New point of call for disputes

STOUSHES in the Jewish community could be resolved under a restructuring of the Melbourne Beth Din (MBD), which would authorise it to deal with civil and commercial cases.

The first of these arbitrations will be conducted by a visiting rabbi from Jerusalem, with a view to setting up a permanent Jewish dispute resolution system in Australia. This would be cheaper, more efficient and more discreet than civil courts, according to the MBD.

While the current MBD constitution only allows for its judges to preside over Jewish divorce and conversion cases and to confirm Jewish identity status, Rabbi Dayan Baruch Rubanowitz, who is qualified by the Institute of Dayanim, will visit Melbourne, Sydney and Perth later this year to test the viability of a broader approach. “For many years, Melbourne has been bereft of a formally structured beth din for civil and commercial disputes – this impending visit of the dayan is one gargantuan shape forward in the right direction,” said MBD board member Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant.

“With 50,000 Jews in our state, there is no doubt enough legitimate dispute to warrant a full time beth din.

“In time we hope to inspire confidence in Melbourne’s Jewish business community, so that the beth din will be referred to in business contracts as the default arbiter in the event of a dispute,” he added.

While the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) works in conjunction with the Jewish Arbitration and Mediation Service to handle dispute cases, Rabbi Rubanowitz will visit as a guest judge.

“Because he’s a visiting judge who has particular stature, if anyone wants to have a particular case heard by him, they can arrange this through the beth din,” said SBD’s Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.

Registrar for the MBD on the project, Rabbi Ian Goodhardt, said taking a dispute to a non-Jewish court was seen as disparaging to halachah (Jewish law).

“The aim is that the beth din would be able to deal with any kind of dispute, whether it involves a multi-million dollar business deal, disputes over school fees, neighbours arguing over a fence or anything else that causes arguments between people,” he said.

While the Victorian Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 makes provision for the legal enforcement of rulings by religious bodies like the MBD, criminal matters must be heard by secular courts.