A-G: Prosecute rabbinic judges for excommunication threats
Directive states rabbinical courts issuing of excommunication writs could constitute obstruction of justice, witness intimidation and extortion.
Rabbinic court [file photo] Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
The Attorney-General’s Office issued a directive on Tuesday that provides for
the criminal prosecution of rabbinic judges who issue social excommunication
warrants, or threaten as such, against someone who insists on litigating civil
or monetary complaints in a state court.
In the directive, which
primarily deals with private rabbinical courts, the attorney-general states that
the issuance of such writs could constitute obstruction of justice, witness
intimidation and extortion.
The phenomenon of rabbinic social
excommunication warrants is a widespread and longstanding problem largely within
the haredi community. It is a particularly sensitive issue, coming from a desire
by the independent rabbinical courts of the communities to preserve the autonomy
and standing of their Jewish legal institutions.
If a person refuses to
have a case heard in these rabbinic courts, the rabbinic judges can and do issue
so-called “refusal notices” which publicly announce that the person in question
insists on taking the case to the state courts.
The notices often include
the imposition, or threat, of social sanctions, which have a serious impact on
the lives of those subjected to them. These sanctions can include exclusion from
synagogue, prohibitions on the community from conducting business with such a
person, affect the eligibility of the person’s children for marriage and
numerous other negative impacts on personal and communal life.
sanctions, which can also be issued against someone called to testify in state
courts, are especially damaging because of the tight-knit nature of
Due to the sensitive nature of the issue and the
fiercely protected independence of these private rabbinical courts, the
attorney-general’s directive said the state authorities should act “with care
and moderation” in taking legal action in such cases.
The opening of an
investigation and prosecution on such charges will also require the approval of
the deputy state attorney.
According to Reform Rabbi and attorney Uri
Regev, director of the Hiddush religiousfreedom lobbying group, the hostile
attitude of the haredi rabbinical courts is based on the belief that the state
legal system is heretical and opposed to Jewish law, and as such refers to it as
the “non- Jewish court system.” “This issue is the epitome of the conflict
between religion and state in this country,” Regev said.
has appealed to the Attorney-General’s Office on this issue.
essentially the contention that state is illegitimate, and finally the state is
saying we will not allow these people to undermine rule of law and the
He noted that the issue was at the heart of efforts “to defend
the civil and democratic nature of state of Israel,” saying that the country
could not afford to lose the battle.
“Otherwise we will have thrown the
rule of law out of the window. This is too severe of an erosion of democracy and
the rule of law to be tolerated,” Regev said.
The haredi daily Yated
Ne’eman reported on Wednesday that rabbinical judges in independent courts
heavily criticized the decision, calling it a byproduct of the “filthy political
atmosphere of boycotting haredim.”