Courts in various countries are increasing being asked to enforce the judgments of religious courts — a trend that bothers many civil libertarians. These cases often involve private agreements to submit cases to such courts in arbitration or mediation. An interesting case in New York, however, shows that such courts often lack back professional or ethical guarantees. A New York trial court has thrown out the ruling of a religious court on the grounds of a “judge” in a Rabbinical Court (Beth Din) having possible bias.
The ruling In Matter of Beth Jacob Teachers Seminary Inc. v Le’Bunos, (NY Kings Co. Sup. Ct., March 24, 2009), vacated the award handed by the Beth Din after a bizarre scene where a judge called his wife to confirm details in a case. The case involved a fight over the scope of the lease to the Rabbinical Court of Tzedek Umishpot. When there was question over the rental date, Rabbi Yerachmiel Barash (secretary and clerk to the Rabbinical Court) called his wife who works for one of the parties. Here is how the trial describes it:
Petitioner Beth Jacob, is a domestic religious corporation. Beth Jacob owns real property located at 4421 15th Avenue in Brooklyn, NY, which on July 30, 2006, it leased to respondent, Bas Melech, also a religious corporation. When a dispute pertaining to the lease arose, the parties agreed to submit the dispute to binding arbitration before a Rabbinical Court. The parties then chose and agreed on January 24, 2008, to have their dispute heard by the Rabbinical Court of Tzedek Umishpot (the “Beth Din”).
Rabbi Yerachmiel Barash is employed as the Beth Din’s secretary and clerk; and is married to an employee of Beth Jacob. This marital relationship was not disclosed to Bas Melech when Bas Melech had agreed to binding arbitration by this Beth Din.
During the second arbitration hearing on March 17, 2008 at the Beth Din Bas Melech claimed that the backyard of an adjacent apartment in a building not owned by Beth Jacob but by Mr. Joseph was part of the premises it had rented from Beth Jacob. Beth Jacob argued that it was not and could not have included the backyard area as part of the rental to Bas [*2]Melech because, Beth Jacob first rented the adjacent apartment after it had entered into the rental agreement with Bas Melech.
At the second Beth Din hearing, Mrs. Barash was telephoned at Beth Jacob by her husband, Rabbi Barash, who was present during this entire Beth Din hearing, for verification of the rental date of the apartment and backyard from Mr. Joseph. Rabbi Barash then reported to the Beth Din that Beth Jacob’s version of the timing of the rental agreements was the correct one.
It was at this second Beth Din hearing that Bas Melech learned for the first time of the marital relationship between Rabbi Barash and an employee of Beth Jacob.
Rabbi Yitzchok Kaplan, who appeared at the Beth Din on behalf of Beth Jacob, in his affirmation averred in pertinent part that:
“4. Prior to the Beth Din proceedings, I neither knew or ever had
any connection with Yerachmiel Barash, the Beth Din’s clerk, and did not know that he was employed by the Beth Din.”
In support of the petition, Beth Jacob also submitted the affidavit of Rabbi Daniel Geldzahler who served on the rabbinical panel that heard the dispute. Rabbi Geldzahler averred in pertinent part:
“10. On March 17, 2008, during the early part of the second hearing session, Bas Melech claimed that included in their lease with Beth Jacob was a backyard area of an adjacent building, 4407 15th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, owned by Mr. Joseph. Beth Jacob disputed that the area was not and could not have been included in the lease because at the time of Bas Melech’s lease with Beth Jacob that area had not yet been rented by Beth Jacob from Mr. Joseph.
11. At that time, Rabbi Kaplan of Beth Jacob mentioned the employment of Rabbi Barash’s wife and suggested that she be called to verify the rental date of said backyard area. This suggestion was made in front of the Dayanim and Rabbi Welz of Bas Melech. The Dayanim had no prior knowledge of the employment of Mrs. Barash, they first learned of it then, at the same time Rabbi Welz did.
12. Rabbi Barash verified the rental date information by calling Mrs. Barash. This telephone call was also made in the presence of the Dayanim and both parties. Rabbi Welz did not make any objection at that time. Additionally, he has never questioned the veracity of the information confirmed by Mrs. Barash, nor provided any evidence refuting the [*3]information confirmed by Mrs. Barash.”
The casual treatment of such rules in religious court and the upholding of religious basis judgments causes unease with those who believe in strict separation of church and state. However, the trend is clearly in favor of such incorporation in various countries. Jewish courts have long operated in the United States.
For the opinion, click here