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Rabbi Simon J. Franses: The Jewish Court, the Beth Din

Rabbi Simon Franses on the Beth Din, the Jewish CourtJewish people have a tradition to obey the law of the land they live in since the time of the Prophet Jeremiah. The Jewish court, the Beth Din, is a religious court between two parties who desire its judgement in their case. The courts judgements can be ignored and the case can revert to the civil court. The Jewish community has received the right to have its marriages recognised by civil authorities and to marry outside a synagogue. Rabbi Franses praised the democracy in the UK that has provided an equality under the law that a theocracy could never provide. Under such a democracy it is possible for us to unite beyond race, religion and cultural backgrounds.

Rabbi Simon J. Franses, from the Middlesex New Synagogue, explained the role of the Jewish Religious Court, the Beth Din, and its position within the UK’s legal structure. He explained that Jews believed that they should always follow the laws of the country in which they live and should be loyal to that country. Rabbi Franses started by saying he came because Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke was speaking. He added, ‘I love his honesty and clarity. He has set the parameters and foundations for this debate.’

‘From the time of the exodus from Egypt, the revelation on Mount Sinai to the building of the first Tabernacle we were a theocracy. That theocracy came to an end at the time of the conquering of Jerusalem by King Nebuchednezzar, the King of Babylon. The Priests or the King at those times could exclude a member of the community for reasons of blasphemy or they could exclude people for not obeying the laws of the scriptures.

When Prophet Jeremiah was taken into Babylon in chains he said you must pray for the city you live in or "else men will eat each other up alive". This has been a standard practice throughout Jewish history. The law of the nation is the law that must be obeyed by the Jewish people. In good or bad times in Christian or Muslim nations we must always obey the law of the land. We lived together in peace.
Rabbi Franses has managed the Beth Din, the Jewish religious court, for one year and has been a member for many years. Civil legislation is observed by all Jews. The Beth Din supervises the practice of religious law for slaughter and for circumcision under Kosher rules, circumcision, and other matters but is limited in its jurisdiction. There has been opposition that have initiated debates in the British Parliament every decade about male child circumcision.

We received the right from the Government two hundred years ago to marry couples in the synagogue without the need for a civil ceremony. We were the first community to have the right to marry each other outside a holy place. Now the law has changed and marriages for all people can be solemnised in beautiful halls like this or in many other places.

I thought that the Archbishop was correct to raise these issues. He was extending the hand of friendship to the Muslim community. I do not believe in theocracy. Theocracy and democracy are not compatible in their totality. Theocracy has no place in the twenty first century. It does not respect people equally across the nation. Democracy is the worst of all systems of Government but as we do not have anything better to replace it, democracy is still better than any other system. Democracy respects people despite gender, creed or colour. I want all of you to have maximum freedom to express our religious faith within this country and I will fight for that right. At the same time I want all of us to be citizens under the law.

Many people thought that the Beth Din has financial jurisdiction over our citizens. It is not true. Before you want to use the Beth Din to observe the religious law of divorce they must have a decree nisi from the civil authorities. Even if both parties want to resolve their conflict in the Beth Din and sign an affidavit to that effect. The affidavit is not worth the paper it is written on. If either of the parties do not like the judgement they can resort to the civil courts.

As a Jew I have rights like everyone else in this nation. I have the right to marry in a Synagogue under a Rabbinic authority that I choose. I have the right to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. I have the right to appoint a Jewish Priest for my circumcision, my marriage and my burial in a Jewish cemetery. The same right for their faith exists for the Imam and the Vicar. If we opt for theocracy we will never be able to unite. If we opt for democracy we have the chance to unite. Let us recognise our similarities and our differences and work together under the law of the land to find that unity.