A beth din (Hebrew: בית דין Bet Din, "house of judgement" [bet ˈdin], Ashkenazic: beis din) is a rabbinical court of Judaism. In ancient times, it was the building block of the legal system in the Biblical Land of Israel. Today, it is invested with legal powers in a number of religious matters (din Torah, "matter of litigation", plural dinei Torah) both in Israel and in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, where its judgments hold varying degrees of authority (depending upon the jurisdiction and subject matter) in matters specifically related to Jewish religious life.
Commentators point out that the first suggestion in the Torah that the ruler divest his legal powers and delegate his power of judgment to lower courts was made by Jethro to Moses (Exodus 18:14–26). This situation was formalised later when God gave the explicit command to "establish judges and officers in your gates" (Deuteronomy 16:18).
Participation in these courts required the classical semicha, the transmission of judicial authority in an unbroken line down from Moses. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, or at the latest the abolition of the position of Nasi in 425 CE, the transmission of semicha has been suspended. Attempts in the 16th century to reinstate the semicha were unsuccessful; Rabbi Yosef Karo was one of the recipients of this semicha.
The Mishnah and Talmud distinguish between ritual or criminal matters and monetary matters (issurim and mamonoth) and impose different regulations for them, with criminal cases generally having much more stringent limitations. Courts ruled in both kinds of cases. Any question that could not be resolved by a smaller court was passed up to a higher court. If the Sanhedrin was still uncertain, divine opinion was sought through the Urim ve-Tumim (the parchment in the High Priest's breastplate, which was inscribed with the Name of God and could give supernatural clues).
Given the suspension of semicha, any beth din existing in medieval or modern times is in theory a court of laymen, acting as arbitrators. In practice they are given greater powers than this by the local takkanot ha-kahal (community regulations), and are generally composed of experienced rabbis. Modern training institutes, especially in Israel, confer a qualification of dayan (religious judge) which is superior to the normal rabbinical qualification.
Even though normally an Orthodox beth din requires a minimum of three Jews knowledgeable and observant of Halakha (Jewish Law), in new communities and exigencies, providing a thorough search has proved unfruitful, halakhah provides that even one Orthodox Jew can establish a beth din, since every Orthodox community is required to establish its own beth din.
In Orthodox Judaism, the traditions state that a beth din consists of three observant Jewish men, at least one of whom is widely knowledgeable in Jewish law (halakha), to be capable of instructing the other members in any matters of halakha relevant to the case being heard. The rabbis on the beth din do not have to be expert in all aspects of Jewish law, rather only the area in question. For example, a beth din for conversion need only have expertise in conversion, not necessarily in all areas of Jewish law. There is also a number of opinions that permit women to serve on a beth din. One such opinion is Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel. Despite this there are no Orthodox batei din currently with a woman as a member.
In progressive communities as well as in other non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, women do serve on the beth din.
In practice, a permanent beth din will consist of three rabbis, while a beth din for an occasional matter (such as handling religious vows) need not consist of rabbis. A beth din which handles cases involving complex monetary issues or large community organizations requires "judges" (dayanim, singular: dayan), who require an additional semicha (yadin yadin) which enables them to participate in such a beth din and adjudicate complex cases involving highly technical points of law.
A Beth Din is only required for conversions and get (religious divorce). Although for conversions lay people are permitted to sit on the beth din.
In addition to this there are batei din around the world who have taken upon themselves to control the following matters:
A beth din is sometimes used within the Orthodox Jewish community to resolve civil disputes, with the Shulkhan Arukh calling for civil cases being resolved by religious instead of secular courts (arka'oth). Modern Western societies increasingly permit civil disputes to be resolved by private arbitration, enabling religious Jews to enter into agreements providing for arbitration by a particular beth din in the event of a dispute. By this device, the rules, procedures, and judgment of the beth din are accepted and can be enforced by secular courts in the same manner as those of a secular arbitration association. For example, in a 2018 decision, the Court of Appeal in Ontario, Canada, enforced an arbitration decision by the New York rabbinical court tribunal Beth Din (or Bais Din) of Mechon L’Hoyroa, in Brooklyn. However, the decisions of religious courts cannot be binding without the prior agreement of both parties, and will otherwise act only as mediation.
