Beit Midrash

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Judges in All Your Gateways


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Our parasha opens with the obligation to ensure that there is a reliable judicial system in place throughout our society (see Devarim 16:18). This is a two-sided obligation. The people are commanded to make sure such a system exists and the potential judges are to accept the appointment and carry out their responsibilities up to expectations (Rashi, Derashot HaRan).
In the State of Israel, there are a few groupings of courts. There are courts for criminal matters, which fulfill the halachically supported function of having a leadership that makes sure society has tranquility and personal security. There are courts, which, unfortunately in most cases, deal with monetary disputes not according to halacha. One element of these courts includes the Family Courts, which deal notably with matters related to divorce, including alimony, custody, child support, and division of property. These courts "compete" with the Rabbinical Courts, which have overlapping jurisdiction, by law. The Rabbinical Courts also have exclusive jurisdiction regarding issues such as personal status and the giving of gittin (bills of divorce).
With one (or more) court system for so many matters, why is there a need for the country-wide system that we have established in Eretz Hemdah-Gazit? A major part of the answer is closely related to the role of the Israeli Supreme Court and its relationship with the Rabbinical Courts. The Supreme Court views itself as the representative of the nation, with overall responsibility to ensure that the nation has proper justice, according to its legal perspective. For many years, the Rabbinical Courts have been claiming that they should not be subservient to the dictates of the Supreme Court, as they are subservient to halacha and only to halacha. We will not develop this dispute in this short column.
Within the framework of this dispute, the secular Supreme Court rendered a ruling known as the Amir Ruling or the Procaccia ruling. In this ruling, the Supreme Court forbade the Rabbinical Courts (who receive a governmental salary and use government-owned property) from serving as arbitrators according to the Law of Arbitration. This sealed the path of litigants who both wanted adjudication based on halacha to the recognized rabbinical courts. This situation created a vacuum, which the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit network has helped fill. The Israeli and international laws of arbitration ensure that our rulings are enforceable when the two sides properly enter into an arbitration agreement. The network has developed a reputation for fair, honest, efficient service with a minimum of expenses. The rules of conduct and ethics stand up to the most demanding halachic and public standards. The network, which adjudicates in a wide variety of cases, proves that it is possible to follow Torah law in regard to the legal complications of a changing modern society and do so in a manner that is fully recognized by the law of the land.
We pray that we will have a part in the proper fulfillment of the mitzva of establishing courts.
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