselves what we can do to help.

The high profile case involving Beth Alexander, from Manchester, and her Viennese husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger raises such a moral dilemma and therefore should challenge each and every one of us.

Beth Alexander and Michael Schlesinger lived in Austria. During their court proceedings, Dr Schlesinger claimed that his English wife Beth, a Cambridge graduate, had suffered post-natal depression and mental health problems, and that therefore their three year-old twin boys were “at risk” in her custody. Beth Alexander and others who know her deny these claims. But the Jewish community in Vienna have closed ranks around Dr Schlesinger to protect him, whilst apparently demonising the children’s mother.

It seems that Beth Alexander was originally told by the head of the Vienna Chabad congregation that her husband was only willing to give her a Get – religious divorce – if she agreed to abandon her claim for custody of the two boys.  When British Rabbis subsequently approached the Viennese Chabad Rabbi, they were informed that he refused to become involved. They then intervened on the mother’s behalf to eventually secure the Get.

It is admirable and comforting that senior British Rabbis and thousands of supporters have rallied in a Facebook campaign to Beth Alexander’s side in her quest to regain custody of her young sons.

The essential challenge to each one of us lies in the heart-wrenching appeal of a Manchester Rabbi, written to the Viennese Rabbis, wherein he describes Beth Alexander’s unpleasant situation of living in a hostile community which supports her husband in many areas, including the legal one, while she is far from her parents and family, and on her own without a support system. He requests that fair play be maintained by the Viennese Rabbinate and intimates that their ‘refusal to get involved’ cannot serve the best interests of the children.

Without knowing all the details of the case at hand, the language is all too familiar to me personally as the mother of a daughter who was the innocent victim of baseless “post-partum” accusations, even after documented expert medical proof to the contrary was presented. Unsuspecting mothers should immediately seek expert medical advice (even second and third opinions) when any ‘medical claims’ of post-partum depression are levelled against them.

It seems that there is a new social disease in our communities these days. I call it ‘post-partum repression.’  All too often, the moment a religious woman with young children decides to leave her husband, the accusation of post-partum depression and ‘madness’ is levelled against her in an attempt to remove the children from her and simultaneously destroy her reputation.

Where post-partum depression is used against women and, particularly against their children, this is nothing more than misogyny at its worst. If we remain apathetic to the use of this means of ripping children away from their mothers, we face the prospect of becoming a society devoid of compassion.

We must exercise objectivity and be willing to entertain the possibility that a mother of young children may have legitimate reasons for choosing to exit her marriage. Furthermore we need to act with uprightness here and make sure that our voices are heard in routing out the ill-practice of post-partum repression.


Jewish Chronicle, 19.7.2012

Vienna divorce mother faces backlash

The British mother at the centre of a divorce case that has pitted her against members of the Austrian Jewish community has expressed shock at the reaction of Chabad to her plight.

Beth Alexander, a Cambridge graduate who married her Viennese husband Dr Michael Schlesinger six years ago and had twins with him, said she has been emailed by several people “unhappy that Chabad is being tarnished”. With the help of British rabbis, she has been granted a get but is still embroiled in a battle for custody of the three –year-old boys.

In reaction to alleged interference in the case by Viennese Chabad head Rabbi Jacob Biderman, Ms Alexander said last week that she had been told people were considering withdrawing donations from Chabad.

Ms Alexander was contacted by the Cambridge Chabad rabbi Reuven Leigh, who she knew from her university days, who said there was “no justification” for the comment.

In an email he said: “I am very disappointed about the route you have taken your campaign and am personally offended about the comments in this article and many others made on the Facebook group. If you intend to continue on this path please do not continue to include me in your emails.”

She was also messaged by Dublin Chabad rabbi Zalman Lent, who said he was “saddened that part of this important campaign is now an attempt to malign an entire movement”.

He also told her: “Rabbi Biderman says that matters are out of his hands and in the hands of the courts. That may or may not be the case, but that is a matter to be taken up with him personally, not by trying to lay the blame on an entire movement.”

“I didn’t say I want people to boycott Chabad,” said Ms Alexander. “There’s nothing controversial in it and yet they’ve misinterpreted it as a campaign against Chabad worldwide.”

But she added that it was “not good enough to say Chabad doesn’t have any responsibility” given that Rabbi Biderman was part of the Chabad network. “He should be held accountable,” she said.

Explaining his comments, Rabbi Leigh said he was talking as an individual. “It is inappropriate to malign an entire global movement because it is unable to intervene in a complex and nuanced case,” he said. “Many Chabad rabbis have spent countless hours on this case including Rabbi Biderman. For Chabad to be singled out is misplaced.”

Ms Alexander said the campaign to help her, which includes a Facebook group that has attracted 6,800 members and a petition that has reached 858 signatures, has meant that the rabbis in Vienna are feeling the pressure.

This week the office of Austria’s chief rabbi Eisenberg sent an observer to monitor the handover for Ms Alexander’s visits with her sons. “I’m hoping this is going to be a regular thing. It was a massive step forward because it’s showing my ex-husband that the Jewish community is aware and also makes sure he can’t cancel,” she said. “The rabbis here feel they have to do something. They realise the world is watching.”

Jewish Chronicle, 12.7.2012

Thousands back tug of love custody mother

More than 6,000 people in a Facebook group have called for a resolution to a divorce dispute in which a British mother has lost custody of her twin sons to her Austrian ex-husband.

Manchester-born Beth Alexander lost a bitter battle over custody of her three-year-old sons, after her marriage to Viennese doctor Michael Schlesinger broke down.

