Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein recently issued an alarming ruling attempting to rein in the power of batei din, even the independent ones that do not receive state funding.
The directive, issued last week, threatens to make issuance of the traditional “ksav seiruv” a criminal offense. In Attorney General Weinstein’s words, a ksav seiruv enables a beis din to threaten not only a litigant with cherem and sanctions but also the litigant’s family. Therefore, he concluded that the traditional document that is dictated in Shulchan Aruch is illegal because it “impinges severely on one’s most fundamental rights such as freedom of education, freedom of religion and worship, the right to bring a case before the secular courts and freedom of employment.”
In response, the Raavad of the Eidah Hachareidis, Harav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, said that “the batei din receive their instructions only from our holy Torah, and the Attorney General mustn’t interfere with the Rabbanim.”
Harav Sternbuch added that “Rabbanim will continue to act according to din Torah and the authorities should be aware that we are prepared to go to prison, but under no circumstances will we forego our responsibility to judge and to rule as per the din Torah.” He concluded with the nusach in Shemoneh Esrei, praying that Hashem “restore our judges as in the days of old and our advisors as in the earliest times.”
Weinstein’s directive, addressed to law enforcement bodies, spoke of “how to deal with batei din that issue a ksav seiruv.” Although he notes that “the ksav seiruv is recognized in Hebrew Law, its purpose in the past was to protect the autonomy and standing of the judicial bodies of Jewish communities while in the Diaspora, but today the batei din operate in the State of Israel, which is a democratic state.
“For this reason, the High Court ruled explicitly in the past that the state-run Rabbinic courts may not issue kisvei seiruv, and this [current] directive seeks to complete the work of this ruling and expand it [i.e., make it apply to privately-
run batei din].” He noted that “the directive does not apply to kisvei seiruv that grant a claimant permission not to bring a case before a beis din due to his defendant’s refusal to be tried with him.
“Therefore, if a ksav seiruv involves social sanctions, threats of boycott (cherem) against one who brings a case before the secular courts or one who testifies before the police and the like, this may be a criminal violation of interference with the course of law, harassing a witness and in more serious instances, threats and blackmail.
“The directive aims primarily to instruct law enforcement bodies how to deal with this sensitive, complex subject while honoring the tradition when it conforms to the law. The directive sets down the considerations by which a decision to launch a criminal investigation or bring a violator to trial can be made.”