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The Beth Din

What is the Beth Din and how is it structured?

 

It is a biblical injunction for communities to establish a Beth Din for the purpose of administering Jewish Law. Whilst in biblical times the jurisdiction extended to both civil and criminal law, nowadays for obvious reasons a Beth Din can have no involvement in matters of a criminal nature.

Whilst Jewish Law recognises the legal system of the host country and indeed will often import it into Jewish Law as being the system of law governing a dispute, there is an overriding duty to bring a civil dispute before a Beth Din to ensure that the case is decided within the parameters of Jewish Law.

Whilst the prime function of a Beth Din is the duty to arbitrate in civil disputes and to administer Jewish Family Law, the duties have been much extended over the centuries. This will be evident from a perusal of the headings in this section which give an overview of the manifold activities carried out by a modern day Beth Din.

Whilst certain activities of the Beth Din require a forum of three Dayanim (Judges – sing. Dayan), each member of the Manchester Beth Din has their specialist areas. In addition, local Rabbonim are often called upon to assist the Dayonim, especially in matters relating to the carrying out of Get procedures.

It will also be evident that the Beth Din, whilst primarily function within the community as part of its religious infrastructure, has a significant role in relating to the wider community. The Beth Din is seen as an advisory body on matters pertaining to religious practice and is widely consulted by many agencies.

The Beth Din is aware that there is much confusion and lack of knowledge surrounding the work of the Beth Din. It is hoped that this web-site will go some way to clarifying matters. However, the public are welcome to contact the Registrar with any queries. Synagogues and Organisations wishing to hold an event at which the work of the Beth Din is highlighted should make contact with Rabbi Brodie.

 

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The well known conundrum of what came first the chicken or the egg is highly appropriate when considering the relationship between various departments and a Beth Din. On the one hand one requires the lay organisation to appoint the Beth Din, on the other, how can there be a lay organisation if not authorised by a Beth Din?

 

In the case of the Manchester Community, Shechita existed before the formal creation of a Beth Din. Individual Synagogues acting under their own Rabbinical Authority carried out Shechita and provided Kashrus facilities. When, in 1892, a decision was taken to unify shechita under the Manchester Shechita Board a need arose to create one unified religious authority. This responsibility was accepted by the Shechita Board which, under its constitution accepted upon itself the responsibility of appointing and financing a Beth Din. Thus whilst the Board pre-dated the Beth Din, its creation by virtue of its constitution came with the obligation to create a master for itself to legislate on all matters of religious policy.

There are many shechita and Kashrus activities throughout the world that function without a Beth Din. Similarly, here are many Botei Din that do not operate a shechita or kashrus facility. Manchester is indeed fortunate that there exits this close relationship between the lay leadership and the Beth Din. It is this “hands-on” involvement of the Dayonim on a daily basis that has ensured that standards are adhered to and that staffing levels and calibre meet with their approval. Quite apart from the supervisors, inspectors and Rabbinical Directors, all areas of activity are visited regularly by members of the Beth Din producing a unity of purpose and collective responsibility which is the guarantee of a high standard of kashrus.

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