Rabbi Yosef to retired judges: 'Do not interfere'

President of Rabbinical Court protests phenomenon of retired judges writing opinions for parties to disputes.

Mordechai Sones,

Dedication of new Haifa Beit Din
Dedication of new Haifa Beit Din

The new structure of the Rabbinical Court in Haifa was inaugurated today at a festive ceremony in the presence of the Rishon Letzion Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and senior officials of the Rabbinical Courts.

In his speech Rabbi Yosef protested against the phenomenon in which dayanim (rabbinic court judges) who have retired from the rabbinical courts write opinions in favor of parties to a court proceeding.

"There are important rabbinical judges who have retired and are writing opinions which are submitted by parties deliberating in the rabbinic courts. We must appeal to retired judges and ask them not to do this. They don't know all the facts. These are only clarified in the court," Rabbi Yosef noted.

The Regional Rabbinical Court in Haifa is run by the veteran court secretary Rabbi Yitzhak Hikind and spans over 2,500 square meters. The new court building in Haifa is the most luxurious and elegant among the 12 regional rabbinical courts scattered throughout the country.

The building, previously used by the Bank of Israel, was completely and painstakingly renovated and designed to meet the highest standards. The planning, execution, and transition to the new building were awarded to Deputy Director Shmuel Yosef and the Director of the purchasing and logistics division Eli Katzir.

It is a spacious building that spreads over a large area divided into three floors. The building includes six elegant courtrooms for the four courts, as well as a special meeting room for lawyers, rabbinic claimants and their clients for various consultations and needs.

In the new building there is a large reception hall for the public, a new cafeteria for the public, a separate wing for social services units operating there, a department for clarifying Jewishness, and a room for granting gets. The building was designed with full accessibility for the disabled as required by law.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef was honored with the ceremony of fixing the mezuzah for the new building, and in his words he also stressed the importance of being lenient in judgement whenever possible. The Rishon Lezion stressed that leniency does not mean everything is permitted, but that we must make an effort to make things easier. However he said, "when it's forbidden, then it's forbidden. It's forbidden to rule contrary to the Shulchan Aruch and the statutorily imposed way of adjudicating."

Rabbi Yosef added: "There are great Torah judges who have retired and are writing opinions, and the litigants come to the court and bring with them a ruling or opinion of those dayanim, some of whom served in the Rabbinical Court and they create a situation where they're perceived as the lenient Beit Hillel while others are perceived to be the strict Beit Shammai. This is harmful because judges who didn't sit on the bench aren't exposed to all the information. There came before me a case in which a retired Dayan ruled to allow something when the full data were not available to him. I interrogated the witnesses and discovered many details that Dayan did not know. When a judgment is handed down to one of the litigants and the retired judge doesn't agree with the opinion that was submitted, he's automatically Beit Shammai. Rabbinical judges should not be afraid but should proceed according to their understanding and try to make the ruling unanimous."

Religious Services minister Rabbi David Azoulay praised those who participated in the new building and said: "After so many years of suffering in Haifa and the devotion of the dayanim, I was impressed and excited to see the new and beautiful court of the northern region. There is an approach today that is eroding the status of the rabbinical courts one bit at a time. We have to say, 'Please let there not be a quarrel between us,'(a quote from the Bible, ed.) and the secular courts must stop nibbling away at the authority of the rabbinical courts. We rule according to Torah law, it is a path and view that we've been following since the days of our patriarch Abraham. Since entering the position the things I'm working for are accessibility to the system not only physically but also spiritually. I turn to those dear and important dayanim who perform holy work: We know very well the hard work you are doing."

Rabbi Shimon Yacobi, the director of the Rabbinical Courts, noted that the rabbinical courts derive their power from the ancient courts: "We are fulfilling the mission of these courts, and we derive authority from the Sanhedrin that was close to the altar in the house of G-d. We are their 'long arm' and therefore it is fitting to recite a 'Song of Dedication of the House' from Psalms."

Rabbi Yaakobi mentioned the shortage of judges and called for the immediate appointment of 27 new dayanim: "For several years until two years ago there were many difficulties in the Beit Din in Haifa due to the absence of many dayanim. Unfortunately, in practice, the committee for the selection of dayanim sits to select dayanim only once in many years. Since the selection of dayanim to the regional courts more than two years have passed (2015). Prior to that, judges were selected only in 2011 - four years, then four years before in 2007, and five years before that in 2002. On the other hand, the Judicial Appointments Committee convenes about four to six times a year, and dozens of judges are appointed at each conference.

"There is no comparable situation among other Israeli authorities in which so many vacant posts are not manned for years. Today we are missing about 12 dayanim throughout the country. Given the judges who will retire in 2018 and the new standards approved for us, we will need about 7 judges this year. In 2019 we will need another 8 dayanim. In sum, these total 27 dayanim. I call upon all parties involved in the selection of judges to act intensively and decisively to elect the 27 judges. Fifteen dayanim should be appointed immediately. The rest should be manned as opening are available. We need to reverse the order. We must choose dayanim in advance for every post that will be vacated two years in advance."

Rabbi Avraham Meir Chelouche, Rabbi of Haifa, closed the event and said: "My father, Ateret Roshi, served as Dayan for forty years. More than he was wise, he taught the people ... The Beit Din in Haifa has been blessed with exemplary staff - from the secretariat and the employees who welcome all pleasantly to the team of judges who glorify the Beit Din and I congratulate everyone."