Rabbis: keep it in-house

THE Rabbinical Council of NSW (RCNSW) has issued a call for disputes between Jewish institutions to be settled in front of a beth din, rather than a secular court.

The request may seem surprising, considering the council’s current president, Rabbi Yossi Feldman, is himself involved in a court case against Kesser Torah College (KTC) campus owners Blake Napier Ltd over an unpaid tax bill.

Last week, honorary secretary Rabbi Chaim Ingram circulated a statement on behalf of the RCNSW noting: “The RCNSW earnestly urges that, in accordance with time honoured Jewish tradition and in order to avoid the grave transgression of chillul Hashem [a besmirching of God’s name], all disputes within the Jewish community, and particularly between rabbis or Jewish institutions, be arbitrated internally and in accordance with Jewish law.”

Asked why, if this is the rabbis’ request, the organisation’s president is contesting a case before a secular court, RCNSW vice-president Rabbi Yoram Ulman said there were circumstances when a beth din would give permission to go to a secular court, if attempts at mediation have failed.

“In this case, as everybody knows, the Feldmans tried for almost a year to go to a Din Torah,” he said.

However, a Blake Napier Ltd spokesperson told The AJN the trust had never been called to a Din Torah.

The Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, who resigned from the RCNSW last month after a disagreement with Rabbi Feldman, said the sentiment of the statement was spot on.

“Without doubt it’s appropriate that within the Jewish community, individuals and institutions make every effort to resolve disagreements in-house and avoiding chillul Hashem,” he explained. “From a halachic perspective, this certainly requires disputants to bring disputes to a beth din for rabbinic arbitration rather than have recourse to the civil courts,” he said.

The current case between Rabbi Yossi Feldman and his mother and Yeshiva College principal Pnina Feldman, against Blake Napier Ltd stems back to the sale of KTC’s Dover Heights property in 2003.

The AJN understands that, according to an agreement, Blake Napier Ltd would pay a half-million dollar tax debt, but in return Yeshiva spiritual leader, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, would not be either directly or indirectly involved in opening a new school within 18 months. The matter is currently before the courts.

KTC has launched a separate, but related claim against three members of the Feldman family, after Rabbi Pinchus Feldman was allegedly party to the creation of another Jewish educational institution during that 18-month period.

GARETH NARUNSKY

Rabbi Yosef Feldman