Shabbat Parashat Vayetzei| 5766
The Requirement to Disclose the Details of a Claim - From Piskei Din Rabbaniim, vol. XIX, pp. 337-343
Case: The plaintiff summoned the defendant to beit din with a description of the reason for the summons and the amount of money he was demanding. The defendant said that he is willing to sign an arbitration agreement (needed to give beit din jurisdiction) only if the plaintiff presents him with further details about the alleged evidence against him.
Ruling: The Shach (CM 11:1) cites the Be’er Sheva who says that the defendant cannot make the plaintiff divulge the particulars of the subject of the adjudication. The rationale is that if the defendant gets too much information, it gives him the opportunity to prepare a fallacious defense. He supports this claim with the language of the gemara (Bava Batra 31a) that “one is used to not uncovering his claims out of court.”
The Shach argues, saying that it is unfair to withhold basic details from the defendant. The defendant can claim that if he would know what the claim is about, he might decide to concede and spare himself from going to beit din. Later Acharonim have identified the loss of going to beit din from which the defendant may want to protect himself in a few areas: monetary expenses related to the hearing; the uncomfortable nature of being a defendant in court; and the tarnishing of his reputation, as one who is sued in court. The Shvut Yaakov concurs with the Be’er Sheva, stating that he could always just show up in court to hear the charges and concede if he wants at that point; if he is embarrassed, he can appoint a representative. The Zichron Yosef says that the Shvut Yaakov would agree with the Shach when there are expenses stemming from going to beit din, for example, if it were far away.
The gemara (Moed Katan 16a) states that the summons process includes mentioning the plaintiff’s name. The Ritva (ad loc.) gives two reasons for specifying: 1) The defendant may decide to concede; 2) It gives him the opportunity to prepare his response. The Be’er Eisek infers from here that only the name is mentioned, but the particulars of the claim are not. However, the Birkei Yosef (ad loc.) says that this is the case only as a matter of course. However, if the defendant demands more information, we will respect his request. It is noteworthy that the Ritva raises a point that the Shach did not, namely, that the defendant has a right to prepare a defense.
Regarding halacha, most poskim accept the Shach’s opinion. However, it is apparent from the Shach that the defendant has a right to receive detailed information only about the claim. He has no rights to uncover the arguments in the plaintiff’s favor. Here, the right of the plaintiff to prevent the defendant from preparing lies has precedence. However, in this case, where the specifics of the basic claim have been spelled out, the defendant must submit to beit din without any further conditions.
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