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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Reasons, Appeal, and Just Judgments

Harav Yosef Carmel

As we do every year on Parashat Mishpatim, we will deal this week with principles of the operation of the batei din (rabbinical courts) of Eretz Hemdah-Gazit.

One of the topics that riled up emotions in the pre-State developing community of Eretz Yisrael (in the 1920s to be more exact) was the British authority’s ultimatum that rabbinical courts would be recognized only if they had an appeal system. The dispute as to the proper reaction started as one between the rabbinate of Yaffo and that of Yerushalayim. It turned into one between followers of the founder of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook zt”l and the opponents of the Chief Rabbinate, led by Rav Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l.

We will cite the approach of the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rav Bentzion Uziel. He said that if the people want an appeal system, we cannot block our ears. One should not claim that we cannot employ an idea we have not found explicitly previously. When the community agrees to institute an innovation that there can be appeal and all who adjudicate accept it, it can be done. In order to facilitate appeal, a beit din must clearly write the basis for the ruling so that others can evaluate it (see citation of his thesis in Techumin XV, p. 83). Others have found precedent in the writings of Rishonim for the existence of appeal tribunals, and great rabbinic leaders have approved the system used for presenting the appeal (ibid.).

A complementary source is the gemara in Sanhedrin (31b). R. Elazar says that if one litigant wants to go to a local beit din and the other wants to go to a more distinguished regional beit din, the case is heard locally and beit din writes down the reasons for their decision. What was done with the reasons? This is another apparent source that others would review and evaluate the veracity of the first court’s ruling.

Based on the principles found above, Eretz Hemdah-Gazit’s rulings contain detailed reasoning. Most of the rulings are also made available to the public. Writing the reasons both allows for appeal and makes the process more transparent. Publicizing the rulings (after removing all identifying details) allows for public scrutiny and enables people to learn the principles upon which our court system operates.

Our procedures, which explicitly allow for appeal, take into account that no man is immune to mistakes. On the other hand, we place certain brakes on the appeal system to prevent automatic appeal, which can cause unjustified delay in implementing rulings.

We will summarize by citing our basic rules of appeal.

1. Each side can appeal but only within 30 days of the handing down of the ruling.

2. A court head who did not sit in the case at hand reviews the ruling and decides whether a deeper review of the ruling is in place.

3. If the court head decides the matter warrants appeal, it is heard by a panel of three who all serve as court heads (it may include the one who granted the right to appeal).

4. Litigants can decide in advance to waive their right to appeal.

5. There is a special additional fee for appeal.

May we merit that our courts will be a proper fulfillment of the precept: “These are the statutes that you shall place before them” (Shemot 21:1) and that it will help hasten the fulfillment of “Zion will be redeemed with justice and its returnees through charity” (Yeshaya 1:27).


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