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.

March 7, 2013 02:32
2 minute read.
Rabbinic court [file photo]

Rabbinic court 370. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

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.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

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.

These sanctions, which can also be issued against someone called to testify in state courts, are especially damaging because of the tight-knit nature of ultra-Orthodox society.

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.

Hiddush itself has appealed to the Attorney-General’s Office on this issue.

“It is 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 judiciary.

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.”

Related Content

August 31, 2014
Rioting resumes throughout east Jerusalem Saturday night