Nearly 75 years after a court ruling forbidding judicial proceedings on Sundays, the issue is being revisited in a case that stands to affect the ability of batei din to meet on Sundays.
Agudath Israel of America filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in a little known case that could have significant repercussions for Orthodox Jews involved in cases before rabbinical courts.
In Terrace View Estates Homeowners v. Bates Drive Condominium, New York State Supreme Court justices will rule on the contemporary application of an old statute prohibiting judicial proceedings on Sundays.
Under the current interpretation — as per the ruling in the 1940 Brody v. Owen case — proceedings and rulings at religious arbitration panels, such as beis din rabbinical courts, are included as well. As such, courts have invalidated beis din rulings simply because the proceedings were held on a Sunday, even if both parties explicitly agreed to that arrangement.
Despite the 1940 Brody ruling, for decades it was generally assumed that if the sides signed a clause agreeing to arbitrate on Sundays, that restriction could be legally waived.
In the past two years, in three separate cases, courts have rejected rulings from batei din because proceedings were held on Sundays.
“This is a very relevant issue,” says Rabbi Simcha Roth, a veteran Brooklyn-based to’en. “Sundays are preferable for many litigants. Until the first ruling in this matter was issued two years ago, Sunday was one of the busiest days for arbitration sessions in batei din.”
The rulings of batei din are deemed legally binding arbitration by the State of New York, provided that both parties sign that they will abide by the decision. As such, these proceedings are subject to the same standards as any other judicial proceedings.
In the extensive brief citing various legal arguments and judicial precedents, Agudath Israel of America argues that this interpretation violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the New York State Constitution, since it makes it unnecessarily difficult for Orthodox Jews to fulfill their religious priority to arbitrate matters before a beis din. Due to the work schedules of both Dayanim and the individuals who appear before them, Sundays are typically the most realistic option for the proceedings to be held on.
The brief argues that the statute prohibiting Sunday proceedings should apply exclusively to secular court proceedings, or, at most, also to religious arbitration where both parties did not explicitly agree to participate in Sunday proceedings.