Legal Jewish matters should be adjudicated through a rabbinical court
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a long-standing monetary dispute with a local Jewish man, who insists that we take it to a Jewish court to resolve it. I want to sue him in secular court but want to first understand why he’s so adamant about going to a Jewish one. As Jews, we say dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land is the law. Doesn’t that apply to a monetary dispute?
Dina demalchusa dina, “the law of the land is the law,” means that one must uphold the laws of the land, pay taxes and so on. (Talmud, Bava Kama 113b) When it comes to a monetary dispute, secular law recognizes the right of the two litigants to have their dispute adjudicated by any mediator they mutually choose. This includes a rabbinical court, or beis din, which is acceptable mediation, and would fall within the parameters of dina demalchusa dina.
Furthermore, Jewish law requires that two Jews take their disputes to a rabbinical court, rather than a secular one. As an aside, the beis din would also hear the case of a Jew and a Gentile, if the Gentile would agree to do so, and save a ton of time and fees to boot. Jewish law equates one who takes a case to secular court, when he has the option to go to beis din, as if he is worshipping the sovereign religion of the court.
This means the following: The laws of jurisprudence appear in the Torah, beginning in Shemos/Exodus Chapter 21, immediately following the laws of building the altar in the Temple. The rabbis explain this juxtaposition, stating that the High Jewish Court, or Sanhedrin, should be situated right near the altar in the Temple. (Rashi, Exodus 21:1) This raises a question: Why can we not build a separate courthouse, where there’s peace and quiet, rather than to sit in judgement in the noisy, busy Temple?
My late mentor, R’ Shlomo Wolbe ob”m, noted that in every court of law, the seal of its country is prominently displayed. The reason is that the court judges its cases with the backing of their ruler, in accordance with the law of the country. In a similar vein, the laws of the Torah are the symbol of God’s Kingship. The laws of the Torah did not originate by our own mutual agreement; they are God’s commandments. The Sanhedrin is located in the House of God precisely because they represent His laws — laws that are the truth, as they are God’s word. To opt out of those laws to adjudicate by secular laws is, therefore, considered a desecration of God’s Name, and a worship of the sovereign belief.
R’ Wolbe offered an additional reason as to why the Sanhedrin was in the Temple. It is not acceptable for a Jew to separate his ritual service to God, such as the Temple worship, from the way he acts towards his fellow man. To be meticulous in the observance of the mitzvos between man and God, while derelict in his observance of the mitzvos between man and fellow man, is antithetical to the Torah way of life.
Relegating monetary matters to secular sources is making a statement about one’s Judaism, that it is not applicable in “real life.” Of course, if the other litigant is not willing to approach a beis din, one can receive a dispensation from the Jewish court to resort to secular court. When possible, however, it is a tremendous mitzvah to have the matter decided in accordance with our holy Torah. This sanctifies money matters, raising them to a new spiritual plateau.