Representatives of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) met with the Senior Dayanim of the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) on Tuesday evening, 9 February 2021. The discussions were amicable and very positive.
It became clear, that despite the best efforts of the Working Party, the SBD felt strongly it was not given an opportunity to respond to the report, and, as a consequence, it did not have the opportunity to test and/or refute some issues and facts raised with the Working Party. The Working Party regrets the lack of opportunity to respond to the final report but stands by the accuracy of the recitation of the complaints/submissions made to it. The Beth Din will consider what further submissions it may make to the JBOD in that regard. The JBOD, the Working Party and the SBD acknowledge that the SBD had already implemented a number of reforms and had taken steps to implement others that the Report ultimately recommended.
In fact a number of measures already taken by the SBD were recognised by the Working Party Report. However, additional matters were the subject of further recommended reforms.
Importantly, the JBOD reaffirmed that the SBD and JBOD were independent organisations and the independence of the Judges and the Halachic Judicial system was absolute. The JBOD acknowledged that further reforms are best achieved through cooperative dialogue at the invitation of the SBD. There are differences in the manner in which the JBOD and the SBD view that independence. The JBOD sees the SBD as a communal organisation, responsible to the community and requiring the community’s legitimacy and acceptance, notwithstanding that the Dayanim must be absolutely free to carry out their quasi-judicial functions with complete independence.
The SBD also sees itself as a communal organisation, however the Beth Din sees its primary obligation as being to Halacha (and to Australian Law in accordance with the Rabbinic dictum “Law of the Land is the Law”), ensuring expertise and independence in matters of Halacha. The Beth Din in this context must ultimately be guided by its own Halachic knowledge and Halachic advisors as well as its own legal advisors. However it has always been prepared to work with the JBOD and will continue to do so in the reform and improvement process. Ultimately, the parties see that an appropriate level of cooperation can satisfy both visions.
In particular, attention has already been given to the following matters by the Dayanim in their constitution or in their rules but may need to be further refined:
- All financial matters are to be dealt with by the administrative arm of the SBD independently of the Dayanim, but, at least in terms of employment and personnel, in consultation with them;
- The clerical and administrative functions of the SBD are not under the direct management of the Dayanim unless it pertains to the Halachic requirements associated with Gittin, Conversion etc .
- A complaints and grievance procedure that is independent of the Dayanim be instituted, if not already in place.
- The constitution now provides for the appointment of new Dayanim and Rabbinic Associates to the Beth Din to assist the Dayanim as needed and the JBOD sees the broadening of input, whether or not by Associates or Dayanim, as important in obtaining and maintaining legitimacy, transparency and communal acceptance.
The SBD welcomed the further offer of assistance by the JBOD and the Working Party to assist them in all the above and in particular the development of rules of procedure and suggestions for the structure and composition of the Board of Management.
The JBOD acknowledges that the SBD has assured the JBOD that:
- The arbitration of commercial disputes above a certain claim size, or otherwise with the informed consent of the parties bearing in mind the cost aspect for small claims, are undertaken including a fee, which permits the Beth Din to be assisted by a legal practitioner experienced in civil litigation, and, as stated, this has occurred already.
- That the Dayanim of the Beth Din independently test converts at regular intervals and have dealt with complaints of perceived conflict between the cost of the teacher and the length of the conversion process. There are also now free conversion classes conducted.
The issues that will require further discussion and consideration are recommendations contained in paragraphs 84(b) and (d)[i] of the Working Party Report in the context that the Dayanim consider they have already included in their constitution the need for an independent Board and have currently a temporary board functioning.
The parties agreed to hold further meetings with the first to occur shortly after Pesach.
[i] Paragraphs 84(b) and (d) deal with the requirements on Dayanim to be seen to be independent of political affiliation in the community, including Rabbinic organisations; and the appointment process for the independent properly-resourced Board, including the members thereof.