You put your hand into the pocket of your pants that just came back from the cleaners and you pull out the receipt you have been frantically searching for. It is signed by the lender and acknowledges that you repaid the $100,000 loan.
Mixed feelings of vindication and frustration overwhelm you. Only last week the judge entered a verdict against you for $100,000 because you could not prove you that repaid the loan.
The convicted murderer has been sitting on death row for years. But now there is DNA evidence that points to someone else as the killer.
In civil cases, secular courts rarely grant motions for reconsideration. In criminal cases the door to reconsideration is slightly more ajar, but it is still difficult to get in.
The gates of the Jewish courts of law, however, remain wide open. A litigant, against whom a judgment has been rendered, is always entitled to come back into Beth Din (a Jewish court of law) with exonerating evidence that was not introduced at trial even though it was available at the time. If the newly submitted evidence is conclusive the Beth Din will reverse the judgment. It is only when the Beth Din is suspicious that the litigant may have fabricated evidence to avoid satisfying the judgment, that it will bar him from submitting post-judgment evidence. This might be the case if the Beth Din specifically inquired at the trial whether the litigant knew of the existence of any evidence in his favor and the litigant responded that he knew of none anywhere.
In capital cases (“Dinei Nefashot”), the Beth Din will accept post-verdict evidence to acquit but not to convict the accused.
In monetary cases (Dinei Mamanot), a litigant can always request the Beth Din to reconsider the judgment it rendered if it can be shown that the Beth Din erred in a matter of law. If the Beth Din’s decision was contrary to a law clearly stated in the Mishnah (first codification of the Oral law), or the Talmud, the Beth Din must vacate its decision. This is equally true in a case where the Beth Din’s decision is contrary to accepted Halachic practice, even if the issue in question has not been finally resolved in the Mishnah, or the Talmud.
In Dinei Nefashot, a verdict that is contrary to the law of the Mishnah or the Talmud can only be set aside if it results in the acquittal of the accused but not if it results in his conviction. If, however, the verdict is contrary to a law explicitly written in the Torah, the verdict will be set aside, even if this results in a conviction.
Is there a right of appeal in Jewish law? Instead of asking the judges that rendered the erroneous judgment to admit and correct their mistake, does the litigant have the option to appeal to a higher court comprised of different judges? Appellate judges may be more impartial because they do not have to admit mistakes.
In the Talmud era, the rule was “Beit Dina Batar Beit Dina Lo Diyke” which means that one court did not review another court’s decision.
This is certainly not the case with Rabbinical courts, in Israel, today. There is a right of appeal from the Rabbinical district courts (Batei Din Eizoriyim) to the Rabbinical High Court of Appeals in Jerusalem (Beit Din Rabani Elyon Le’irurim). Indeed, the establishment of the Rabinnical High Court of Appeals, in Israel, with powers of review over the Rabinnical district courts was not free from controversy. The proponents, including Rav Kook zt”l argued that a Rabbinical court of appeals was necessary both from the point of view of internal supervision of the Dayanim (religious judges) and public acceptance of the religious courts. Besides, they argued, many communities in the Diaspora had already established Rabbinical courts of appeal. The opponents, such as the Chief Rabbinate of Yaffo, fiercely resisted it as being contrary to Talmudic law.
All that is history. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, defends the existence of the Rabbinical High Court of Appeals on the following grounds. Although in practice the courts of the Talmudic era did not review each other’s decisions, there was no prohibition against it. In his opinion, today, judges are more fallible than the judges of the Talmud era and mistakes do occur. Accordingly, the Talmudic dictum of “Beit Dina Batar Beit Dina Lo Diyke” no longer applies.
Reprinted with the permission of Raphael Grunfeld, the author of Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim and Nezikin. TO ORDER NER EYAL ON SEDER MOED CLICK HERE ON ShopOU or buy it at your Judaica bookstore. Any questions can be addressed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any comments to writer are welcome at Rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.