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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5777

Parashat Hashavua: These are the Laws Like a Set Table

Harav Yosef Carmel

In the past, we presented sources on the topic of an appeal’s court in a beit din system and the policy of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit network.

The echoes from the big dispute that accompanied the establishment of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts reverberate to this day. It started between the rabbis of Yerushalayim and those of Yafo, and it turned into a machloket between supporters of the Chief Rabbinate, founded by Rav A.Y. Kook z.t.l., and opponents, led by Rav Chaim Zonnenfeld z.t.l.

One of the results of this machloket is the Chief Rabbinical Court in Yerushalayim’s policy to not intervene, in most cases, in the rulings of regional batei din. Even in cases where the upper court agreed with the appeal, they would return the litigants to the original court rather than reverse the ruling themselves. (The last few years have seen an attempt to change this, but there has been no explicit announcement of a policy change.) The result has been that every tribunal, consisting of respected dayanim, rules according to its understanding of halacha, with no system-wide binding policies. Such policies would enable the system to run in a manner that people would know in advance the principles that are employed.

The lack of this uniformity seems to be against the guidance of Chazal in their comments on the opening of our parasha (Shemot 21:1, referring to the judicial system): “These are the statutes that you shall place before them.” In the Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Mishpatim 1, Rabbi Akiva teaches the extent of the presentation of Torah laws. We learn from “… and teach Bnei Yisrael, place it in their mouths” (Devarim 31:19) that the teaching process should not be limited to being taught once but should be repeated until the material is learned. From our pasuk, he learned that the laws should be taught until people actually know the material clearly – “arrange it as one sets a table.”

The lesson is clear. The Jewish judicial system needs to be clear and understood. All who want to use it should know what halachic rules “make it tick.” It is true that to be an expert in Choshen Mishpat (the section of the Shulchan Aruch on monetary law), one needs to dedicate many hours a day for many years. Only a few brave souls (with brave-souled wives) live up to the challenge. However, it is still important that the broad public, and certainly the lawyers and toanim rabbaniim who help litigants, should understand the rules that are the underpinnings of the beit din system they approach. Therefore, action must be taken to make these as transparent as possible as soon as possible, so we can fulfill that which Rashi says on our topic: “place before them like a set table, which is prepared for a person to eat.”

Every year, the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit network, along with Mishpetei Eretz, assemble the heads of the batei din and the dayanim from throughout the country to discuss pertinent fundamental questions. We publicized a summary of the conclusions of these discussions on the beit din website.

Let us pray that we will soon merit the complete fulfillment of the prophecy of a judicial system which all can appreciate: “I will return your judges as originally and your advisors as initially. Then you will be called the city of justice, the reliable town. Zion will be redeemed with justice and its returnees with charity” (Yeshaya 1:26-27).

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