Court to review rabbinical court's social exclusion order

Many ultra-Orthodox rabbis view use of state courts, in Israel and in the Diaspora, as a violation of a principle of Jewish law.

HAREDI MEN pray at the Belz Yeshiva in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
HAREDI MEN pray at the Belz Yeshiva in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
The High Court of Justice accepted for deliberation on Monday a petition demanding that an independent rabbinical court that issued a writ of social exclusion against a haredi woman in the city of Elad should publicly rescind the decree.
The writ was issued against the woman, referred to as HK to protect her identity, because she filed a complaint with a civil court against a neighbor who was illegally building a porch onto her apartment.
Many ultra-Orthodox rabbis, courts, and authorities in Jewish law view the use of state courts, in Israel and in the Diaspora, as a violation of a principle of Jewish law prohibiting a Jew from handing over another Jew into non-Jewish legal and criminal justice systems.
Because HK turned to the civil court to deal with the matter, an independent rabbinical court operating in the haredi city of Elad, just east of Petah Tikva, issued a social exclusion order against HK, informing the community that she should be treated as “someone who has lifted up their hand against the Law of Moses” and transgressed the laws of “mesira,” delivering a Jew into secular or non-Jewish legal authorities.
Decree notices were posted on notice boards around the city announcing the imposition of this social exclusion.
As a result of this decree, HK says she can barely leave the house for fear of being spat on and verbally abused.
She claims that at least one daughter was denied a place in high school because of the decree, and says that she can no longer go to synagogue because of the stigma and social ostracism the decree has caused.
Earlier this year, the attorney- general issued a directive providing for criminal prosecution of anyone involved in issuing such decrees.
According to Hiddush, the organization that filed the High Court petition on behalf of HK, she has to all intents and purposes been banished from communal life in the city and will not be able to continue living there. The petition also states that she has suffered from severe psychological stress due to this social ostracism.
Hiddush’s petition, accepted for deliberation by the High Court on Monday, demands that the “True and Just Rabbinical Court” publicly retract the decree it issued.
The petition named Elad’s Sephardi Municipal Chief Rabbi Mordechai Malka as a primary respondent since, in addition to his official duties, he also serves as the president of the “True and Just Rabbinical Court.” Three other rabbinic judges of the rabbinical court who signed the decree were named as additional respondents.
The petition alleges that the “True and Just Rabbinical Court,” an independent rabbinical court also known as “The Central Rabbinical Court of Justice of Elad for Property,” operates within the framework of the office of the Elad rabbinate and that documents used by the rabbinical court bear the seal of the office of the Elad rabbinate.
The petition also claims that the address of the “True and Just Rabbinical Court” belongs to the Elad municipality.
According to HK, the issue began when neighbors living directly above her apartment began building a balcony onto their residence without the proper permits, directly above her own porch.
HK and her family use their porch to build a succa, a religious obligation during the Succot holiday that, according to Jewish law, cannot be constructed underneath any permanent structure.
Her neighbors porch would have therefore prevented HK’s family from using their porch for a succa.
She first approached a rabbi her family consulted with on matters of Jewish law to ask if it was permissible to approach a civil court with her complaint. The rabbi gave her permission to do so, and her complaint was upheld by the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, which issued an order to HK’s neighbors to cease construction.
Her neighbors did not heed the court order and appealed to the True and Just Rabbinical Court of Elad, which issued an “injunction” against HK demanding that she withdraw her complaint and turn to the rabbinical court for ruling on the matter.
Independent rabbinical courts have no authority to issue binding legal injunctions of any kind.
HK refused to withdraw the complaint, and so the day before the Yom Kippur of 2012, the rabbinical court issued the social exclusion notice against her, which was posted around the city.
In March this year, the Attorney-General’s Office issued a directive allowing for the criminal prosecution of rabbinic judges who issue social exclusion decrees, or threaten as such, against someone who insists on litigating civil or monetary complaints in a state court.
The rabbinic judges involved in the current case cannot, however, be criminally prosecuted, since the decree was issued before the Attorney General’s Office published its directive on the matter.
The phenomenon of such decrees is in part tied to a desire by independent rabbinical courts of haredi communities to preserve the autonomy and standing of their Jewish legal institutions.
Since the haredi rabbinical court system fiercely guards the independence of its network, the issue is especially sensitive. As such, the attorney- general’s directive in March stated that state authorities should act “with care and moderation” in taking legal action in these kind of cases, and stipulated that the opening of an investigation and prosecution on such charges would require the approval of the deputy state attorney.
Although hard data is not available on the prevalence of social exclusion decrees, Hiddush believes that there may be several hundred cases a year of such incidents, since there are dozens of private rabbinical courts up and down the country, which are zealous in the protection of their independence.
Said Hiddush director and attorney, Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, “There are many people in the same position as this woman... but refrain from taking action against it out of fear of further injury.
“It is critical that the court recognizes the importance of defending such people across the country who are exposed to threats of such social exclusion orders, and not bow their heads to what is in effect criminal extortion,” Regev continued.
“These citizens suffer from heartbreak, the illegality, one-sidedness, extremism and brutality inherent in the use of social exclusion orders,” he concluded.
The chief rabbinate said in response to the High Court petition that Rabbi Malka did not himself issue the social exclusion decree in question and that it was published in contravention of his general instructions not to issue such decrees.
“According to the best of our knowledge, Rabbi Malka’s name did not appear on the writ, although this does not negate the responsibility that it [the writ] was issued in the name of the rabbinical court which is run by Rabbi Malka,” the chief rabbinate said in its response.
“Rabbi Malka wished to clarify that his position in terms of Jewish law is that writs of social exclusion should not be used at all, and he will investigate how and why his directives were violated.”
Regarding the demand that the writ be publicly retracted, the chief rabbinate stated that such a procedure was unusual and the possibility for its implementation would be examined while the High Court deliberates on the case.