A large beth din may have the following officers:
The av beit din (Hebrew: אָב בֵּית דִּין ʾabh bêth dîn, "chief of the court" or "chief justice"or "chief justice"), also spelled av beis din or abh beth din and abbreviated ABD (אב״ד), was the second-highest-ranking member of the Sanhedrin during the Second Temple period, and served as
an assistant to the Nasi.The president, who bore the title Nasi "Prince", was in a way the supervisor of the court, which consisted of seventy additional members. Any judgment issued by the Sanhedrin in the absence of the Nasi was invalid.The Av Beit Din was known as the "Master of the Court;" he was considered the most learned and important of these seventy members. The last Av Beth Din in Jewish tradition is Menahem the Essene who abdicated to "serve the King" in 20BCE. Caiaphas was set to be next Av Beth Din but was opposed by the House of Shammai until Gamaliel became Nasi. Talmudic Judaism does not recognise any Av Beth Din after Menachem.Beth Din of America
The Beth Din of America is a Beth Din (Court of Jewish Law) which serves Jews throughout the United States of America as a forum for arbitrating disputes through the din torah process, obtaining Jewish divorces, and confirming Jewish personal status issues.It was founded in 1960 and reconstituted in 1994. The focus of Beth Din of America is on areas of family law, Jewish divorce and personal status, as well as adjudication of financial disputes. The Beth Din is affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and is sponsored by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.The current director of the Beth Din is Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, who succeeded Rabbi Yona Reiss in 2008.
In 2014, Dr. Michelle Friedman became the first woman on the Beth Din of America’s board of directors.Beth din shel Kohanim
The Beth Din of the priests or Court of the Priests ("house of judgement of the priests" Hebrew: בית דין של כהנים) was the court of Jewish law, composed of twenty-three senior priests that would oversee the day-to-day operation of the Temple in Jerusalem, including the sacrifices and offerings, the verification of Aaronic lineage, and the safeguarding of the vessels used in the Temple. The term Beth Din shel kohanim is mentioned by name only twice in Tannaitic and once in Amoraic literature, and has caused confusion regarding its meaning.The Beth din of the priests functioned on behalf and support of the Sanhedrin (Hebrew: סַנְהֶדְרִין), and performed its duties in the eleven Ammoth located between the western wall of the Holy of Holies structure and the western wall of the azarah (temple courtyard). This area was also known in Hebrew as achurei Beth HaKaporeth ("behind the Holy of Holies").Generally, the authority of the original Beth din shel Kohanim superseded that of the Sanhedrin in areas of interest relating to the Temple and to those related to the priesthood.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the 23 member body of the Beth din shel Kohanim also served in the Sanhedrin as a third of the 71 members serving therein.Chanoch Ehrentreu
Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu (born 1932 in Frankfurt-am-Main) served for many years as the head of the United Synagogue's Beth Din in Great Britain. He retired from the post in December 2006.Chicago Rabbinical Council
The Chicago Rabbinical Council (or cRc) is the largest regional Orthodox rabbinical organization in America, located in Chicago, Illinois. The cRc is a not-for-profit offering a wide variety of Jewish services, including kosher product supervision and kosher certification. Kosher certification is available around the world and throughout the year, including Passover supervision.
The cRc is also involved in community relations, funeral standards legislative issues, singles programming, youth education, and other activities benefiting the Jewish and general communities.
The cRc provides a beth din, a court of rabbis who are experts in Jewish law. In addition to dealing in the area of Jewish divorce, the Jewish court deals with Jewish adoption, conversion, certification of Jewish status, cases of mediation, and legal disputes.
The CRC's beth din and kashrus services are used by many other midwestern and south-central United States Jewish communities.
Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz is the long-time Av Beit Din of the cRc.Conversion to Judaism
Conversion to Judaism (Hebrew: גיור, giyur) is the religious conversion of non-Jews to become members of the Jewish religion and Jewish ethnoreligious community. The procedure and requirements for conversion depend on the sponsoring denomination. A conversion in accordance with the process of a denomination is not a guarantee of recognition by another denomination. A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken by individuals whose Jewish ancestry is questioned, even if they were raised Jewish, but may not actually be considered Jews according to traditional Jewish law.In some cases, a person may forgo a formal conversion to Judaism and adopt some or all beliefs and practices of Judaism. However, without a formal conversion, many highly observant Jews will reject a convert's Jewish status.There are some groups that have adopted Jewish customs and practices. For example, in Russia the Subbotniks have adopted most aspects of Judaism without formal conversion to Judaism. However, if Subbotniks, or anyone without a formal conversion, wish to marry into a traditional Jewish community or immigrate to Israel, they must have a formal conversion.Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Gedalia Dov Schwartz (born January 24, 1925) is an eminent Orthodox rabbi, scholar, and posek (halakhic authority) living in Chicago, Illinois. From 1991 to 2013, when he gave his position as Av Beth Din to Rabbi Yona Reiss, he was the av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) of both the Beth Din of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) as well as the rosh beth din (chief presiding judge) of the National Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). He is also editor of HaDarom, the RCA Torah journal.Hall of Hewn Stones
The Hall of Hewn Stones (in Hebrew, לשכת הגזית Lishkat ha-Gazit) was the meeting place of the Sanhedrin during the Second Temple period. The Talmud deduces that it was built into the north wall of the Temple, half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the temple and to the outside. The name presumably arises to distinguish it from the buildings in the temple complex used for ritual purposes, which had to be constructed of unhewn stones. (The Torah prohibits the use of hewn stones or those touched by iron for the altar. Ex 20:22, Deut 27:6. Various reasons have been given for the prohibition, among them: the purpose of the Temple is peace, while iron implements are used in war; the Temple lengthens human life while iron shortens it; the hewing of stones is an invitation to carving images in them, violating the prohibition against idolatry; and the sword references the earthly power of Esau, not the spiritual power of Jacob/Israel.)According to the Talmud, the Hall of Hewn Stones is the traditional meeting place of the Great Sanhedrin when it functioned as a court with full sovereign powers including the power to impose criminal penalties.
It has been taught; R. Jose said; Originally there were not many disputes in Israel, but one Beth din of seventy-one members sat in the Hall of Hewn Stones, and two courts of twenty-three sat, one at the entrance of the Temple Mount and one at the door of the [Temple] Court, and other courts of twenty-three sat in all Jewish cities. If a matter of inquiry arose, the local Beth din was consulted. If they had a tradition [thereon] they stated it; if not, they went to the nearest Beth din. If they had a tradition thereon, they stated it, if not, they went to the Beth din situated at the entrance to the Temple Mount; if they had a tradition, they stated it; if not, they went to the one situated at the entrance of the Court, and he [who differed from his colleagues] declared, 'Thus have I expounded, and thus have my colleagues expounded; thus have I taught, and thus have they taught.' If they had a tradition thereon, they stated it, and if not, they all proceeded to the Hall of Hewn Stones, where they [i.e., the Great Sanhedrin] sat from the morning tamid until the evening talmid; on Sabbaths and festivals they sat within the hel.
The Sanhedrin stopped meeting in the Hall of Hewn Stones when the Roman Empire restricted Judaea's autonomy and removed the Sanhedrin's power to impose criminal penalties.Iggud HaRabbonim
Igud HaRabonim (Rabbinical Alliance of America) is a national rabbinical organization, with over 800 members across the American Continent. Founded in 1942, it counts many prominent rabbis as its dayanim and has for years received publicity from Rabbi Sholom Klass and The Jewish Press.The organization counts with an active beth din (rabbinical court) in the greater New York City metropolitan area. Just like any other binding arbitration, its decisions are binding in civil courts if the litigants agree to appoint the beth din to arbitrate their dispute.The organization's first president and co-founder was Rabbi Dr. Samuel A. Turk.
