When Justice Doesn’t Triumph

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Tearing up the Contract
31 Jan 2008

Holy and Secular – “Don’t worry, justice will triumph,” Mr. Levy whispered to his wife when the judge sat down. “Please be quite,” the court clerk scolded him. The judge took his place and began to read: “Case Number 55679/2, Levy Family versus the Rosenkranz and Gildenbruch Construction Company.” The judge called out to Mr. Levy, “Yes, what is your complaint?” Mr. Levy stood up and spoke, “We paid for an apartment with five rooms and a large veranda overlooking the ocean, which is what we explicitly agreed with the builder. In fact, what we received in the end is an apartment with only four rooms and a veranda from which only the building next door can be seen. We demand that the contract be cancelled and that we receive compensation.”

Mr. Levy returned to his seat and the lawyer for the construction company began to talk. “We are very sorry, but according to paragraph 17 of the contract, it cannot be cancelled without permission from our company. I would also like to point out paragraph 22c which explicitly states that in case of any dispute the company will not be liable for any compensation greater than 217 cents. Without prejudice to our rights, I will also note that if the court will look at paragraph 34, the honorable judge will see that in any year in which the thirteenth of Shevat is on Thursday or Friday the company can change the number of rooms in an apartment as it sees fit.”

The judge started to show signs of impatience. He told the learned lawyer to be quiet, and called Mr. Levy to approach the bench. “Tell me, did you consult a lawyer before you signed the contract?” And Mr. Levy was astounded at the question. “Why should I consult a lawyer? What am I, a criminal? I am an honest man, I earn an honest living. I have no need for a lawyer. I am right, and justice will prevail!”

But the judge looked down at Mr. Levy helplessly. “You must understand that in order for justice to be served it is necessary in advance to prepare a suitable contract, one that will meet the challenges of situations that occur in a modern court. Without a proper contract, justice will remain hidden.”

* * *
“Five hundred Shekels a day,” Mr. Cohen said. “That is what we agreed. Here is what is written in the contract: For every day that the apartment is late the contractor will pay a sum of five hundred Shekels. According to my calculation, you owe me 100,000 Shekels for half a year of delays.”

The contractor smiled at the judges. “Gentlemen, this was an ‘asmachta,’ a nonbinding agreement. I do not have to pay anything at all. You all know that this type of agreement cannot be enforced.” The rabbi in charge of the court stopped the contractor and called Mr. Cohen to him. “Did you consult a rabbi before you signed the contract? You must understand that in order for justice to be served you must have a proper contract. If you had only added one more line, all of your problems would have been solved.”

* * *
Recently more and more religious Jews have turned to rabbinical courts instead of a civil court. More and more people are beginning to understand that the request “bring back our judges as they were in the beginning” [from the Shemoneh Esrei daily prayer] is not just a prayer but rather represents a personal obligation for every one of us. However, we must understand that the desire to live according to the laws of the Torah means more than to decide to which court we will go.

In order for a rabbinical court to mete out true justice, proper preparation is necessary. The contract must be written in such a way that it corresponds to the laws of the Torah. Going to a rabbinical court with a contract that was written according to civil law is like going to a Chinese court with a contract written according to English law. The way to be prepared for a rabbinical court is to start while writing the contract!

The “Mishpatei Aretz” organization (Courts of the Land) has taken on this burden. Their website, called Din Torah (www.dintora.org) has a number of model contracts which provide good protection for somebody who participates in a rabbinical court case.

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.