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 370 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabbinic court 370
(photo credit: 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.
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.”