Rabbis found in contempt of court

JOSHUA LEVI

A NSW Supreme Court judge has found the Sydney Beth Din’s (SBD) rabbis – Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, Rabbi Michael Chriqui and Rabbi Eli Schlanger – are in contempt of court and did not afford a defendant natural justice.

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”.

Rabbi 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 Barukh didn’t comply with the SBD’s request, 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.”

Slamming the SBD ruling, NSW Supreme Court’s Justice John Robertson Sacker stated, “In my view, the email from the SBD, where the Beth Din for the first time threatens Mr Barukh with specific sanctions, does, beyond reasonable doubt, constitute conduct which places improper pressure on Mr Barukh to not exercise his right to access a secular court, and therefore has a real and definite tendency to interfere with the administration of justice.

“Quite simply, to threaten reprisal of the kind articulated in the email merely because of a firmly held view a civil court is the appropriate forum for the determination of a commercial dispute, is to not only threaten the integrity of the Court but its authority as the ultimate decision maker.”

Justice Sacker also claimed the conduct of the Beth Din “displays either arrogant disregard of their own procedures and rules of natural justice, substantial ineptitude, or inexperience dealing with commercial disputes”.

He added the court does not have jurisdiction to interfere in Beth Din affairs, but that it is his clear view that Barukh was not afforded natural justice.

Fiona Henderson, a solicitor representing the SBD, said they would appeal the ruling.

“We are of the opinion his honour erred both in law in relation to the issue of contempt and also in relation to his assessment of the behaviour of the Beth Din, an assessment he admitted was not within his jurisdiction to make,” she said.

“His suggestion of apprehended bias and a denial of natural justice on the part of the dayanim in our view was wrong and did not take into account key evidence in relation to the procedures of the Beth Din and especially that the dayanim had freely offered to recuse themselves.”