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Restoring Credibility to the Beis Din System

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.

Link: The Journal of the Beth Din of America


17 Comments
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  • Anon

    Rabbi,

    As someone who is a lawyer and a rabbi, which legal system would you rather be a plaintiff or defendant in?  Halachic arguments for why you should use a beis din aside, which court system would you rather participate in?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Secular.

      Maybe with the exception of the BDA now.

      • Anon

        Appreciate the honesty.

        Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone that has had a positive experience in beis din.  Just story after story of corruption, judges advocating for the opposing side, exorbitant costs, shaky logic, etc.

        This combined with the constant deluge of corruption across left/right wing Orthodoxy has really left me dejected.

        • Shecky

          so true! shaky logic, and uneven rulings, this is a HUGE Chillul Hashem and has turned off orthodox Yiddim to the establishment and to Rabbinic Authority.

      • Anonymous

        I’ve heard some very horrible stories about batei din in America. And these weren’t third hand stories, they were from people I know and trust. In one case, I heard bad stuff about the bet din from both sides of the case!

  • http://twitter.com/daniopp Daniopp

    that would be awesome. published opinions. great stuff

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      There is a published opinion in this issue. Arbitration about an arbitration agreement. :)

  • http://twitter.com/daniopp Daniopp

    as a frum lawyer, id rather be in the secular courts right now…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509509604 Shlomo Pill

    I’m not sure, but it seems like they are only publishing select decisions, which is a shame.  It would certainly be unprecedented (no pun intended), unconventional, and raise some halachic issues, but I think it would be great if they started publishing a reporter, and made the parties’ consent to publication part of their arbitration agreement/shtar birur.  

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Only some decisions will be published. That’s no different than what the secular courts do. Not everything is published there either.

      I agree, it would be great if the parties had to consent to publication.

      • Anon

        Aren’t “unpublished” decisions still collected and published by services like Westlaw and Lexis?

        • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

          Not all.

          Also, district court opinions are never published. The opinions that we read are mostly from appeals. There are no appeals in Beis Din so the correlation is not perfect anyway.

          • Anon

            Not sure what you mean.  Federal district court cases are published in the federal supplement, no?

            • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

              Yes. I was talking about State opinions for some reason.

          • David

            Not formally, but the Beit Din of America – unlike most other Batei Bin -does have a “request for modification”.

  • Michael Poppers

    The BDA dayanim sh’l’y’t’a’, including but not limited to two YU chaveirim of mine (RMBroyde; and RYReiss, currently head of REITS) and a Rebbe, RMWillig, are “glatt yashar” and beyond reproach.  As you note, RHSchachter, who is recognized throughout Washington Heights (including my growing-up community of KAJ/”Breuer’s,” where he lives, and YU) and elsewhere as a gadol baTorah, is quite straightforward, and I hope he succeeds in influencing positive, Halachically-mandated changes in this matter and in others.  Even b’nei Noach are mandated to establish a proper system of justice — woe to us b’nei Yisrael for allowing the reverse situation to exist!

  • Shecky

    I can only speak about a case which was brought before the Beis Din of America in New York City of which I have personal exposure to: The case was handled in a sloppy manner with continuous delays lasting 3-4 months at a time, basic standards of Law were not followed ( tampering with experts), fairness was never a consideration, and the Dayanim were predisposed to a particular side over another.