The Jewish Bet Din Religious Court Explained

By Barbara Wright

Judaism is a religion largely practiced in Israel, the United States of America, Canada, some parts of Europe, Brazil, South Africa and other countries that have a significant population of Jews. At the heart of Judaism, there is the Torah. This has a set of laws. The Jewish Bet Din occupies an important place in the Torah and in Judaism in general. It is a religious court. Thus, it deals with interpreting the religious laws that are found in the Torah. In Israel, there is the freedom of religion as well as other freedoms such as freedom of movement. Thus, one can believe anything.

The Bet Din just like any other court has a structure. There are senior officials of the court and there are the junior officials. A person can start on the lower levels and slowly climb up the ranks. To become an official of the court, one needs to be a person who has a very high level of integrity.

The most senior court official is the chief of court. The chief of a religious court does not necessarily have to be appointed by the president or the prime minister of Israel. He can as well be appointed by the rabbinical authorities through wide ranging consultations. The chief of the Jewish religious court must be a well respected rabbi.

The Jewish religious court has been around for thousands of years. It is as old as Jewish history. One of the first places where the Jews are mentioned is the book of Genesis. At that time, they were slaves in Egypt. The Exodus from Egypt was a momentous event in the history of Jews. It marked the birth of a nation.

In ancient times, this court was all powerful. It had a say on every judicial matter. That was the period just after Israelis settled in the Promised Land. The court was established so that justice could prevail in society and everybody could live in peace and harmony. Actually, religious courts and the other courts must strive to exercise justice.

Various Roman emperors either restricted the Israeli religious court or allowed it to thrive. In some cases, this court only had jurisdiction on Israeli people. Therefore, the Romans who lived in Jerusalem and the surrounding territories were subject to the laws of Rome. The Roman system of laws and the Judaism system of law were two different systems. One is religious and the other is not.

When the state of Israel was re-established in the 20th century, most aspects of Jewish history were restored. That includes the Hebrew language that had largely disappeared over the centuries. The Bet Din court was also restored but not as an independent entity but as a part of Israeli judiciary. However, its officials are top Israeli religious figures.

The Bet Din does not exist independently. It complements others courts such as the Supreme Court and the High Court. It serves as an alternative avenue for settling civil disputes in Israel as well as in other countries that have a high population of Israelis. A civil matter such as a divorce case does not have to go to court.

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