Catching up on what I missed while away I came across Geoffrey Alderman's article in the JC on the introduction of elements of religious law into UK law. While the debate is largely driven by Sharia law, rabbis of the realm must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of laying their hands on officially sanctioned powers. And we underlings should quake at the thought of them being engaged not only on God's service but also On Her Majesty's Service. Rarely will Her Majesty have had in her employ servants so diligent in carrying out their official duties and never will rabbis have been so meticulous in applying dino demalcuso, or the law of the realm. They will render unto Ceasar with the zeal of rendering unto God, and render unto God with the power and force Ceasar shall put at their disposal.
Rather than argue the pros and cons of granting power to religious courts allow me to provide a flavour of justice as dispensed round here so as to savour and look forward to the day we are fortunate enough in having the powers of the Beth Din sanctioned by Parliament.
Recently a notorious, alleged, paedophile was, allegedly again, caught 'in the act'. The matter was referred to the rabbonim who on the whole acted in the time hallowed tradition of doing nothing. There is one new broom in town and he decreed that the offender be kicked out of his shul. In addition, mark this, as punishment the alleged offender was ordered to pay for his victim's psychological treatment. As the Old Testament might have put it, a session for a session.
In another case a man charged abroad with paedophilia related offences spent the summer in a family camp where children roamed freely unsupervised. As for the Shomirm, I couldn't put it better than Luzer Twersky quoted in this article on the Brooklyn Shomrim: Borough Park is a very safe neighbourhood for adults. It's just not very safe for kids
Well, sex does scare the hell out of chareidim and kids are ok for sentimentality though they never trump the adults so there is some explanation albeit far from being logical. But there are other laws too. A parent of a child rejected by the school that is more famous for rejection than acceptance made a Freedom of Information request relating to the school's finances. He had barely filed his request when he was summoned to the Beth Din. Sitting there was not one rabbi, nor three rabbis who usually constitute a court but the entire rabbinate made up of the Chief, his henchman, enforcers and even specimen imported from Golders Green.
Summoned was not just the offending father but also the mother because as the 'rabbi' is wont to say, women round here are equal but different. And since the mother’s dress usually forms the reason for rejection she must have been central to the proceedings. A Star Chamber you might want to call it as the accuser himself was nowhere to be seen, though that did not prevent the rabbis from threatening to throw all 20 volumes of the Talmud at them. Mind you given the size of many of the rabbis a rump parliament would probably be more accurate. Needless to say the FOI request was never responded to and the information sought never imparted.
The above cases were still not formal courts and one might contend that in a formal hearing with two opposing parties justice does prevail. So last but not least we come to the notorious case of the wife who divorced in the Beth Din after some 30 years of marriage, during which she brought up several children, looked after the household and suffered more than the occasional hiding. For her troubles she was awarded the grand sum of £500. This works out at approximately a fiver per bruise give or take a slap or two which is about the going rate. The husband on the other hand walked away with the house he had ruled with an iron fist and undoubtedly deserved something for his troubles. When the woman woke up to her situation she was warned off by the Beth Din that challenging the agreement could invalidate her divorce which was a blatant lie. She was however allowed to retain the £500. Equal but different indeed.
All one can really say is that if there was no element of palm tree justice there may well have been some greasing of the palm which rabbinical ingenuity can sometimes find to form a kosher substitute.