AskDefine | Define dayan

Dictionary Definition

Dayan n : Israeli general and statesman (1915-1981) [syn: Moshe Dayan]

Extensive Definition

A beth din, beit din or beis din (Hebrew: בית דין, "house of judgment"; plural battei din) is a rabbinical court of Judaism. In ancient times, it was the building block of the legal system in the Land of Israel. Today, it is invested with legal powers in a number of religious matters (din Torah, "matter of litigation," plural dinei Torah) - a matter of litigation) both in Israel and in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, where its judgements hold varying degrees of authority (depending upon the jurisdiction and subject matter) in matters specifically germane to Jewish religious life.


Commentators point out that the first suggestion in the Torah that the ruler divest his legal powers and delegate his power of judgment to lower courts was made by Jethro to Moses (Exodus 18:14–26). This situation was formalised later when God gave the explicit command to "establish judges and officers in your gates" (Deuteronomy 16:18).
There were three types of courts (Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin 1:1-4 and 1:6):
  • The Sanhedrin, the grand central court on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, numbering 71
  • Smaller courts of 23, called a Sanhedrin Ketana ("small Sanhedrin"). These courts could pass the death verdict. These existed on two levels, the one higher in standing than the other:
    • The main cities of the tribes, had a court of 23
    • All towns of a minimum size (either 120 or 230 people) had to have a court of 23, which was under the jurisdiction of the tribal court
  • The smallest court of three was found in villages with a population of less then 120 people. Any smaller court could not pass binding verdicts and only dealt with monetary matters.
Participation in these courts required the classical semicha, the transmission of judicial authority in an unbroken line down from Moses. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the transmission of semicha has been suspended. Attempts in the 16th century to reinstate the semicha were unsuccessful; Rabbi Yosef Karo was one of the recipients of this semicha.
The Mishnah and Talmud distinguish between ritual or criminal matters and monetary matters (issurim and mamonoth) and impose different regulations for them, with criminal cases generally having much more stringent limitations. Courts ruled in both kinds of cases. Any question that could not be resolved by a smaller court was passed up to a higher court. If the Sanhedrin was still uncertain, divine opinion was sought through the Urim ve-Tumim (the parchment in the High Priest's breastplate, which was inscribed with the Name of God and could give supernatural clues).
Even though normally an Orthodox beit din requires a minimum of three Jews knowledgeable and observant of Jewish Law, in new communities and exigencies, providing a thorough search has proved unfruitful, halakhah provides that even one Orthodox Jew can establish a beit din, since every Orthodox community is required to establish its own beit din.

Present situation

In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, a beit/beis din needs to be made up of three adult Jewish males, at least one of whom needs to be widely knowledgeable in halakha (Jewish law), sufficiently so to instruct the other two members in any matters of halakha relevant to the case being heard.
In practice, permanent battei din consist of three rabbis, while battei din for an occasional matter (such as handling religious vows) need not consist of rabbis. For courts that handle cases involving complex monetary issues or large community organisations, dayanim ("judges", singular: dayan) are required. A dayan has an additional semicha (yadin yadin) which enables him to participate in such a court and adjudicate complex cases involving highly technical points of law.
Battei din are required or preferred for the following matters:
  • Validation of religious bills of divorce (get, pl. gittin);
  • Kosher certification of restaurants and food manufacturers (Hechsher);
  • Examination of shochetim and the control of the shechita Inspectors
  • Religious conversion: a beit/beis din is convened to determine whether or not a prospective ger tzedek ("convert" or "proselyte") is sufficiently prepared to enter the "Covenant of Abraham" and to be accepted into the Jewish people. At least one member of the court must be a rabbi who is an expert on the laws of conversion.
  • Supervising the building and maintenance of a mikvah;
  • Determination of "personal status" (i.e. whether someone is a Jew according to halakha) - some battei din hold local records of marriages and deaths within the community.
  • The authorization and supervision of mohelim.
  • Questions relating to burial practices and mourning.
Battei din are sometimes used within the Orthodox Jewish community for civil disputes: The Shulkhan Arukh, (Choshen Mishpat 26) calls for having civil cases judged by religious courts instead of secular judges (arka'oth). As modern Western societies have increasingly permitted civil disputes to be resolved by private arbitration, religious Jews have taken advantage of this legal environment by signing arbitration agreements appointing a particular Beth Din as their arbitrators in the event of a dispute. By this device, the rules, procedures, and judgment of the Beth Din are accepted and can be enforced by secular courts in the same manner as those of a secular arbitration association. However, religious courts cannot decide such disputes without the prior agreement of both parties.

Officers of a Beth Din

A large beit/beis din may have the following officers:
  • Av Beth Din (אב בית דין, literally "Father of the Court", abbreviated אב"ד / ABD) is the most senior jurist who may join in the adjudication of cases or advise the presiding dayanim. The av beth din will usually be a highly respected rabbi and posek, who can give responsa. Traditionally, the salaried rabbi of the local Jewish community served as the av beth din
  • Rosh Beth Din (ראש בית דין, literally "Head of the Court", abbreviated רב"ד) is equivalent to a chief justice. He will be the senior member of a three-judge panel. In smaller courts the av beth din also serves as the rosh.
  • Dayan (דין Rabbinic Judge) sits and adjudicates cases. A rabbinic judge may directly question and cross-examine witnesses.
  • Chaver Beth Din (חבר בית דין Friend of the Court, Amicus curiae) is an internal adviser to the court. He may bring specialised expertise to the beth din. Often a chaver will be a dayan with training in secular law or science who can share his experience and perspectives with the court. For example some battei din that deal with issues of may have a chaver who is knowledgeable about veterinary medicine or meat science to assist the court as an expert witness.

See also

dayan in Czech: Bejt din
dayan in Danish: Bet din
dayan in German: Beth Din
dayan in French: Beth din
dayan in Hebrew: בית דין (הלכה)
dayan in Dutch: Beth Din
dayan in Norwegian: Bet din
dayan in Polish: Bejt din
dayan in Romanian: Bet din
dayan in Slovak: Bejt din
dayan in Swedish: Beth din
dayan in Yiddish: בית דין
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