Current Officers are:
Rabbi Abraham Hecht z"l (1922-2013), Former President (1972-2013)
Rabbi Hershel Kurzrock, Av Beis Din
Rabbi Dov Aron Brisman, Rosh Beis Din
Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak and Rabbi Hanania Elbaz - Presidium
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice President
Rabbi Avraham Amar, Rabbi Noach Bernstein, Rabbi Eli Hecht, Rabbi Joseph Salamon and Rabbi Abraham Stone - Vice Presidents
Rabbi Duvid Katz of Brooklyn N.Y. MenahelMembers of the Beis Din are:
Rabbi Hershel Kurzrock, Av Beis Din
Rabbi Dov Aron Brisman, Rosh Beis Din
Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, Sgan Av Beis Din
Rabbi Shmaryahu Shulman, Zkan Dayan
Rabbi Chaim Komendant, Menahel Beis Din
Rabbi Berish Welz, Dayan
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunwald, Dayan
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Perlman, Dayan
Rabbi Yitzchock Meir Pesach, Dayan
Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Kirsch, Dayan
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum served as director.London Beth Din
The London Beth Din (LBD) is the Ashkenazi Beth Din of the United Synagogue, the largest Ashkenazi synagogal body in London, England. In its capacity as Court of the Chief Rabbi, it is historically the supreme halakhic Authority for Ashkenazim in several Commonwealth countries and additionally is consulted by Batei Din throughout Europe.Mar Ukva
For the Geonim sage, also an Exilarch, see: Mar Ukba.
For the Amora sage of the 3d generation, also an Exilarch, see: Mar 'Ukban III (exilarch) [also known as "Ukban ben Nehemiah" or "Nathan de-Zuzita"].Mar Ukva (or Mar Ukba; other: Mar Ukva (I) )(also known as Natan Tzutzita) was a Jewish Amora sage of Babylon, of the first generation of the Amora era. He served as an Exilarch during the days of Samuel of Nehardea, who was also his Rabbi, but at the same time, Samuel was subordinated to Mar Ukva in Ukva's capacity as "Av Beit Din" - Chief of the rabbinical Sanhedrin court, and its second-highest-ranking member. He resided at Kafri city, Babylonia, where his "Beth din" - rabbinical court - was also located. According to the Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon, he was appointed Exilarch after R. Huna Kamma died. In the Talmud it is storied that he was a righteous man and used to give "Tzedakah" ("Charity") anonymously, in order not to shame the needy he handed the charity to. As a disciple of Samuel of Nehardea, he also had knowledge in medicine.Melbourne Beth Din
The Melbourne Beth Din (MBD) is an Orthodox Jewish court in the city of Melbourne, Australia. It rules mostly on divorces and conversions although it has ruled on other matters at various times. While they like to claim a monopoly over their services in Victoria, a number of alternatives do exist.Moshe Gutnick
Moshe D. Gutnick is an Orthodox rabbi and a member of the ultra Orthodox Chabad Hasidic movement. Rabbi Gutnick is a member of the Beth Din (rabbinical court) in Sydney, Australia. Gutnick is currently President of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and NZ. He formerly served as the rabbi of the Mizrachi synagogue in Sydney.
In 2018 Gutnick and three other members of the Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand were convicted of criminal contempt of court after pressuring a member of their community not to attend a secular court. At the time of this conviction, Gutnick was the president of RCANZ and controlled the running of the Beth Din in partnership with the other senior dayan, Yehoram Ulman.Rabbi Yannai
Rabbi Yannai (or Rabbi Jannai; Hebrew: רבי ינאי, read as Rabbi Yannai) was a Jewish sage, living during the first half of the 3rd century, and of the first generation of the Amora sages of the Land of Israel. He was a disciple of R. Judah haNasi - the sealer of the Mishnah. R. Yannai founded a Beth midrash in 'Akbara that was located, at the time, nearby Safed in the Upper Galilee, where he taught the Torah, and at the same time served as a dayan, religious judge, on the Beth din, rabbinical court in Sepphoris community. Among his disciples one can note: Abba Arika - Author of "Sefer" and "Sifri"; Yochanan bar Nafcha - One of the authors of the Jerusalem Talmud, Shimon ben Lakish, and more. R. Yannai is one of the descendants of Eli Ha-Kohen.
