Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I'm finally back in Eretz Hakoidesh after a long sojourn in North America which, as far as finstere goolus goes, you could do worse. There was a lot of lecturing but I squeezed in some bikur cholim and nichum aveilim and sundry other stuff (a 50th birthday party, pursuit of a lawsuit, some business strategizing) the fruits of which I hope to eat mainly in This World.

I'm getting back into the constitution business. I missed Monday's meeting about Arab rights. RG was prepared to give them the sun and the moon just to get them to participate in the constitutional process. Conveniently, they rejected everything.

A topic that is coming down the pike imminently is the matter of batei din. (I'm talking about dinei mamanot; personal status [conversions, marriage, etc.] is another matter I've discussed earlier.) The secular (and not a few religious) are mainly concerned that they not be compelled to go to religious batei din. The religious are mainly concerned that batei din be allowed to function without intervention by the civil courts but still have their decisions enforced by the state.

It is likely that everybody will get more or less what they want here. But there are a number of tricky points. First, will the constitution mandate that the state maintain official religious court systems or simply that it recognize religious courts that satisfy certain requirements? If the former, will decisions of official religious courts be recognized (and enforced) in the same manner as those of secular courts or merely as arbitration? If the latter, will it be forbidden/permitted/obligatory to fund such courts?

It's important to understand that whatever path is taken will apply generally to religious courts (not just Jewish ones). So one has to think twice before giving such courts too much power. Our own batei din don't exactly have sterling reputations for work ethics or impartiality (a topic which deserves a discussion of its own), but Muslim sharia courts are supposedly a lot worse. A few days ago Quebec's legislature passed a resolution against recognizing decisions of sharia courts as a form of arbitration in family disputes. The reason for this is simple: while hearings in these courts are possible only when all concerned parties volunteer to appear before them, people in a position of weakness in communities that use these courts (women, for example) are easily coerced into appearing "voluntarily". Not a simple business.

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