By Rabbi Johnny Solomon
The process of interpreting Jewish legal texts and applying Jewish legal precedents is highly complex especially when dealing with Jewish civil law, and in almost all cases, the textual sources being interpreted are written in rabbinic hebrew and are hard to comprehend for the non-expert. Given this, the English speaking public have rarely had the opportunity to delve into the nuanced analysis of halakhic reasoning that are required of, and expressed by, a Beit Din when issuing halakhic rulings. It is precisely this lacuna that Rabbi A. Yehuda (Ronnie) Warburg has sought to fill with his Rabbinic Authority: The Vision and the Reality – Beit Din Decisions in English.
In his first volume (published by Urim in 2013), Rabbi Warburg provided a brilliant examination of the concept of rabbinic authority and presented ten detailed rulings in cases of Jewish civil law, and in his recently published second volume, Rabbi Warburg offers ten further presentations which are incredible examples of his clarity as a scholar and writer. By doing so, Rabbi Warburg wishes to remove some myths that surround the workings of Battei Din. As he explains:
‘hopefully our presentation will educate our community on the parameters and scope of rabbinic authority in general, and “shatter the silence” surrounding the institution of the beit din in particular.’
But Rabbi Warburg is not merely trying to pull back the curtain to show the inner workings of Battei Din. Instead, he wants to educate people about how issues should be considered and how rulings should be formulated. This is because,
‘for those who avail themselves of the serves of a beit din, it may be a life-defining moment. As such, it behoves our community to understand the institution, to become attuned to the dynamics of its decision making process, and to perform due diligence in deciding which beit din to pursue one’s matters.’
In Rabbinic Authority Vol. 2, Rabbi Warburg discusses a number of truly fascinating and important topics including ‘Harnessing the Authority of Beit Din to deal with cases of domestic violence and child abuse’, ‘An Employers vicarious liability for an employee’s sexual misconduct’, and ‘The status and role of a To’ein Rabbani in the Beit Din process’. Additionally, Rabbi Warburg deals with a variety of practical issues such as whether a wife may access her husband’s private emails to support her case that he is having an extra-marital affair, the scope of an investment broker’s responsibility, and the propriety of involving civil courts when dealing with family inheritances.
Rabbinic Authority is a work of the highest scholarship, and it provides a unique opportunity to the English speaking public to understand how rabbinic authorities approach complex questions through the interpretation and application of Jewish texts and precedents, and as someone who always wishes to achieve a deeper understanding of the halakhic-judicial process, I absolutely loved it!