His name is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud 176 times, and in the Jerusalem Talmud 254 times.Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman
Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman (July 2, 1868–June 1, 1953) was a renowned Orthodox Jewish Talmudic scholar, Posek and rabbi and served as a Dayan of the London Beth Din.Yehezkel Abramsky
Yehezkel Abramsky (Hebrew: יחזקאל אברמסקי) (1886 – September 19, 1976), also affectionately referred to as 'Reb Chatzkel Abramsky', was a prominent and influential Orthodox rabbi and scholar, born and raised in the Russian Empire, who later headed the London Beth Din rabbinical court for 17 years.Yonason Abraham
Dayan Yonason Abraham is the rav of Toras Chaim Shul in Hendon, North West London. He is also a prominent member of the London Beth Din and used to be a member of the Melbourne Beth Din. He was born in 1964. Dayan Abraham gives shiurim and lectures daily on both Talmud Bavli and Mishnah Berurah. He also speaks regularly at the Kinloss Learning Centre.Dayan Yonason Abraham was born in London and went to Hasmonean High School. He studied in the yeshivos of Gateshead and Lakewood before moving to Australia in 1985 where he was a member of the Lakewood Kollel Beit Hatalmud (Melbourne). He originally came to Melbourne with the Mashgiach of Lakewood, HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel, zt"l, who was then trying to establish a yeshiva in the city. He married Bella Koppel in Melbourne and stayed to learn many years after a brief time learning in the Brisk Yeshiva, Jerusalem.
He served 7 years as the rav of Caulfield Shule and in that time he joined the Melbourne Beth Din. He also regularly consulted with, and helped, Sidney set up its own eruv.
He was then offered a place at the London Beth Din at the young age of 37. Since then he has been serving diligently on the Beth Din and has become an integral part of its every day running. He is now the rav and posek of Toras Chaim Shul in Hendon, North West London and is a regular lecturer at the Kinloss Learning Centre. He is also heavily involved with Tribe and Jabez. In 2016 Dayan Abraham accepted the position of Nasi of Shuvu. Shuvu is a network of day schools founded 1991 by Rabbi Avraham Pam. Dayan Abraham is also the Nasi of the Leeds Kollel.Yosef Yeshaya Braun
Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Braun is an Orthodox rabbi and a member of the Chabad Hasidic movement. Rabbi Braun serves as a member of the Beth Din of Crown Heights, the Bais Din Tzedek (Jewish Rabbinical Court) of the Chabad community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; he is an authority on Halacha (Jewish law) and Hasidic philosophy. Rabbi Braun previously served as the rabbi of the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue in Sydney, Australia.Zugot
The Zugot (Hebrew: הַזּוּגוֹת haz-zûghôth, "the Pairs"), also called Zugoth or Zugos in the Ashkenazi pronunciation, refers both to the two-hundred-year period (c. 170 BCE – 30 CE, Hebrew: תְּקוּפַת הַזּוּגוֹת təqhûphath haz-zûghôth, "Era of the Pairs") during the time of the Second Temple in which the spiritual leadership of the Jews was in the hands of five successions of "pairs" (זוּגוֹת zûghôth) of religious teachers, and to each of these pairs themselves. The zugoth were five pairs of scholars who ruled a supreme court (בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל bêth dîn hag-gādôl) of the Jews as nasi (נָשִׂיא, "prince", i.e. president) and av beit din (אָב בֵּית דִּין, "father of Beth Din", i.e. chief justice) respectively. After this period, the positions nasi and av beit din remained, but they were not zugot.