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Why we need a Religious Dispute Resolution Tribunal

November 11, 2010 – 8:07 pm29 Comments
Darth Vader vs Obi Wan Kenobi

If only they had a Dispute Resolution Tribunal, it might not have come to this

By David Segal

Shortly after the well-known conflict involving Caulfield Shule was adjudicated by the secular court, the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) announced that within six months or shortly thereafter it would establish a religious arbitration tribunal, designed to hear financial disputes between members of the community.

Since this proposal was made known, many “half years” have passed—indeed full years have passed. Despite a number of announcements about the impending establishment of the religious arbitration tribunal, nothing has materialised to date.

Why is it that that the COSV was able to set up a Beth Din for divorces and conversions overnight, but is either too slow or unable to set up a tribunal to arbitrate financial disputes?

Is it because in cases of divorce and conversion there is no other option, other than to go to a Beth Din, whereas in cases of financial disputes litigants are free to use the secular court system? Using the secular court system presents significant halachic challenges for a religious Jew. Under halacha, it is always preferable to attempt to resolve matters via arbitration under the aegis of a quasi-halachic judicial system which includes religious arbitrators who are also skilled in financial matters. The Beth Din of America has, for example, long used such systems.

A few weeks ago, when I asked a person who is close to that organisation, about the reasons why the tribunal had not yet been established, he replied that the legal advisers to the committee suggested to them that if the religious arbitration tribunal refused to accept the evidence of females, a secular appeals court would repeal and annul that tribunal’s verdict. Consequently, the committee decided against establishing a religious arbitration tribunal, as “they don’t want another Mond case.”

If, indeed, if there was a decision not to establish a tribunal, and this consideration was one the main reasons for this decision, it suggests a breathtaking level of ignorance of halacha, on the part of those Rabbis or any one else affiliated with the organisational committee. The solution to the issue of admissibility of female evidence to a tribunal that is ruling on cases of monetary disputes is simple: both parties to the dispute simply sign a document in which they affirm that they agree to accept the evidence of females in the context of the case at hand. This affirmation readily transforms such testimony as halachically acceptable for the tribunal’s subsequent consideration and judgement. (see Bait Chadash, Choshen Mishpat 5(6), Sma 5(7), Shach 5(4) ad. Loc ).

The status quo, as we know it, is intolerable. When a conflict arises, a religious Jew has no established body to turn to; with the exception of their local synagogue Rabbi, whose breadth of Jewish jurisprudence appears to be limited to the laws pertaining to a bar mitzvah through to the laws of reciting Kaddish.

How much longer must we tolerate this situation?

David Segal is a businessman who immigrated to Australia from Israel where he studied in Yeshiva & Kollel.

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