What is the proper thing to do when seeing someone who is mesurav l’din at a simcha, Jewish communal event, or some other place where you can’t just leave?
First, let’s understand what the seruv l’din is all about.
A person who refuses to appear at a beit din despite being asked to appear three times, the beit din can issue a seruv against this person. The seruv by itself is just a warning. It becomes more serious after repeated warnings. At that point the beit din might place this person in cherem which in essence forbids anyone from having any association or contact with this person or even (for a male) to be counted as part of a minyan.
Having said this, in reality it is very difficult to enforce a seruv, especially in America, since there are many batei din and any particular beit din would have great deal of difficulty carrying out the consequences of a seruv.
To answer the question posed, it would really depend on what level was the seruv. The best alternative in this very sensitive situation is to try having as little contact with this person as possible, without causing a scene, until you know the details of the seruv.
– Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives in Efrat Israel and previously served as an elementary and high school principal in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was also the founder and rav of Young Israel of Margate, New Jersey. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Although it may not be as well-known as perhaps it should be in all segments of the Jewish world, the halacha forbids Jews to avail themselves, at least initially, of non-Jewish courts of law in order to settle their legal disputes. Some authorities go so far as to claim that one who takes his case against a fellow Jew to a secular court thereby commits a chillul Hashem. Rather, litigation between Jews should be adjudicated by a qualified beis din who will rule based upon authentic Jewish law. In addition to monetary disagreements, a beis din is also used as part of the divorce proceedings which culminate in the husband giving his wife a proper get, terminating their marriage.
What if a person refuses to appear before a beis din and/or abide by the decision of the beis din? What if a man refuses to give his wife a proper get, despite being directed to do so by a beis din? In the United States, where the Constitution calls for “separation of Church and State,” secular authorities are generally very limited in their legally being able to uphold and enforce a religion-oriented decision – that is, a decision made by a religious body based upon religious law. While in many instances an arbitration agreement signed in advance by the parties to a financial dispute will indeed allow for enforceability, there are situations where this is not feasible, such as in the case of a husband denying his wife a get, or of someone who simply refuses to come to a beis din in the first place, despite having been summoned.
One recourse, at least in the realm of monetary disputes, is for the beis din to authorize the litigant to bring the case before a secular court, which is permissible under such circumstances. Another is for the beis din to issue a seruv, that is, a document declaring that a particular person is “mesarev l’din,” meaning that he (or she) refuses to submit to the authority of the beis din. This declaration, while not effective in terms of the American legal system, is designed to place strong peer and communal pressure on the individual so that he will eventually stand before and adhere to the directives of the beis din. Such pressure includes, for example, urging members of the community to shun this person by, on the personal level, avoiding direct contact with him, socializing with him, and even speaking with him; and on the communal level, by not allowing him to serve in any capacity in, receive honor from, or even be a member of any Jewish institution, such as a synagogue.
Of course, such pressure can be effective only if people in the community continue to apply it. Assuming, then, that one is indeed a mesarev l’din, having been so identified by a reputable, respected, accepted beis din, people should avoid inviting him to a simcha or a communal event, and if he is already there, should not interact with or talk to him unless it is absolutely necessary, and should simply walk away when seeing him, making it clear that his behavior is unacceptable. It must be stressed, though, that if the person subsequently yields, accepts the authority of the beis din, and conducts himself accordingly, he (or she) may immediately be welcomed back into the community.
– Rabbi Michael Taubes has been involved in Jewish education, formal as well as informal, for over 40 years, serving both in the classroom and in various administrative posts. He is presently a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS and Yeshiva University High School for Boys. In addition, he is the spiritual leader of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck, N.J.
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If a person receives a summons to appear before a reputable beit din, it is halachically mandatory to show up. But some people, for various reasons, choose to ignore the summons. They know that the beit din lacks governmental authority to force compliance.
The beit din system depends on the cooperation of the general community to bring pressure on recalcitrant individuals. If the mesurav l’din is made to feel as an outcast, this might prompt compliance with the beit din’s summons.
If the community wants an effective beit din system, then it needs to ensure that people comply with summonses issued by batei din. It needs to convince recalcitrant individuals by persuasion or through social ostracizing. It is generally best to avoid social contact with a mesurav l’din.
