the respondent's home address. Under no circumstances should you ever initiate a summons if you do not have a complete, valid address of the respondent. We rely on this address in assuming that the respondent is aware of the complaint lodged against so that they comply with the halakhic obligation to appear before us or choose an authorized alternative. A siruv and niduy will be issued if the respondent fails to respond to the summons, based on the address you provide.
How should I prepare for the case?
The first thing we want to know is the amount you are suing for (if the suit is monetary) and why, i.e. you will open your argument by stating that “defendant owes me $500 in rent for the month of may”. You will then state your narrative version of the circumstances relating to the case, such as “defendant has signed a 1-year lease agreeing to pay $500 per month for rent and he has repeatedly neglected my pleas for last month's rent”. Accompanying your narrative of facts and events should be the documents and/or human witnesses who bear testimony to your claim, if the facts or events are in dispute.
Do I get rebut a misleading statement made by the respondent?
Sure, you do. Both parties will take turns elucidating their position and responding to the other party's statements, until the judges feel that the circumstances are clear enough for them to start deliberating amongst themselves and render a verdict.
What happens after the litigation proceedings are over?
We will deliberate the case in private session. Our verdicts are based strictly on the circumstances of the case and how the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh may be applied to the case, to render a rabbinically correct and just resolution to the dispute. We will then send a copy of the verdict to both parties.
How long does it take for beth din to examine the case?
According to halakha, prolonging a dispute is unacceptable. We will issue a verdict as soon as feasible, typically within three days.
What if the respondent does not appear on the appointed litigation date?
We will at once declare the respondent to be in contempt of court and thereby allow the plaintiff to sue in secular court and/or pursue any other activity they deem suitable in order to receive compensation for a loss or correct an injustice. Moreover, the accused will be pronounced in niduy (excommunication) as per the halakhic stipulation for the case of a mesarev ledin. The excommunicated individual must then follow special behavioral rules until the matter is resolved, such as not entering within four amoth and not engaging in commerce with any other member of the community. Additionally, if there is a valid arbitration agreement between the parties, the Bais Din may render a default judgment.
What happens if I don't show up on time on the appointed litigation date?
The plaintiff must appear promptly before our court on the specified date and time. If plaintiff is more than 15 minutes late, the case will be dismissed.
Can I bring along a lawyer or personal adviser?
Sure. You may bring along a secular and/or rabbinic lawyer (toen) to advise you during the court proceedings. This, however, is solely your responsibility and a personal decision; we do not encourage litigants to hire lawyers (as is sometimes the case in secular courts).
The court verdict is in Hebrew. How can I get it translated?
There are private companies out there who specialize is such translation services. We can give you some references upon request, though we are not affiliated or vouch for any of them.
Can I send in some preliminary documents supporting my claim or explain to beth din over the phone the basis of my complaint?
No. All deliberations and examination of evidence will be conducted at the actual court hearing on the appointed litigation date. In the interest of impartiality and transparency, we do not listen to ANY accounts of the circumstances of a claim, whether it be from the plaintiff or respondent, before the hearing, where both parties are present before us.
Can I sue someone from who resides in a faraway place?
No. We cannot accept cases from aggrieved individuals if the respondent does not reside in the metropolitan New York area, since it is not reasonable to require them to travel an excessively long distance to our court.
I received a summons to appear from your beth din. However, it's all a big mistake. Can I clear things up with the court by phone or other medium and avoid coming down to court?
No. You may very well be right that the complaint is absolutely groundless. A summons from our court (unlike one from a secular court, which requires probable cause or a summary description of the complaint) does not require the plaintiff to specify any details about the actual complaint. All discussions and presentations of evidence are made during the litigation proceedings on the appointed date and time. Therefore, the summons does NOT imply that there is any merit whatsoever in the plaintiff's case. If you believe your innocent, simply state your position before us during the court proceedings, supported by evidence if applicable, and the case against you may be vacated at once.
The date and time you ordered me to appear before the court are inconvenient for me. What can I do?
Contact us by phone and request an earlier litigation date. We will not usually grant a later date, in the interest of prompt and effective dispute resolution. The earlier date will then be binding upon the plaintiff.
Who authorized your beth din? Do your dayyanim have semikha?
Nobody “authorized” us and our dayyanim do not have semikha (nor do any dayyanim on other contemporary batei dinim, since semikha has now been discontinued). According to Jewish law, three laymen (sheloshah hedyototh) are authorized to form a beth din for the purpose of resolving dinei mamonoth (monetary disputes) and the accused is required to appear before such a court and abide by its decision.
Okay, I am required halakhically to appear before beth din. But who said I have to go to your beth din? I'd like to go to a different beth din or choose my own dayyanim!
