Shabbat Parashat Beshalach| 5766
The Composition of the Supreme Rabbinical Court - Based on Piskei Din Rabbaniim - vol. II, pp. 40-46
This early case highlights a contentious claim that demonstrates some birth pains of a new State with new rules for the formation of batei din.
Case: The regional court asked one of the Chief Rabbis, who, as Chief Rabbi, was president of a charitable fund, to make changes in the fund’s board (due to impropriety). The deposed members appealed the decision to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and then claimed that its panel was invalid for two reasons. Firstly, none of the dayanim had a status of av beit din (court head), a title reserved for the Chief Rabbis, neither of whom sat in this case. Secondly, since the Chief Rabbis must approve appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court and since one of the Chief Rabbis was involved as a party to the dispute, the dayanim whose appointment he approved are invalid to serve as dayanim. They claimed that when one side appoints dayanim, he has an unfair advantage.
Ruling: There are two elements to the role of av beit din. One is a matter of respect for the most venerated of the dayanim,that he sits at its head. When one of the Chief Rabbis sits in a given case, he is granted that honor, but if he is not present, there need not be someone else who receives the honor. It is inconceivable that the new law requires a Chief Rabbi to be present at every case, because then multiple cases could not be held concurrently, and the presence of several panels of the Supreme Rabbinical Court would be meaningless. The second element is to oversee the handling of the case. The role that the Chief Rabbi(s) plays in that regard is constant, as one of them serves as the head of the avot batei hadin. He does not have to be an active member of an individual panel. The halachic requirement for an av beit din is found only in regard to a Sanhedrin, which consists of a minimum of 23 dayanim (Rambam, Sanhedrin 1:3), not a simple beit din, whose requirement is for a panel of three valid dayanim (Choshen Mishpat 3).
Let us now deal with the fact that the Chief Rabbis are involved in the appointment of the dayanim for the Supreme Rabbinical Court [We will not deal with the question if the Chief Rabbi was a party to the dispute, which the beit din refuted.] First of all, if the claim is that the appointment was tainted by the self-interest of the Chief Rabbi, then the dayanim’s appointment must be negated totally. There is a procedure to objecting to such an appointment, but the appealers did not and can no longer do so. If the complaint is about their involvement in this case, since their appointment by the Chief Rabbis was general (not to this specific case) and they have heard and will hear many other cases, there are no grounds to disqualify them. [Note that the litigant’s claim would apply equally to any of the justices who existed at the time.]
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