But it is important first to ascertain that the mesurav l’din is in fact acting irresponsibly. It may be that the person refuses to appear before a beit din, believing it to be biased or improperly staffed.
The problem is especially painful in cases involving a get, where one of the parties – usually the husband – refuses to appear before the beit din to affect a divorce. The recalcitrant party is not only guilty of disobeying the beit din, but is casting an ugly shadow on the entire halachic system. People who use get-refusal to advance their own agendas are an embarrassment to our community and should be shunned to the extent possible until they comply.
– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Director, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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Nowadays it is relatively rare for a beis din to ostracize a mesurav l’din. Most frequently, the beis din will permit the claimant to take the defendant to a gentile court. This applies to monetary cases. However, in cases of get-refusal, social sanctions are indeed applied to pressure one of the parties to appear before the beis din.
It is also important to recognize that there are formal procedures for summoning someone to a beis din. I am familiar with a case where the beis din summoned someone via telephone and threatened to release a kesav seruv for noncompliance, while in reality the summoned party had no way of ascertaining where the phone call originated. Likewise, there are batei din that dubiously assert jurisdiction over a case. One must make certain that the beis din is known and reputable, and that the entire community recognizes its authority. Otherwise, it will simply divide the community in two.
The parameters of the sanctions, even the most severe ones, are very specific, though. One may not greet or stand in close proximity to the ostracized individual. If male, he is not counted for a minyan, nor may he get an aliyah to the Torah. However, this does not mean that the rest of the community suspends communal life; if the mesarev comes to shul, it is not necessary to call the police or physically remove him. One simply ignores him – does not talk to him or otherwise acknowledge him in any way. If the mesarev sits near one’s makom kavu’a, one is not required to move away. It is forbidden for me to enter into proximity of the mesarev, but I do not need to contort my life to avoid him.
Thus, in the case of a social function, unless it is important to make a communal statement (and that statement will be influential), one may enjoy the function, not approach the mesarev, and not speak with him and otherwise interact with him. One can even explain why he will not engage the mesarev in conversation. However, there is no need to absent oneself from the event merely because a mesarev will be there.
– Rabbi Elli Fischer is a translator, writer, and historian. He edits Rav Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halakha in English, cofounded HaMapah, a project to quantify and map rabbinic literature, and is a founding editor of Lehrhaus. Follow him @adderabbi on Twitter or listen to his podcast, “Down the Rabbi Hole.”
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Someone who a bona fide beis din declared to be a mesarev l’din is basically in cherem – can’t be counted for a minyan, can’t be socialized with etc…. If one encounters such a person in a social setting that he cannot leave (nor does he have to leave just because that person is there) he should not make a public scene for the sake of not ruining the simcha. But one should not socialize with the mesarev l’din and even make it obvious that he is purposely avoiding him. (This should only be done if one knows personally for sure that a bona fide beis din has declared this person a mesarev l’din and not merely that he heard a rumor to that effect which would constitute believing lashon hara, which is assur.)
– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator.
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The response is shaped by two important caveats. First, the beit din in question has to be authorized, reliable, legitimate and properly constituted. There are such batei din. And there are others that unfortunately are not legitimate, and make pronouncements without following proper procedures and sometimes even lack jurisdiction. In any particular case, one should ask his/her mara d’atra. Second, it is assumed that the seruv includes the harchakot of Rabbanu Tam that demands that we ostracize this miscreant.
If these two criteria are satisfied, then the miscreant should not be invited to such events and should be shunned by the community. It doesn’t mean that the witness has to make a scene, ruin the simcha, or call attention to the presence of the mesurav. But if their paths cross a good Jew should solemnly say to the miscreant, “You should respond to the beit din. That is what a faithful Jew does in this situation and being responsive to a bet din is more important that attending a simcha or an organizational meeting.”
The nature of the case also matters. Often, people sue in beit din when they realize that they could not prevail in a secular court because of insufficient credible evidence or reluctance to adduce that evidence in secular court (where they, wrongly, try all their other cases). This happens when money is the issue and those cases naturally arouse skepticism. But when the issue is a husband who wrongfully refuses to give his wife a get or a wife who wrongfully refuses to receive a get from her husband – both having been directed by a legitimate beit din to comply – we should be wary of any pleasant, social interactions with the wrongdoers.
– Rav Steven Pruzansky lives in Israel and is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey.