About six months ago, Rabbi Hershel Schachter sat down with Ami Magazine for an interview. The conversation was mostly about the Jewish court system that we have in place today. R’ Schachter expressed deep reservations about the Beis Din system.
He exposed corruption and wrongdoing within the system. He didn’t pull punches and he spoke with the authority of a true Torah giant with a lifetime of personal experience. The article was a bit of a sensation. His opening salvo: “The present system is terrible.” From there, R’ Schachter spoke from personal experience about the flaws, inadequacies, and corruption in the system.
Here a few choice quotes:
Q: Are you saying there is a problem with the dayanim?
A: Of course. Do you think that all of the dayanim are honest? Many are acting like toanim; many of the toanim are acting like criminals. They make up their minds in advance that their side has to win,
Q: Could there be a watchdog group, with rabbanim getting together to examine how the batei din are behaving?
A: It’s a safek sakana [possible danger] for the watchdog group; they’re going to be killed.
Are all batei din corrupt? Probably not. So how are the good batei din supposed to separate their courts? How will people know which courts are honest? Is there a way to become more transparent?
I think this is the motivation behind a journal that found its way to my mailbox this week. The Journal of the Beth Din of America is a new publication that I believe was created to set itself apart from the the negative stereotypes illustrated by R’ Schachter’s comments.
From the introduction to the first edition:
Yet despite a well earned reputation for adjudicating cases fairly, efficiently and competently, the public lacks a full understanding and appreciation for much of the work of the Beth Din of America. This is because, like all batei din, the Beth Din is committed to confidentiality for the individuals, families and firms that utilize its services. Unlike secular court decisions which are published and accessible, beit din arbitration awards are provided only to parties and their legal counsel.
The publication of The Journal of the Beth Din of America is an attempt to change this situation, and educate the public about Jewish law as applied in a beit din, with particular attention to the outlook and practices of the Beth Din of America. The journal will primarily feature articles by dayanim of the Beth Din of America and other contributors. In each issue, we also hope to publish decisions actually rendered by the Beth Din of America (appropriately anonymized and approved for publication by the parties).
I think this is great. The journal features several types of articles. The articles are great for their content. Even if there was no side benefit other than to increase Torah study and wisdom, the journal is great. Most importantly, decisions of the Beth Din of America will be published after being anonymized. This will increase the Beth Din of America’s credibility as their decisions will be transparent and available for all to see. Further, it will either expose other Batei Din as closed walls with less accountability and hopefully it will incentivize them to clean up their acts.
It’s a small step, but an important step in the right direction. Kudos to the Beth Din of America.