Q & A 

Having to appear before a Beis Din shouldn't be a source of anxiety.

Know your rights and obligations.

Q #1. If I receive an invitation to attend a Beis Din, must I attend?

A. Principally, when a person has a Shaylo (a halachic question), he is expected to ask a Rov that is well versed in that field to determine the acceptability and appropriateness of the item or activity in question. The one posing the Shaylo is allowed to select the Rov he believes is best suited to respond canonically. Indeed, the Mishna says in Avos (1:16), "Aseh lecho Rav v'histalek min hasofek", make for yourself (or as the Rebbe puts it: "force" yourself to accept (cf. Gitin 88b. Beis Yosef Y"D 248)) a Rov and avoid doubt. [Watch the Rebbe beseech the Chassidim to adopt a personal Rov immediately and to not postpone doing so until tomorrow.]

When a dispute arises, the need for such an authority is even greater: Conflict inherently involves a difference of opinions between at least two parties who have failed to reach an agreement because of their lack of Torah knowledge or objectivity (or both), making it necessary for an impartial arbitrator, knowledgeable and experienced in Choshen Mishpat (i.e., one who possesses the qualification of "Yodin Yodin"), to formulate the appropriate course of action. Leaving a dispute unattended is not an option that the Torah supports, especially if one of the parties has requested a Din Torah. And because one lacks objectivity, this obligation cannot be discharged nor postponed without the assistance of an impartial arbitrator, even if he is convinced beyond a doubt that the other party is without claim whatsoever.

Since the appointment of such authority cannot be claimed by either party, disputes are commonly arbitrated by a Beis Din (a panel of 3 dayonim) in the form of a “Zablo” arrangement where each party chooses one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators choose a third.

By signing an arbitration agreement, the parties empower the arbitrator(s) to issue a Psak Din that will be binding both Halachicly and legally. This means that according to Halacha, the parties must obey the Psak Din even if they don't understand its basis or feel it is fair. 

For more information regarding this process, please see here

If a person asks his fellow to appear with him before a Beis Din, the latter should immediately consent. Refusing to attend before receiving an official Hazmono from a Beis Din (i.e., one agrees in principle to participate in a Din Torah but will only appear once after a Beis Din has asked him to) shows a lack of Yiras Shomayim (cf. Sema ibid). 

For details regarding the process of initiating a Din Torah, please see here.

To read a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe regarding the importance of attending a Din Torah when called, and the attitude his friends should have if he refuses even temporarily, please see here.

Q #2. Must one of us initiate a Din Torah if we can't work things out ourselves?

A. The longer a dispute drags on, the harder it will be to repair the relationship. 

A Din Torah is heard confidentially, and if done right, it allows the parties to put their differences behind them and leave in a better mood. Also, when parties to a dispute agree to attend a Din Torah, everyone involved receives Hashem's Brochos.

In some cases, it may be beneficial to give up certain rights in order to repair a damaged relationship. However, it's important to avoid making concessions that will leave you feeling upset or taken advantage of.

Q #3. What are my options if the other person refuses a Din Torah?

A. You can seek Halachic permission to take the matter to court. Alternatively, you can hand your claim over to Hashem. Before doing so, you should first inform the other person of your intentions (cf. Ramo Choshen Mishpat 422:1).

To receive Halachic permission to take the matter to court, the other party must first be formally offered a Din Torah. See below question #6. "How do I initiate a Din Torah?"

Q #4. Must a Hazmono be sent to utilise the services of the Beis Din?

A. No. Parties to a dispute can - and should - amicably agree to take the matter to a Rov or Beis Din, and their query will be handled promptly and efficiently, and often at no cost to the disputants. A person that refuses to go to Beis Din at the request of his opponent, and only goes when he is summoned by a Beis Din, can be seen as a Mesarev l'Din (Sema 79:31).

Q #5. I just received a Hazmono via email. Can you please advise me of the costs?

A.  Arbitration services are generally provided at no cost to the parties. For more information, see here.

Q #6. How do I initiate a Din Torah?

 A. You can initiate a Din Torah by inviting your opponent to a Din Torah or, alternatively, you can ask a Rov or Beis Din to send the Hazmono on your behalf.   For more information, see here.

Either way, if the Beis Din sees that your adversary was formally invited and ignored you, the Beis Din can issue a Heter Arko'os (Halachic permission to take the matter to court) document giving you Halachic permission to take the matter to secular court.

