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Shabbat Parashat Teruma | 5769

Beit Dins Authority to Interpret Charters

P'ninat Mishpat

(based on Halacha Psuka, vol. 53 - A Condensation of a Psak from Piskei Din Rabbaniim VII, pp. 324-331)


Case: The plaintiffs (=pl) are members of a political organization, which is governed by a charter. The charter includes rules for the selection of the organization’s “committee,” its highest body. The rules for selection are as follows: the election for the committee is personal; the members of the organization plenum (=def) set the rules of the elections; the members of the committee are selected through election by ballot. Def decided that members of the executive would be members of the committee without needing to stand for election. Pl claim that this rule contradicts the organization’s charter and is thus invalid. Def claim that since they are in charge of election rules, they can make such a decision, which is clearly a wise one for the effective running of the organization.


Ruling: The Rashba (Shut IV, 308) asks about one who was authorized to adjudicate any provision related to the people of the city and any unclear language in their charter. The question was whether he could judge such matters based on logical appraisal of the public welfare or whether all had to be based on interpreting the charter’s language. He said that if authority had been given to judge regarding any new question, then there would have been broad authority to decide based on one’s own logic. However, the language of the charter the Rashba dealt with talked about judging unclear language, not about deciding. Therefore, he could only determine the language, without adjusting the matter based on his personal opinion about the people’s welfare. According to the Rashba, beit din, in this case, also cannot consider what is the ultimate good of the organization but what is the proper understanding of the charter. Therefore, def’s claim that efficiency makes it necessary to have members of the executive automatically on the committee is irrelevant.

Regarding the provisions of the charter for selection, the apparent contradiction between two of the provisions must be resolved. On one hand, the charter says that members of the committee must be voted in. On the other hand, it gives authority to the plenum over the process. One could claim that the organization’s welfare mandates that the need to be elected refers only to people other than the members of the executive. However, the Rosh (6:30) says that any initiative that was made for the people of a city, even if it is related to taxes and there are those who do not pay taxes, still applies to all, unless stipulated otherwise. So too in our case, since the provision about elections was written in an inclusive manner, it applies to everyone even if logic dictates otherwise.

The plenum may only make decisions about how the elections to the committee will be carried out, but they can exempt no candidate from standing for election. 


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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
of Gershon (George) ben Chayim HaCohen Kaplan

as well as

 R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga  Brachfeld


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and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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