What happens if a rabbi’s decision is overruled by a Beth Din

December 21, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi…

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. If a rabbi’s interpretation is overruled by a Beth Din or a world-renowned halachic authority, does the rabbi have to resign?

A. Only if the rabbi makes a decision that is, God forbid, blatantly contrary to the law would there be any thought of resigning.

On most things, there will be differing interpretations which cannot all be right.

An example is an ancient debate about a verse that comes three times in the Torah, “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”.

The final answer to what “mother’s milk” means is any milk, but Rabbi Yose the Galilean thought it applied only to mammals which literally have “mother’s milk”.

As a result of this view, poultry in milk was permitted in his township in Talmudic times.

Rabbi Yose the Galilean was overruled by the halachah, though no-one questions his sincerity and piety.

It is part of the democracy of discussion that sometimes your view prevails and sometimes it doesn’t.

Start with the first paragraph of the Mishnah and you already see that there were differing interpretations.

Those whose views were rejected would have rejoiced to see the vibrancy and sincerity of the scholars involved in the thrust and parry of the debate.


Q. Can anyone be a shochet?

A. Shoch’tim are more than mere slaughterers.

Over and above a knowledge of animal anatomy and the skills of the profession, they must be scrupulously religious and learned people who are constantly aware of the seriousness of their task.

He must derive no pleasure from taking animal life and must avoid every possibility of unnecessary suffering on the part of the animal.

He commences his work by saying a b’rachah which implies that were it not for Divine permission to eat meat, there would be no animal slaughter.

No shochet may be a coarse or cruel individual, though he has to be able to handle being in the slaughter-yard, which not everyone would be able to deal with.

This is why women are not employed in this capacity even though a woman is in theory allowed to be a shochetet.


Q. What does Judaism have to say about acts of self-immolation?

A. I have written about the issue of suicide previously. The current issue is somewhat different. It is a call for help. The person concerned says, “My life has been ruined. I blame the system. I can’t keep going the way things are. Maybe my plight will shame the people in power into taking some action”.

The view of halachah is that nothing can justify killing oneself, since human life is God’s property and one’s fate must be left to Him.

But there is a further question – can a suffering person’s death be tantamount to murder on the part of the authorities?

In ancient Israel, if a crime occurred it was considered to be because the leaders of the nation had neglected the victim. In the present case there is an analogy.

If things go terribly wrong in a citizen’s life there must be a way in which the authorities can be brought in to show some care, compassion and kindness.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.


One Response to “What happens if a rabbi’s decision is overruled by a Beth Din”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    What isn’t mentioned is whether the person had been sound in mind…..and only God would be aware of that surely.

    In mentioning the Mishnah….

    I have a wonderful old book written by Elie Wiesel and opportunity to bring it to mind.
    The exposition of Jacob’s distressing vision into the future foreseeing the suffering of his descendants and questioning Gods Law where it states that one may not slaughter an animal before it’s mother on the same day: . In this dream of Jacob he saw a ladder the top reaching into the heavens…
    It still exists Elie writes, there are those who have seen it, somewhere in Poland, at the side of an out-of the -way railway station. And an entire people was climbing, climbing forward into the clouds on fire.
    Such was the nature of dread our ancestor Jacob must have felt.

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