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If you can’t handle rejection, don’t become a salesperson and don’t become a process server. You might get cursed or attacked and if you’re lucky, just ignored.

A plaintiff who wishes to take a defendant to bet din, a Jewish court of law, over a monetary dispute, will request that the bet din send out a process server to hand the defendant a summons to appear in bet din on a certain date. If after three attempts of the process server the defendant still refuses to show, or to request an adjournment, the bet din has the power of nidui, to excommunicate him. The bet din may also use its powers of excommunication if the defendant shows up in bet din and tells the judges he does not submit to their jurisdiction.


If the plaintiff lives in Chicago and the defendant lives in New York, the plaintiff may not summon the defendant to the bet din in Chicago but only to the bet din in New York. If, however, the defendant has assets in Chicago, which the plaintiff freezes, the defendant must come to the bet din in Chicago.

Of course, only a bit din which is competent to judge monetary matters has these powers of excommunication. In order to be competent, the bet din must have a quorum of three judges but there is no requirement that they be ordained judges. One of these judges must, however, be well versed in dinei Choshen Mishpat, Jewish business law, and must be able to reason and apply the law to different sets of facts. A yachid mumcheh lerabim, a single judge, even if he is not ordained, might also constitute a competent bet din and have the power to compel litigants to appear, provided he has earned a reputation as an experienced judge who has successfully tried many cases.

What if the court is validly constituted but the defendant believes the judges, who all live in the plaintiff’s community, will not give him a fair day in court? Can he move to disqualify the judges? He cannot if the bet din is a permanent bet din in town, but he can if it is not. If the plaintiff has chosen the bet din, the defendant can object. He may request a bet din of three mutually acceptable judges. If the plaintiff and defendant cannot come up with the names of three mutually acceptable judges, then each litigant appoints a judge of his own choice and the two judges then appoint a third judge.

The defendant is not obliged to obey the summons to bet din if the plaintiff refuses to tell him why he is taking him to court. The defendant may ignore such a summons and argue that if he were only told what it was all about, he might agree to pay or settle out of court. So why waste his time dragging him to court? The bet din will agree and refuse to excommunicate him under these circumstances.

The summons has to be handed to the defendant personally. It cannot be handed to a spouse or to other members of the defendant’s household because they might assume the process server will run into the defendant in town some time during the day and serve him, so they may not bother to tell him. However, if the defendant is known to leave town daily on business, to return home each night after business hours and does not pass the bet din en route, the summons may effectively be given to members of his household.

When serving the summons, the process server must inform the defendant in the name of all the judges on the bet din that the bet din is summoning him or at least in the of name of the president of the court. Otherwise, there is no way for the defendant to know that all the required judges will be present to adjudicate the case. This of course does not apply if a permanent court is summoning the defendant on a day when the court is in regular session.

The excommunication can be oral or in writing. It will be oral if there is only one witness to the defendant’s recalcitrance. If there are two witnesses, the court will order a scribe to write out the excommunication order and charge the defendant with the cost of the scribe. The excommunication order will not be withdrawn just because the defendant promises to come to the bet din. It will only be withdrawn when he actually comes.

Generally, the litigants must show up personally and their arguments must be presented orally. Only if both parties agree, can the arguments be presented to the court in writing.

Although the bet din traditionally prefers the litigants to plead for themselves in order to get a first-hand impression of them, contemporary batei din allow the litigants to appoint attorneys to plead for them while, at the same time reserving the right to summons them to appear personally, should this become necessary.


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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to