Standard halacha, or Jewish law, demands that Jews take their disputes to a court of Jewish law — a beit, or beth, din. It’s a hard sell in countries where Jewish courts have no power of enforcement and the secular courts seem fair. To get Jews to follow the policy in real life, rabbis have to convince them that their courts provide just and prompt resolutions to disputes. The recently produced first issue of The Journal of the Beth Din of America, published in collaboration with the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, seems a sophisticated effort to do just that.
The journal features an article by Rabbi Yaacov Feit that gives a straightforward history of this policy. For Jews to take their disputes to any court other than a beit din is an insult to the Torah, according to the Talmud and later classical sources. Yet Feit does not ask whether it insults the Torah to study other legal systems, or to earn a living from them. Should a Jew attend law school in America, or serve as a lawyer or judge? Working as a lawyer also seems an insult to the Torah, but Feit does not consider this case. In practice, many observant Jews do earn their livelihoods in American law.