Q #7. I've recently received a Hazmono, and I'm scratching my head to understand why the fellow has directed his strong emotion against me, especially having regard to the kindness which I have shown towards him over an extended period. In order to avoid causing a controversy, can I ignore him?  

A. If you have been invited to attend a Din Torah, it is mandated by Halacha that you appear and defend yourself. This requirement is because only a third party can objectively determine the claim that you have wronged your fellow and decide whether you are required to make amends. [Though cognitive biases can be beneficial in certain fields such as business, finance, and management, they, unfortunately, hinder objective analysis of interpersonal dissonance.]

Having to appear before a Beis Din shouldn't be a source of anxiety for you, especially if you've only shown kindness towards this individual. If you have acted within your rights, the Beis Din will rule in your favour. On the other hand, even if until now you have done nothing wrong, refusing a Din Torah request is in itself a violation of Halacha

A Din Torah is the only Halachicly acceptable forum to absolve oneself of gossip.

Q #8. I've received a Hazmono from a Beis Din in the States, but no one seems to have heard of it. Can I insist that the matter be heard by a more established and well-known Beis Din?

A. Unless both the claimant and respondent belong to the same constituency (i.e. they live in the same area where a Beis Din Kavuah (a democratically elected Beis Din - Responsa Igros Moshe Ch"M 2:3) has jurisdiction), the respondent can reply that he prefers a different Beis Din. If his suggested alternative is within reason, the Beis Din issuing the Hazmono will instruct the claimant to either accept the alternative or opt for a Zablo (which is an arrangement where each party chooses one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators choose a third). A well-known self-appointed Beis Din is no more authoritative than one that is less well-known. Most Batei Din today (if not all) are self-appointed and cannot claim exclusive jurisdiction. 

You will sometimes see a Beis Din refer to itself as "recognised" or it will assert this qualification as a prerequisite to arbitrate. For example, The Federation's website states: "A Din Torah is a hearing of a dispute in front of a recognised Beis Din (Jewish court), in accordance with Jewish law." More accurately described, however, a Din Torah is a hearing of a dispute in front of three (3) individuals who profess knowledge of Halacha and are agreeable to conduct the hearing accordingly (cf. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 3:1).

Q #9. (follow-up) Would you recommend any particular Beis Din?

A. The Torah instructs "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" (Dvorim 16:20), and Rashi quotes the Sifrei and Gemora to interpret this to mean that one should "Seek out a good court."  A good court ("Beis Din") is a panel of at least three knowledgeable and God-fearing individuals that respect Halacha and its protocols. 

While Dayonim are (sometimes) allowed to receive (equal) compensation from the parties for arbitrating, if they require payment for services rendered, they are not in the position to issue a Ksav Siruv (a bill of refusal) or Heter Arko'os (Halachic permission to take the matter to court) in the event the respondent ignores their call. (See further details, here.) Batei Din sometimes incorrectly impose an obligation on the respondent to participate in arbitration proceedings while at the same time charging the disputants for the service. This practice is not only incorrect but also unfair and contrary to the Halachic and legal principles of arbitration.  A Beis Din that does this is guilty of extortion (see Shulchan Aruch Harav Yoreh De'ah 1:11 and Kuntres Achron ibid 7). See, for example, here.

Another incorrect practice is the requirement of some Batei Din that the parties sign an arbitration agreement before the commencement of the hearing, which will allow the arbitrators to issue a Pshoro (a "lukewarm" solution or "compromise"). A Beis Din should encourage the parties to compromise (e.g., to agree on a fair settlement instead of one of the parties (or both) having to take an Oath while holding a Sefer Torah), but it is not allowed to deprive someone of his Halachic right to an uncompromised, purely Halachic Din Torah. (One often hears that litigants are no longer given the opportunity to take an oath, and instead, if the arbitrators are unable to ascertain who is telling the truth, they will issue a Pshoro (e.g., they will order the respondent to pay a third of the claim). As well as being irrational and inherently unfair, this baseless approach undermines the validity of Heter Iskos, which require the borrower to be able to take an oath in Beis Din to verify his profit statement.) 

Such behaviours, especially when combined, are mercenary and fly in the face of justice.

Q #10. (follow-up) If I can't find a Beis Din that will arbitrate without cost, should I pay for the service?

