Beth Din appeals contempt ruling

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky

THE rabbis of the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) have appealed a December Supreme Court ruling which found them in contempt of court and the associated penalty of $50,000 in fines plus court costs, expected to be more than $250,000, handed down last week.

Last year, Reuven Barukh was called to front the SBD to resolve a business dispute, but he refused to attend and instead offered to have the case heard “in a civil court”.

SBD’s Rabbi Eli Schlanger wrote to Barukh that “all members of the Jewish faith are obliged to have their disputes heard in accordance with Jewish Law at a Beth Din” and that Jews are “not permitted to seek adjudication at a civil court without the express permission of a Beth Din”.

When Barukh still refused to attend the SBD, and asked again for the case to be brought to a secular court, Rabbi Schlanger wrote that if he didn’t comply, among other sanctions, “Synagogue/s where he prays will be informed accordingly. He will not be counted to a minyan. He will not be able to receive an aliyah to the Torah. He will not be offered any honour in the synagogue.”

Last December, NSW Supreme Court’s Justice John Robertson Sackar found the rabbis in contempt of court and last Thursday fined Rabbi Schlanger, Rabbi Yehoram Ulman and Rabbi Michael Chriqui $10,000 each.

He fined Rabbi Moshe Gutnick $20,000 because the judge said he was “the principal actor in the circumstances and as a result he should bear a greater responsibility than that of the others”.

A statement provided to The AJN by Schweizer Kobras Lawyers on April 4 said: “The Beth Din has appealed the judgment handed down by Justice Sackar on 14 December 2017 and the decision in regards to penalty handed down on Thursday 29 March 2018, both as to the underlying findings of contempt and the amount of the penalties imposed against each of the members of the Beth Din.

“The rabbis intend to honour the judge’s ruling until such time as the decision is overturned.”

In announcing the penalties, the judge noted that the rabbis did apologise. The rabbis also said they had suffered “significant embarrassment and distress as a result of being found guilty of contempt” but the judge stated this “can be seen equally to be the product entirely of their own behaviour”.

Rabbi Gutnick told the court that Jewish people should respect the rule of law, and that he would never knowingly or intentionally do anything that would be considered contempt of Australian law.

A Directions hearing will be held at the Court of Appeal next Wednesday.