Question: I anticipate soon dissolving a business partnership. How should I expect to be treated in a beit din?
No Name Please
Answer: First of all, you and your partner(s) are to be admired for going to a beit din to adjudicate your impending business break-up as opposed to resorting to the secular courts. Adjudicating legal matters before a beit din is actually a Torah law. The Mechaber (Choshen Mishpat, 26) strongly admonishes those who resort to secular courts to resolve disputes.
You should be aware that in most venues, the rulings of batei din are recognized by secular courts and, in fact, are even enforceable by law due to the arbitration agreement (shtar berurin) the two parties in beit din sign in advance. This agreement subjects the parties to the bait din’s decision. Secular courts actually prefer the arbitration process since it relieves them from having to handle even more cases.
Now let us touch upon some of the qualities a dayan must possess. Total integrity is one. A dayan to a case cannot have had a prior conversation with either side and may not show favoritism to either side even after having heard both claims. If one party is poor and the other wealthy, he must treat them completely equally. He may not favor the rich party over the poor one or vice versa.
The above are some of the most basic rules as outlined by the poskim. At the beginning of his magnum opus, the Tur (Rabbi Yaakov b. Rabbi Asher) cites Rabban Gamliel (Avot, ch. 1), “On three things the world exists: judgment, truth, and peace.” Rabban Gamliel also said (ibid.), “On three things the world stands: Torah, avodah, and gemilut chassadim.” The Tur explains that worthy dayanim not only assure the world’s continued existence but are considered Hashem’s partners, as our sages state (Shabbos 10a): “He who judges with complete fairness even for one hour is like a partner with Hashem in creation.” A lofty title, indeed!
The Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin, chap 2:1) writes that dayanim must be wise and sensible; they must possess vast Torah scholarship; and they must be knowledgeable in other scholarly disciplines so as to adjudicate the disputes of everyone.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 5a) relates the following episode: Rabbah b. R. Huna issued an erroneous judgment. He came before R. Chiya seeking his counsel. R. Chiya told him that if both sides accepted him to adjudicate their dispute, he bore no liability to pay for any loss his ruling caused. If, however, they did not, he had to pay for the loss.
What other court system requires such a high standard of integrity – making a judge pay for his mistake?
I remember witnessing a civil suit in court many years ago. To me it was plain as day that the judge erred in his decision. I also noticed that he seemed contemptuous of one side (it was an insurance claim). Yet his decision stood and although I did not follow the aftermath of the case, I am sure the judge was not required to reimburse the aggrieved party. I wonder too: If he realized later that he had made a mistake, would he have acted like Rabbah b. R. Huna, seeking the counsel of a higher authority?
Do not get me wrong. In no way do I seek to disparage the court system here in America, one of the greatest and fairest to our people and all American citizens. However, I do wish to point out the wisdom of our sages who, based upon our Torah (Exodus 18:13-26), set forth a system of laws and courts that are envied and have even been studied by brilliant secular jurists. It adjudicates all grievances, and to this very present day is ready to settle the cases brought before them.
(To be continued)