Taking Care of Hashem’s Children Bnei Melachim Provides Much-Needed Support for Widows and Orphans
Joey and Abie share a two-family home; Joey lives in the downstairs apartment and Abie in the one upstairs.
For a number of years, Joey has been building his sukkah on the front porch of their home. This year, Abie received a permit from the city to build a terrace off the front of his living room. Immediately upon the commencement of the project, Joey objected to the terrace, since it was likely to cover the area he used for his sukkah every year.
Abie responded that since Joey’s sukkah was over five feet wide, covering two feet of the porch would still leave Joey ample space for the men of his family to sit comfortably. Furthermore, Abie claimed that since he obtained a city permit it was perfectly legal for him to proceed with the construction as it appeared in the blueprints. Abie revealed that ever since he purchased the upstairs apartment, every Sukkot he and his family are inconvenienced, and made to go downstairs to the backyard sukkah for their meals. Finally, he claimed that since both heand Joey own the porch, he is entitled to half the porch. Making use of less than half of its space was clearly within his rights.
Joey retorted that he needed every inch of the sukkah to be valid in order to accommodate his family. He explained that the original deal between him and Abie was that Abie would enjoy the larger backyard sukkah, while he would settle for the narrow porch. Joey claimed that the arrangement had actually been Abie’s suggestion, as he had originally wanted the larger backyard. Abie denied any such agreement and argued that Joey typically took advantage of their property, as he was very aggressive by nature. Joey, too, voiced his opinion about Abie’s disdainful behavior through the years.
How should the Bet Din rule and why?
According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, the judges of a Bet Din have a responsibility to offer their litigants the option of a settlement decision. Formulating a compromise whenever possible is not only a wise option, it also helps to promote a long-lasting, peaceful relationship between the parties. The practice of formulating a compromise dates back thousands of years; our great Sages of the Talmud regularly implemented this method. In instances in which a compromise is not applicable, a Bet Din will obviously render a decision based on Torah law – but often the possibility of a compromise is readily apparent. One only has to examine the claim of the litigants to see that an obvious solution exists – it is simply being overlooked in the heat of the argument. It is important that the judges of a Bet Din be able to see beyond the letter of the law, in order to furnish the parties with a decision that is reasonable for both. Once that decision has been reached, a Bet Din will demand that the two parties comply with what is logical and just.
In order to formulate a settlement between two parties, the two litigants must first agree to consent to the settlement decision. Their mutual agreement is symbolized by a legal method known as kinyan sudar, in which an object of suitable value (i.e. a handkerchief) is transferred in order to establish the complete endorsement of the compromise. Once this and the customary signing that binds the arbitration are performed, neither of the litigants may object to the settlement decision set forth by the Bet Din.
As per the specific case at hand, it was evident from Abie and Joey’s respective claims that their dispute resulted from a simple lack of communication. Both litigants had legal documented precedence to support their respected claims and defenses. Once a dialogue was opened up, a compromise could be formed and a practical solution found.
A Bet Din rarely offers moral rebuking to disputing litigants, but if baseless animosity is clearly the cause of a dispute, a Bet Din will not hesitate to react. They will remind the parties that, too often, neighbors destroy their relationship with one another, even as an obvious and peaceful solution exists. It is always advisable for people to search for a solution independently, rather than engaging in a heated back and forth that unnecessarily involves the Bet Din.
A Simple Solution
Our Bet Din enabled Abie to build the upstairs terrace after he agreed to allow Joey to use the larger area in the backyard for his family sukkah. It was apparent from their respected claims that Abie was frustrated by having to go downstairs to the backyard sukkah for his meals – and that Joey had wanted the larger backyard area to begin with. On this basis, a simple and peaceful solution was reached.
This ruling is not necessarily based upon law – it is rather the result of an agreed-upon settlement – still, it is clearly the optimal solution. It is the job of a Bet Din to promote peace and friendship, especially between neighbors who regularly come into contact with each other. In so doing, it is vital that a Bet Din sees beyond the letter of the law to discover the compromise that is being overlooked. Our Bet Din chastised Abie and Joey for their inability to work out a simple solution amongst themselves, without the intervention of a Bet Din. Upon the request of the Bet Din, the two apologized to each other and agreed to restore their once-peaceful relationship.
Note:This erev Kippur it was brought to my attention a decision rendered by Maran HaHida that addressed the same question posed to our Bet Din which we wrote about in last month’s article. The Hida severely rebukes an Auctioneer who rigs an auction on behalf of a synagogue, adding that such conduct is not only corrupt but also promotes conflict and dissention in the congregation. After forwarding a translation of the holy words of Maran HaHida to the committee of the synagogue they readily complied with our decision.