That is definitely your prerogative. However, we do not recognize the halakhic validity of any bes din who accepts compensation for judging, in flagrant violation of the mishnaic injunction “whoever takes recompnse for judging, his judgement is void”. In the interest of having the case heard promptly by the beis din of your choice, we need to receive a clear statement from the three dayyanim you have chosen, specifying the time and place where you will appear before them, so that we can notify the plaintiff where and when to appear before the beth din of your choice. If the beth din you chose receives compensation or postpones the hearing excessively we will not deem it a valid alternative to our bais din, since this does not provide a halakhically impartial, prompt and effective venue to have a disupte heard and resolved according to Torah rules.
What legal weight does your court's decision carry?
Both parties will be made to sign an arbitration agreement before proceedings begin. Our beth din is legally constituted as a binding arbitration panel. Secular courts will generally enforce our decisions.
I was sent a summons to appear before a different court and I would like to choose you instead. How do I go about?
Call us 718-930-4923 or fill out the initiate a summons form and clearly indicate in the “comments” field that you are the defendant –not the plaintiff-- in the suit. We will then notify both you and the plaintiff when and where to appear. This procedure is called ishur hazeman (confirmation of litigation time and place).
I, the defendant, have chosen you as my beth din and I subsequently appeared before you on the date and time specified. The plaintiff, however, did not show. Now what?
We will issue a tatsdeqta (exemption) declaration. This document states that you appeared before us in a bona fide attempt to resolve the matter in accordance with Torah law but the plaintiff neglected to appear. You are therefore exempt from any further harassment by the plaintiff or the issuance of a siruvdeclaration by any other court.
The crisis with current batei dinim in America.
The purpose of a beth din is to adjudicate the rule of the law; to provide an outlet for an aggrieved party in which a grievance may be lodged, so that it may come to a swift resolution. Why then is this no longer happening in America?
We, at Givas Hamorah, have recently studied the latest beth din trends and probed how and why the typical beth din in America is so pathetically ineffectual. We have also identified certain factors that are principally responsible for this sad state of affairs and we are accordingly suggesting a return to a more effective and halakhically-sound approach to the beth din institution.
Here’s how a typical monetary civil dispute plays out between two Jewish disputants:
1. Plaintiff believes Defendant owes him $200. Defendant refuses to pay or settle.
2. Plaintiff contacts Beth Din A and pays a small fee ($25-$50) for beth din to send a summons to Defendant to appear before beth din on an appointed date, usually 2-3 months hence.
Defendant receives the summons but ignores it, since it is clearly labeled “summons 1 out of 3”, implying there’s no need to rush to resolve the matter.
3. Plaintiff then pays additional fees to have beth din send out a second, third and final “Warning of Impending Issuance of Writ of Contempt” (hathroath siruv -- a relatively new practice) at 2-3 month intervals between each notice. Beth din works to cajole and coax the defendant into showing up for a hearing.
4. With no more stalling options available, after a good 7-8 months have passed since the grievance was originally filed, the defendant finally feels compelled to respond in some way. Defendant has several further delay and evasive tactics: 1) request a different beth din (it’s their entitlement according to halakha) 2) request borruth (arbitration) 3) buy more time by claiming no suitable dates on which to appear in the next few weeks.
5. Option 1: go with a different beth din is a common tactic. So let us see what happens now. The Defendant “chooses” Beth Din B for adjudication of their case. Now that the case has been moved to a different court, additional procedural hurdles such as “available dates” in the court’s calendar, “obtainment of documents” and hiring of Rabbinic counselors (“toen”) must be addressed before an actual date for a hearing is scheduled.
6. The hearing date has finally arrived. Both parties appear to argue their case and beth din launches an in-depth investigation into the circumstances of the case. If there is no obvious thing to investigate, a typical beth din nowadays will find something. After all, Beth din is paid by the hour ($250-$350/hour); it won’t be well compensated for its efforts if the case is resolved too quickly.
7. Additional court sessions are scheduled to investigate further. This is encouraged by both the beth din and the Rabbinical counselor, both of whom are paid by the hour (toen is paid $150-$300/hour) and are therefore seeking to prolong the case.
8. Beth din then is often unreachable or claims that it’s still undecided. Further sessions may be needed.
10. AFTER SEVERAL YEARS have passed since the original grievance was filed, beth din finally has run out of wiggle room and orchestrates some compromise that tends to favor the defendant, thus alleviating some of the financial burden he should have faced if the law had been applied strictly. This process is known as pesharah (compromise) and beth din specifically stipulates in its arbitration documents (beth din is legally constituted as an arbitration panel) that peshara is an acceptable form of resolution, or --at most-- peshara karov ladin (a compromise that approximates the strict rule of justice).
11. Plaintiff now must hope that Defendant abides by the negotiated terms. If not, their only recourse is a secular court, prompting further aggravation, cost and headache.
The problem: The plaintiff -- assuming there is validity to their claim-- hardly gets any justice. After all the exorbitant and excessive costs associated with all the hearings and investigations, and after all the time spent, the judgment of the court is essentially a compromise and even that has no teeth.
