|Ask the Rabbi|
|Written by Rabbi Herbert Mandl, Kehilath Israel Synagogue|
|Thursday, February 23 2012 12:00|
QUESTION: My brother is an observant Jew in Chicago and has had a disagreement with his business partner who is not quite as religious as he but definitely a synagogue-going, somewhat observant Jew. My brother informed me that they are going to try to work out their differences in a Jewish court rather than an American civil court. Is that possible? What is this all about?
The Talmud and the Code of Jewish Law deal with virtually every area of civil AND criminal law. In many countries where Jews resided over the centuries, the Jewish communities were forced by the secular society to run their own community. Jews were not allowed to testify in court in most countries just like blacks and other ethnic minorities. Even in the United States it was only shortly into the 19th century that Jews had full civil rights in all courts of our country. So often Jewish communities around the world for hundreds of years were forced, out of necessity, to deal with every area of legal life except for perhaps capital punishment in our Jewish world. We have many volumes that deal with every area you can imagine concerning both civil and criminal law. We are now Americans and live in an American democracy where civil and criminal laws are dealt with in the public court system.
Despite everything I have said until now, there is at least one area where Jewish courts function on a daily on-going basis and that is in the area of Jewish divorce. Even though we are required by law to obtain a divorce in our civil courts in Johnson or Jackson County, we are also mandated by Jewish Law to obtain a Jewish divorce. We have Jewish courts that deal with that area of our tradition. Similarly, one has the right in this country to settle civil matters without going into an American court in most cases.
For example, if there is a disagreement between partners, even if there are legal partnership documents drawn, they have the right to go to a Jewish court to settle whatever differences they may have. The Jewish court probably would require that those partners agree at the outset that whatever judgment is rendered by that court will not be appealed to a civil court or the whole trial process will have been in vain. Such a court (and there are a number of them functioning in major Jewish cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami) will adjudicate matters of civil laws brought before them according to Jewish Law. The process is quicker than in civil American courts and I will add that the civil courts of this country are all too happy not to have more cases come on their docket.