THE Sydney Beth Din (SBD) has declared that “an opportunity for real collaboration has been lost” after the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) working group formulated to advise it on reforms released its report this week.
The working group was formed in 2019 – in the wake of contempt of court findings against the SBD dayanim two years earlier – to ensure no repeat of such a scenario and to improve the religious body’s transparency.
But while the two organisations began the process with goodwill, the report’s release has reopened prior divisions, with the SBD saying JBOD “does not have the moral right” or statutory power to conduct an inquiry “into anyone let alone the dayanim and the Beth Din”.
The report urges “substantive reform” for the SBD to be “restored to a position where it enjoys the support, confidence and respect of the community”.
It calls the SBD’s incorporation and its agreement “to the broad principles of reform” positive developments, but says it “remains some considerable distance” from achieving a set of objectives set out by the working group.
These include the SBD’s structure representing the whole Orthodox community, its rabbis having necessary judicial expertise, a clear separation of the SBD’s financial, administrative and judicial functions, its management – including finances – being undertaken by a lay body and its management and administration being transparent and accountable to the community.
“To try and impose or even suggest an agenda with reforms that the committee knows are in our view against halachah and against the view of world-renowned dayanim who advised us, and therefore cannot succeed, is not only not helpful and futile, but extremely divisive,” the SBD said.
“It [JBOD] has no jurisdiction whatsoever in the make-up or operation of a beth din or of any halachic matter or halachic body.”
The SBD said “no practical assistance” from JBOD was forthcoming and the committee “was focused on what it wanted and its agenda”.
“It is unfortunate that it did not recognise the limits of its jurisdiction, and it is unfortunate that we were mistaken in thinking they did and were there to help,” the SBD said.
The SBD said it sought assistance from community legal experts to fulfil two important aims – giving complete transparency to all its workings and ensuring that it is never again at odds with the law.
“We are now incorporated and registered with the ACNC [Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission] … The Beth Din fully recognises its responsibility to Australian law and will achieve the absolute highest standards in that regard,” the SBD said.
JBOD president Lesli Berger, who chaired the working group, said Supreme Court Justice John Sackar’s judgement had “identified serious governance issues relating to the SBD” and “generated great consternation within the Jewish community”.
“The standing and reputation of the SBD are important to the whole Jewish community and not only to those who are religiously observant,” he said.
“The working group has conscientiously sought a way forward that will strengthen the SBD, which would be very much in its interests as well as the interests of the Jewish community as a whole. It has taken meticulous care to hear from all interested parties and to consider all viewpoints.
“In its analysis, conclusions, recommendations and overall tone the report is well informed, measured and balanced. It deserves the support of all parts of the Jewish community, including the Sydney Beth Din itself.”