You may have picked up on what’s really happening here. In essence, the beth din is being “hired” by the defendant. The defendant always has the last word as to which beth din to go to and he will often choose a different beth din than the plaintiff’s if only to secure its loyalty (suspecting that the plaintiff’s beth din may be biased against him). With the beth din being “chosen” by the Defendant, a client-patron relationship develops, with the implicit mission of the client beth din to cover up, stall, delay and otherwise forestall the execution of justice (assuming there is validity to the plaintiff’s claim).
12. If the plaintiff does finally manage to get permission from beth din to sue in a secular court after many years of expenditure, prodding and patience, the defendant then can still backpedal and say he is willing to go to beth din and thus drei a kop, stall and further prevent the execution of justice.
Some other tactics and devices used by a guilty defendant and its hired “beth din” and “toen” are as follows:
Batei dinim will rarely ever issue a siruv as this reflects badly on them: it means they are not “defendant-friendly”, which will obviously hurt their business since it is the defendant who chooses to patronize any particular beth din in question.
“papers never arrived” argument. Beth din keeps telling the plaintiff that it is awaiting documents from the defendant and cannot rule until such documents are received and analyzed.
dayyan is not available to answer the phone when the plaintiff prompts them for a ruling.
baloney investigations. In one incident a prominent beth din in Brooklyn launched a full-scale study into whether a printed email document can be “forged”, WITHOUT ANY HEADER information having been included in the printout. This was an obvious gimmick to stretch out the case and thus accrue hefty per hour fees from the parties.
Defendant chooses a different beth din from the one selected by the plaintiff for the sole reason of buying themselves several additional months after the new beth din claims “there are no dates available”.
toen for the defendant claims he has no available dates up to a year. Beth din wants to accommodate the defendant as explained previously; besides, the toen supplies them the “billable hours” and so it has to remain on good terms with him.
Defendant invokes zabla and defendant’s panelist then doggedly rejects every panelist nomination by the plaintiff. No beth din can form without the two panelists agreeing on the third.
Plaintiffs are in the vast majority of cases right. This is because unlike in the secular court system, religious courts can’t force the parties to come to terms. Plaintiffs know that frivolous claims have virtually no prospect to be recognized; it’s an utter waste of time. Since plaintiffs are usually in the right they rarely feel impelled to grease the wheels or lick the boots of beth din. This means that the defendant --in addition to being the hiring party-- will wind up contributing more to the beth din coffers than his interlocutor. As a result beth din has a vested interest NOT to rule against them.
The Peshara (compromise) Problem.
The purpose of beth din according to halakha is to be the decisor of rabbinic law, not an agent for compromise. If, say, an employer allegedly owes $5,000 to an employee, beth din will not negotiate a 2,500 settlement simply because one side refuses to pay. In such case our beth din will strive to verify the authenticity of the claim and whether the amount and oral/written contract are genuine and we will then rule accordingly. We do not do “peshara”; we believe it’s a travesty halakha.
One anecdotal account worth mentioning in this respect is the case where a certainmagid shiur (Talmudic lecturer) was suing his employer, the rosh yeshiva (dean) for the $7,000 wages he was due. When the case came before the beth din, the dayyan said to the plaintiff: “se du mer shokhatim vi behemos” (there are more ritual slautherers than beasts); so you’re not really needed-- however, since there is the commandment ofhaanqah the granting of a pension to indentured servants (in Deuteronomy), he will be kind enough to give you $1,000 within a half year. Not only is this ruling a gross miscarriage of justice and a profound humiliation of the employee, but to add insult to injury the $1,000 “grant” was never made in the end.
The Solution to a broken system.
At Givas Hamorah we believe that the only solution to these pervasive problems with the way the beth din is constituted and its procedural red tape, clumsiness and partiality, is for the beth din NOT to receive any compensation; to heed the age-old Mishnaic dictum that receiving compensation for judgement automatically voids it – dinaw bettelim. Without compensation, there is no tendentiousness, there is no procrastination, there are no excuses and there is no questionable compromising. We give litigants a chance to get a true torah ruling and if the opposing party is un-cooperative we will not hesitate to impose the withering penalty spelled out by Jewish law: excommunication and banishment from the community.
“But if you don’t solicit the cooperation of the defendant, then he won’t pay” you ask. Well, the situation among the predominant bate denim nowadays is do dismal – so lopsided in favor of unscrupulous defendants who “know” they can get away with it with the aid of venal bate denim – that soliciting the defendant’s cooperation isn’t going to do any good. Plaintiffs who choose to go through the traditional path often do not see ANY money from the defendant after an extensive artificially drawn-out litigation process and great expenditures; beth din can simply not “force” the defendant to pay (assuming that a ruling has been issued in the first place). When beth din does issue a ruling it heavily favors the defendant regardless of the case’s merit.