Sydney Beth Din to be investigated
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Sydney Beth Din to be investigated

THE Sydney Beth Din (SBD) has accused the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) of having a "history of effectively undermining the theological basis of Orthodoxy and halachah" after JBOD last week resolved to investigate it.

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick of the Sydney Beth DIn. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick of the Sydney Beth DIn. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky

THE Sydney Beth Din (SBD) has accused the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) of having a “history of effectively undermining the theological basis of Orthodoxy and halachah” after JBOD last week resolved to investigate it.

At the JBOD plenum last Tuesday night, a resolution was carried unopposed to conduct a review into the SBD after the Court of Appeal’s decision late last year to uphold contempt of court convictions against its dayanim.

The resolution called on the SBD to “enact meaningful reform as a matter of urgency”.

JBOD expressed deep concern “about the defects in the ownership structure, governance, mechanisms of accountability and dispute-resolution processes of the SBD”, which were outlined in the findings of the Supreme Court’s Justice John Robertson Sackar in December 2017.

Moving the resolution, Executive Council of Australian Jewry immediate past president Robert Goot said the SBD had been found “to have strayed egregiously”.

In his findings, Justice Sackar revealed the SBD is a private partnership between Rabbis Moshe Gutnick and Yehoram Ulman, said it “appears to be a law unto itself” and described the rabbis’ conduct as displaying “either arrogant disregard of their own procedures and rules of natural justice, substantial ineptitude, or inexperience dealing with commercial disputes”.

JBOD will establish a committee of lay leaders and Orthodox rabbis to conduct the review. The members of the committee and terms of reference are to be decided at a future plenum.

The SBD has applied for leave to appeal to the High Court, but JBOD president Lesli Berger said regardless of its potential ruling, “The fundamental problems from a communal perspective remain.

“We deserve a Beth Din that is well respected, that has appropriate policies and procedures in place, that has an appropriate ownership structure and can act as a religious leadership body within the Orthodox community,” he said.

He added, “There appears to be some significant willingness on the part of the SBD to reform these matters, the big question is will they be willing to go far enough.”

Responding to the resolution, the SBD said it does not accept that JBOD “has any right to be involved in, to interfere with or comment on the affairs of an Orthodox rabbinical body”. 

“The BOD [JBOD] is open about the fact that it does not share the values of Orthodoxy or accept the primacy of halachah in Jewish life,” the SBD statement said. 

“This attempt by the BOD to assert authority over the SBD creates an insurmountable conflict of interest for the BOD, a body with a history of effectively undermining the theological basis of Orthodoxy and halachah.”

The SBD said its dayanim “aspire to the highest standards of halachah, governance and adherence to the law of the land and always have”.

“The members of the SBD reject the allegations of misconduct made in the resolution and note the carefully selective quotations from the judgements and the absence of any substantive engagement with McColl J’s dissenting judgment which paints the dispute in a wholly different light,” the SBD continued. 

The convictions stemmed from a 2017 commercial dispute in which defendant Rueven Barukh refused to attend the SBD, preferring to have the case heard “in a civil court”.

SBD secretary Rabbi Eli Schlanger told Barukh if he didn’t comply, among other sanctions, “Synagogue/s where he prays will be informed accordingly. He will not be counted to a minyan. He will not be able to receive an aliyah to the Torah. He will not be offered any honour in the synagogue.”

Justice Sackar found the rabbis in contempt of court and fined Rabbis Schlanger, Ulman and Michael Chriqui $10,000 each and Rabbi Gutnick $20,000. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but reduced the penalties.

GARETH NARUNSKY

Sydney Beth Din statement in full:

The Board of Deputies (BOD) is a non-Orthodox lay organisation. The Sydney Beth Din (SBD) does not accept that as such it has any right to be involved in, to interfere with or comment on the affairs of an Orthodox rabbinical body.

The BOD is open about the fact that it does not share the values of Orthodoxy or accept the primacy of Halacha in Jewish life. Indeed the BOD has been at odds with the SBD on several major theological and communal issues. The SBD believes this attempt by the BOD to assert authority over the SBD creates an insurmountable conflict of interest for the BOD, a body with a history of effectively undermining the theological basis of Orthodoxy and Halacha. For this reason it is entirely inappropriate for it to have any say in relation to the composition or administration of an independent Orthodox Beth Din devoted to Halacha.

This conflict is evidenced by the BOD’s outspoken criticism of the SBD’s alleged failure to provide natural justice, whilst at the same time refusing to afford the members of the SBD the same natural justice when it passed its resolution without giving the SBD any opportunity at all to speak to the motion or present its side. For the record, the members of the SBD reject the allegations of misconduct made in the resolution and note the carefully selective quotations from the judgements and the absence of any substantive engagement with McColl J’s dissenting judgment which paints the dispute in a wholly different light.

The Beth Din and its Dayanim aspire to the highest standards of Halacha, governance and adherence to the law of the land and always have. The Beth Din continues to take the advice of its legal advisors and Halachic advisors and will always do so.

The Beth Din asks the community and the various media outlets to respect the fact that while matters are still before the courts it is not appropriate for the Beth Din to make any substantive public comment on any aspect of the case and the judgements.

The Sydney Beth Din will continue its work throughout Australia, NZ and the Asia Pacific region providing the highest standards of service and Halacha to the Orthodox Jewish community, which standards have been recognised unreservedly by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and other Batei Din throughout the world.

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