A. Every human being has a moral and Halachic obligation to facilitate justice and adjudication for those seeking it.

Moreover, there is also a specific Mitzvah and obligation for Jews to adjudicate according to Halacha, as it says "B'tzedek tishpot" ("Judge righteously," Vayikro 19:15). A Beis Din (a group of any three individuals that can adjudicate according to Halacha) is therefore obligated (even nowadays, at least M'derabonon - see Shach Choshen Mishpat 25:29:8) to judge fairly - and to ensure that their judgement is carried out - at no cost to the parties (See Shulchan Aruch Harav Yoreh De'ah Kuntres Achron 1:7). An undisputed benefit of adjudicating can be found in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 8:2), which clarifies: Every Judge who judges in absolute truth, even for a single hour, is regarded as though he had perfected the entire world and causes the Shechinah to dwell in Israel.

If, however, the judges require compensation for lost income (cf. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 9:5), individuals seeking a Din Torah may choose to pay them for their time. Indeed, the Possuk says "Emes Knei" (“acquire truth”, Mishlei 23:23), and the sages interpret this to mean that if the only way to learn Torah is through payment, one should do so (see Rambam Laws of Talmud Torah 1:7).

Q #11 (follow-up) You mentioned that if the parties cannot agree on a particular Beis Din, then the Beis Din issuing the Hazmono will instruct each party to choose one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators will then choose a third. What if the arbitrators can't agree on a third? Or what if the arbitrators chosen by the two parties are related and cannot sit on the same Beis Din?

A. If the two arbitrators cannot agree on a third and both parties reside in the same locale, the original local Beis Din maintains the authority to arbitrate (cf. Ramo Choshen Mishpat 13:1 and Shu"t Ramo 104), in line with the principle of "Nizkokin Latoiveya Tchilo" (Bobo Kama 46b, "We attend to the claimant first." cf. Choshen Mishpat 24) and "Eved Loiveh L'Ish Malveh" (Misheli 22,7, "the borrower is a slave to the lender" cf. Shu"t Ramo 104). If the parties reside in different locales, the arbitration takes place in the respondent's locale (Ramo Choshen Mishpat 14:1). Accordingly, for convenience purposes, the second Beis Din might be asked to arbitrate. 

If the two chosen arbitrators cannot sit on the same panel (e.g., they are related), the respondent has the upper hand, and the claimant would have to select a substitute (cf. Shu"t Ramo 104).

Q #12. I've received a summons to appear in court. The claimant is a Jew. Am I allowed to go to court and defend myself before receiving a Heter?

A. Since you are not the one initiating secular court proceedings, you don't have to request Halachic permission to defend yourself in court. 

However, if you inform the claimant of his Halachic requirement to attend Beis Din instead, he might accept the invitation and cancel his claim in secular court. Also, if he ignores you and the Beis Din then accords you a Heter Arko'os (Halachic permission to take the matter to court), you would be entitled, halachicly, to the costs component awarded by the Court should you win.

Q #13 I am aghast by the insinuating Hazmono I just received in the mail. I am a busy person and don't have the time for a long, dragged-out Din Torah. I did nothing wrong! Moreover, I will be on vacation with my family at the time the Dayonim set for the arbitration. Clearly, the plaintiff is suing to take advantage of my wealth. I have spoken with some good rabbis, and they agree with me. I'm a good person. What would you charge to write a letter on your official letterhead explaining to the other Beis Din that according to Halacha I don't have to waste my time with this suitor?

A. As I'm sure you can appreciate, there aren't two Halachic systems, one for ordinary people and another for the elites. Attending Beis Din is a Mitzva, and it should be done with alacrity, not hesitation. If you will be away on the proposed hearing date, you should inform the Beis Din that you would agree to attend Beis Din at a different time.

[The individual rabbis with whom you have spoken might be unqualified in this area or, worse, they could be biased towards you. This is why rabbis of Synagogues generally do not involve themselves with Dinei Torah. A pulpit rabbi must be friendly and supportive of his congregants and financial supporters, which could on occasion impair his ability to offer honest and unbiased advice in matters of dispute.]

If you refuse to defend yourself before Beis Din, the claimant would receive a Heter Arko'os (Halachic permission to take the matter to court), and you could end up wasting a lot more time and money defending yourself there.

Q #14 I have taken advantage of the services of the Beis Din multiple times, and I feel bad applying again. Should I be patient and hope that the other guy initiates? 

