JBOD to establish Beth Din working group

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky

THE NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and Sydney Beth Din (SBD) will put aside their differences and work together on improving the latter’s processes after a judge found its dayanim guilty of contempt of court in 2017.

A motion to establish a working group to assist the SBD on matters of administration, governance, case management, handling of complaints, termination (for misconduct) of dayanim and practice and procedure was passed overwhelmingly at JBOD’s June plenum.

The aim is to assist the SBD in its own internal review to ensure ongoing compliance with Australian law and the highest standards of natural justice and procedural fairness, while at the same time remaining faithful to the halachic rules and principles governing civil dispute resolution.

The SBD has welcomed the offer of assistance and said it looks forward to working with the group.

JBOD had previously resolved to conduct a review into the SBD, prompting the religious body to accuse it of “undermining the theological basis of orthodoxy and halachah” in a statement in March this year.

JBOD president Lesli Berger will chair the group, which comprises Rabbi Marcus Solomon SC, Jacquie Seemann Charak and Philip Stern.

Rabbi Solomon, of Perth, has provided legal assistance to Jewish organisations around Australia and also spoke at this year’s Limmud-Oz on the subject of Beth Dins and secular law.

Seemann Charak is a partner at Thomson Geer Lawyers, a member of JBOD’s Education Committee and honorary solicitor of Maccabi NSW, while Stern is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law, a partner of large commercial law firms for 30 years and a former director of Kesser Torah College.

A progress report on the deliberations of the working group will be presented at the November 19 plenum.

The convictions stemmed from a 2017 commercial dispute in which defendant Reuven Barukh refused to attend the SBD, preferring to have the case heard “in a civil court”.

The SBD told Barukh if he did not 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.”

The NSW Supreme Court’s Justice John Robertson Sackar found the rabbis in contempt of court and fined Rabbis Eli Schlanger, Yehoram Ulman and Michael Chriqui $10,000 each and Rabbi Moshe Gutnick $20,000. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling – one of its three judges dissented – but reduced the penalties.

The High Court dismissed the SDB’s Special Leave application in May.