Now, a British-based campaign has attracted thousands of supporters all calling for UK rabbis to persevere with the case and for Austrian rabbis to convince Dr Schlesinger to consent to rabbinic mediation.

Around 700 people have signed an online petition calling for a “fair resolution” and campaigners have set up a website and a Twitter hashtag, #helpbeth.

Ms Alexander said: “There is a lot of anger, from people all over the world. People in Manchester have told me they will withdraw their donations from Chabad, because of the way Chabad has behaved in this case, supporting my husband.”

Richard Verber, a former fellow pupil with Ms Alexander at King David High School, Manchester, said he had set up the petition “to show support to the UK rabbis who have intervened”.

He said the next stage of the campaign would be to ask people to speak to their local rabbis about the case, and urge them to use connections to press for a resolution.

The JC reported two weeks ago that senior Manchester rabbis, including the registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, had pleaded with the Vienna rabbinate to intervene. The head of Vienna Chabad, Rabbi Jacob Biderman, previously told the rabbis supporting Ms Alexander that he was unwilling to become personally involved in the case.

Dr Schlesinger has temporary custody of the two boys while the matter is still working its way through the Austrian courts.

The couple do not yet have a civil divorce, and Ms Alexander said her husband had granted her a get only after the intervention of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, former head of the London Beth Din.

But Austria’s chief rabbi, Chaim Eisenberg, has insisted that although Dayan Ehrentreu authorised the get technically, it was the Vienna rabbinate who had convinced Dr Schlesinger to issue it.

Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz of the Yeshurun Hebrew Congregation, Manchester, said: “It must be in the best interests of the prestigious Vienna rabbinate to resolve this distressing situation as soon as possible, especially where two young and tender vulnerable children are affected.”

Chief Rabbi Eisenberg said, in a letter seen by the JC, that Dr Schlesinger had declined mediation by rabbis, and urged Dayan Ehrentreu “to write to him, to applaud him for his co-operation at the get and to offer to come to Vienna again to meet the couple.” Ms Alexander said she had received no response from the Vienna Chabad.

Court documents say Dr Schlesinger believed his wife had suffered mental health problems and post-natal depression, claims which she denies. Despite renewed attempts to speak to Dr Schlesinger this week, the JC was unable to get any comment from him.

Jewish Chronicle 28.6.2012

Rabbis plead to help mother

Senior Manchester rabbis have rallied to the aid of a young British mother in Vienna, who has been denied custody of her twin sons in a divorce dispute.

The registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, and Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, of Whitefield Hebrew Congregation, have appealed to rabbis in Vienna to mediate.

Cambridge graduate Beth Alexander, from Manchester, married her Viennese husband Dr Michael Schlesinger six years ago and moved to live with him in Austria.

But after a bitter separation and court hearing, Ms Alexander lost custody of her three-year-old sons, prompting the Manchester rabbis’ intervention.

Vienna’s Chief Rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, said this week that he was “trying to convince Dr Schlesinger to agree to a rabbinic mediation. In rabbinic courts it is mandatory to hear both sides in order to guarantee a fair trial. I assure you, that I am totally unbiased in this case.”

Dr Schlesinger has temporary custody of the two boys and the matter is still working its way through the Austrian courts.

Ms Alexander, who has not yet been granted a civil divorce, said that she had been denied a get — religious divorce — until British rabbis intervened, and contended that the rabbis in Vienna had refused to help her or her husband come to an out-of-court agreement.

She was told by the head of Vienna Chabad, Rabbi Jacob Biderman, that her husband would be prepared to grant her a get only if she dropped her battle for custody of the children, and was “willing to leave him in peace”.

The get was eventually issued at a court convened by Dayan Ehrentreu, former head of the London beth Din, who flew out to Vienna last month.

Rabbi Biderman has told the rabbis supporting Ms Alexander that he is unwilling to become personally involved in the case.

Ms Alexander said: “The Jewish community have closed ranks around [Dr Schlesinger] to protect him. The way the community here has acted has been diabolical. These children need a mother.”

In the original court documents, Dr Schlesinger said the children were “at risk” in the custody of their mother and had developmental problems.

Custody documents say Dr Schlesinger believed his wife had suffered mental health problems and post-natal depression, claims which she denies.

Rabbi Guttentag, whose wife had taught Ms Alexander at Yavneh Girls High School in Manchester, said he believed such claims were “not fair or just.”

In a letter to Vienna rabbis — including Rabbi Biderman and Rabbi Eisenberg — Rabbi Guttentag said: “We can see a young lady living far away from her parents and family… who finds herself now set against a former spouse who has the advantage of local family support, natural community affinity, and knowledge of the civic law situation.

“There are always two sides in any situation, and one would expect a kehillah [community] and its leadership to ensure that reasonably fair play is being maintained.”

Rabbi Brodie suggested this week that Dayan Ehrentreu should be invited back to Vienna to help mediate in the case.

“My primary concern is the wellbeing of the children. Dayan Ehrentreu is admirably suited for this purpose.

“Dayan Ehrentreu’s involvement in this would, of course, be dependent on the rabbinate of Vienna extending a welcome to him to look into this and their willingness to join with him in dealing with this sad matter. I sincerely hope that this will be forthcoming.”

Ms Alexander said: “It makes me so proud to be British how everyone has rallied round. I owe everything to these British rabbis.

“They did everything in their power to get me my get, and then they said, ‘Now we are going to get you your children back’.”


2012-11-18 03.12.36