A. You shouldn't feel bad or guilty for having to request the intervention of the Beis Din to mediate or arbitrate again and again.  It's their raison d'être. And the chances are that the sooner the parties request assistance, the easier it will be to reach an outcome that they will be happy with.

Q #15 We really don't want to go to Beis Din. Quite frankly, no outsider should be allowed to tell us how to run our business! And doesn't a Beis Din pressure the parties to compromise? Can you please help us reject their uncanny Hazmono? 

A. A seasoned Dayan will never force you to compromise (see Urim 12:4), nor will he instruct you to run your business differently if you are trading within your Halachic rights. His role as arbitrator is to determine whether, objectively speaking, Halacha mandates a change.

The Dayan might ask you to compromise (cf. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 12:2), but you would be within your Halachic rights to insist on "Din" (the strict letter of the Law). For more on this, see here.

Q #16 Can we use your Mediation service? We live in Houston, Texas.

Yes, of course. We offer video conferencing for people living abroad. Please see this page for further details regarding the system we use to resolve conflict.

Q #17 The Montreal Beth Din summoned me to a Din Torah and informed me of their fees (at least $400 each). I responded that I was prepared to fulfil my religious duty to attend, but that I was not prepared to pay the fee. They responded that “each party must appear as equals before the Dayanim and must therefore each pay equally.” I wrote back that that principle requires that a Beis Din only accept compensation for lost income if both sides pay equally, but that it does not support the extortion of fees from a party against his will. I sent the registrar sources that qualify the above as extortion. The registrar then emailed the claimant (behind my back) that I had not agreed to present myself for a hearing and that, consequently, he may pursue the matter legally. What should I do now?

I understand your frustration. According to the Chasam Sofer, cited by Pischei Teshuva Choshen Mishpat 9:5, if a knowledgeable scholar (Talmid Chochom) is capable of serving as a judge, it is his responsibility to prioritise that duty, even if it means cancelling a Shiur (lesson), and he should not charge any fees to the parties involved. In this case, not only did the Beis Din disregard the halacha you mentioned, but it also compounded the issue by dishonestly informing the claimant that you were unwilling to participate in a Din Torah (religious court proceeding). This action of spreading false information (Moitzi Shem Ra) is a serious transgression. Additionally, by suggesting that the claimant pursue the matter in Arko'os, the Beis Din placed an obstacle before someone who may not have the necessary knowledge or fear of Heaven. [In Judaism, there is a principle known as "Lifnei Iver" which is a Hebrew term that refers to the prohibition of placing a stumbling block before the blind. This concept prohibits intentionally misleading or endangering others, whether it involves leading someone into sin or allowing them to proceed without awareness of potential harm or culpability. The origin comes from the commandment וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ "Before the blind, do not put a stumbling block" (Vayikra 19:14).]

Although this might not be too practical, in technical terms, you could summon the Beis Din to a Din Torah, as no one is exempt from the authority of the Law.

Changing the system will take time. In the meanwhile, try finding a Beis Din that will adjudicate without cost, or consider paying their fees (cf. Bechoros 29a). Litigation is usually a lot more stressful, and costly.

[*Update: The Beis Din was contacted and made aware of the above, and immediately retracted as follows:

Dear ******, 

Please be advised that Hazmana File # 2079 has been cancelled.

Please take note any mention or reference to your being Mesarev Din has been rescinded.]

Q #18 I've written to my neighbour (by email) and requested that we go to a Rov or Beis Din to resolve our dispute. My neighbour responded that according to the Halachic advice that he received, he only has to attend a Din Torah if summoned by a Beis Din. What should I do?

In order for advice to be considered Halachic, it must be rooted in Jewish Law. However, the guidance provided to your neighbour, unfortunately, is erroneous. When a Beis Din sends a Hazmono, they possess the authority to impose a Nidui (a ban or excommunication) on an individual who refuses to comply with the summons. The purpose of this Nidui is to serve as a punitive measure against the recalcitrant individual for showing disrespect towards the Court.  But the obligation to accept the Hazmono and attend a Din Torah is established when an individual is informed that there is a claim against him and is requested by the claimant to appear before a Beis Din. If the individual refuses to attend, a Heter Arko'os (Halachic permission to take the matter to secular court) document may be issued. For more on this topic, see here.

Nevertheless, you could consider applying for a Hazmono through a Beis Din, albeit it will not guarantee a better result. 

To apply for a Hazmono through Mehadr Beis Din Tribunal, please see here.