The publication of Teaneck resident Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Yehuda (Ronnie) Warburg’s work Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality is a major event. The Halachic world has seen major advances in many areas such as medical Halacha where Halacha has very capably addressed virtually almost all challenging circumstances and situations. In the area of technology Halacha has been applied to the fullest extent and has thereby brought a sense of pride to every Torah loving Jew.
Creating a fully viable Beit Din in the contemporary context has proven to be challenging. Great strides, however, have been achieved in this area in the past decade. One of the leading figures in making Beit Din an integral part of Jewish life, especially in Modern Orthodox circles, is Rabbi Dr. Warburg. Rav Warburg’s encyclopedic knowledge of the contemporary Beit Din literature, significant familiarity with civil law and broad experience in the business world have facilitated his emergence is one of the major Dayanim, rabbinic judges in the United States.
The publication of ten of Rav Warburg’s decisions in his recently released work are the product of Rav Warburg’s extensive experience as a rabbinic judge in the Hassidic, Modern Orthodox, Sephardic and Yeshiva communities of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. These rulings are complemented by three important essays, including one which provides an important tool to those who toil in the field of resolution of situations of Igun.
Traditionally, Dayanim have not committed their Halachic decisions resolving financial disputes to writing. Financial disputes are often fraught with intense dispute and harsh feelings. Rabbis felt that releasing the decisions might reignite passionate disputes or expose their decisions to a frivolous appeal. Therefore, Rabbanim felt silence was golden.
However, already in the early twentieth century Rav Ben Zion Uzziel, one of the first Sephardic Chief Rabbis during the period of the British control of Eretz Yisrael, recognized that the situation has changed and that was a need to regain the confidence of the Jewish People in the efficacy and viability of Beit Din in the modern age. Rav Uzziel felt that the regular publication of Beit Din decisions would help earn the public trust in the efficacy of Beit Din financial dispute resolution. Rav Uzziel also noted that since civil courts publish the reasons for their decisions, Rabbinic Courts would appear out of touch and lacking transparency if they did not do so.
Some Israeli Dayanim have heeded Rav Uzziel’s call and thousands of Beit Din decisions resolving monetary disputes have been published in the past few decades in Israel. The monumental Piskei Din Rabbaniyim, published by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate Dayanim, constitute a major contribution to Torah literature and open the door to the world of Halachic commercial dispute resolution to all those (fluent in Hebrew) who wish to enter.
Dayanim in the United States, though, have generally speaking, lagged behind their Israeli counterparts in this area. The publication of ten of Rav Warburg’s decisions is a major step in the right direction. Rav Warburg presents the differing claims of the Toveiah (plaintiff) and the Nitba (defendant) and then engages in a relatively brief Halachic discussion of the issues involved in the matter disputed. He, of course, concludes with the decision of the Beit Din in the matter. The topics are as diverse as Torah, ranging from self-dealing in the not-for-profit boardroom, division of marital assets in case of divorce, tenure rights and severance pay for teachers, rabbinic contracts, family in-fighting over inheritance matters, spousal rape, and a father’s duty to support his estranged children.
I would like to pose a challenge to Rav Warburg and other American Dayanim. Mr. Burton Morris, a prominent Orthodox Jewish attorney who practices in Harrisburg often reminds me (many other attorneys have noted this as well) of the lack of predictability in Beit Din. He notes that he can advise clients as to the advisability of litigation in civil court since these courts follow accepted precedents in their procedures and rulings. Mr. Morris and many Orthodox attorneys bemoan the lack of predictability in contemporary Beit Din. Moreover, community members are at a loss as to how to formulate contracts and business agreements that would prove effective in Beit Din, due to the lack of knowledge as what to expect in Beit Din.
Although it is not a complete remedy, the publication of Rav Warburg’s ten significant rulings is a major step in the right direction. It at least gives Jewish community members a sense of what to expect in Beit Din dispute resolution. The challenge I pose to Rav Warburg and his colleagues (myself included) is the publication (posted online with a table of contents and an index) of another thousand decisions, written in English. While it will not create a full sense of predictability in Beit Din, it will at least give community members and their advisors a reasonable sense of how a Beit Din would adjudicate a case similar to theirs.
The publication of ten of Rav Warburg’s decisions is a major step in the direction of realizing the vision articulated by Rav Uzziel of the enhancement of the prestige of Torah litigation. We urge Rav Warburg and his colleagues to publish many more such works which will continue to add to the respect of Torah, which ultimately leads to greater respect for the Creator and Author of the Torah.
This review first appeared in the Jewish Link of Bergen County