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Bet Din On The Clock: Nathan Lewin Wants Jewish Courts To Run More Efficiently

Nathan Lewin

Nathan Lewin

Reicher told The Jewish Press that setting up a five-member bet din made sense. “It was felt by everyone concerned that this din Torah was too big to place whole weight on one person – the third dayan [the one dayan who would not naturally be sympathetic to the side that chose him].”

He added, “This is the biggest din Torah in chassidic world since the Baal Shem Tov, because of the size of the kehillah – Bobov is the largest chassidus in Boro Park and one of the largest in the world – and because of the size and value of the assets, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It may even be the biggest case in the history of dinei Torah.”

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of the Beth Din of America, said that dayanim “need to balance the right to be heard and the ability to give your side unfettered. A good dayan is usually able to make sure process does not go on and on, but that every [litigant] can be heard.”

And while some commenters on websites have speculated that it is in a dayan’s interest to drag a case out indefinitely, Rabbi Epstein said, “Most dayanim in the field who are good are busy anyway. If it’s not you, will be someone else. Like a taxi cab during rush hour, they’ll have a case to sit on anyway, so no reason for them to schlep.”

Whatever is causing the time extension, and however often it happens, Lewin told The Jewish Press that imposing time limits would help ensure it happens as rarely as possible. “If consumers all go to one or two batei din where there are procedural rules, things will change,” he said. “According to New York law, authority of dayanim is limited to what’s written in the arbitration agreement.”

Rabbi Warburg said that Lewin’s idea of placing time limits on a bet din case is sound, but that the litigants “should add that the case can be extended by mutual agreement.”

Rabbi Weissman warned that Lewin’s suggestion “runs the risk of one side running out the clock,” but then added, “If both sides agree to a running clock and set forth terms for how long each side gets to state case, then it could work.”

In response, Lewin said it should not be too difficult to find language that would encourage timeliness but not allow for abuse: “It can say that the judges will decide within one year on condition that neither side unduly or improperly extended their own time. And then beis din could say we can extend this case to allow for the other side to state its case.”

In a separate conversation, Rabbi Weissman said, “Sometimes cases do take a very long time to pasken for legitimate reasons: perhaps they involve forensic reports or luminous reports that need to be pored over. And sometimes dayanim will disagree. Just naturally, sometimes things take longer.”

About the Author: Shlomo Greenwald is associate editor of The Jewish Press.


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