Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition


Featured Item

Embattled rabbi takes Beth Din to court



When former East London Rabbi Chanoch Galperin was accused of forging the will of a community member, he took his case to the Beth Din. But as his various legal battles continue, he has now taken the Beth Din to court, asking that the High Court force it to adjudicate his case.

The East London Chevrah Kadisha (ELCK) has accused Rabbi Galperin of forging the will of East London community member, the late Israel Bayer, in order to benefit from it. The ELCK was originally a beneficiary, but this was changed to the rabbi in a will that is being disputed in court. The rabbi has since admitted that his wife drew up the disputed will, which would automatically disqualify him from benefitting from it. Notwithstanding the disqualification, Galperin is asking for an order that the court declare him competent to receive the benefit in terms of the disputed will.

The rabbi was fired by the East London Hebrew Congregation (ELHC) after a disciplinary hearing, but he is also disputing this, which is the case he wants the Beth Din to adjudicate upon. However, the ELHC refuses to go before the Beth Din because of, inter alia, what it says were irregularities in proceedings when the Beth Din adjudicated the matter of the disputed will.

The Beth Din says it cannot force the ELHC to appear before it, and has therefore have given its permission (known as a heter arkaos) for the rabbi to take his case to the secular courts. However, the rabbi’s latest application asks that the court order the Beth Din to determine that dispute.

In this application, Galperin alleges in an affidavit deposed to on his behalf by his attorney, Brin Brody, that, “The Beth Din’s decision … wasn’t properly or correctly taken and was fatally flawed. The Beth Din hasn’t exercised their powers reasonably … the Beth Din’s reasoning indicates a number of reviewable grounds, being: that the decision is demonstrably wrong, that they failed to apply their mind to the application for rulings, in particular the failure to apply their mind to those clauses … which give the Beth Din exclusive jurisdiction over disputes.”

It’s further alleged on the rabbi’s behalf by Brody that, “I respectfully submit that the Beth Din has given undue weight to irrelevant considerations, namely, the congregation’s refusal to co-operate with the processes of the Beth Din, in ventilating and finalising the disputes. What I have said indicates further, in all probability, a refusal or neglect by the Beth Din to consider the applicant’s [the rabbi’s] applications for rulings.”

Surprisingly, the Beth Din doesn’t seem perturbed by this. “The Johannesburg Beth Din remains opposed to any legal disputes between Jewish persons and/or bodies being adjudicated upon in the secular courts,” says Steven Weinberg, representing the Beth Din.

“The Beth Din cannot and will not adjudicate upon matters unless both parties have subjected themselves to the Beth Din’s jurisdiction. In circumstances such as this, the Beth Din accordingly had no alternative but to grant Rabbi Galperin permission to pursue all of his claims against the ELCK in the secular courts,” says Weinberg. “Rabbi Galperin has brought an application against the United Orthodox Synagogues and the Beth Din to review and set aside their refusal to determine the disputes without both parties being present. The Beth Din has indicated that it won’t become involved in any of the court proceedings and will abide any decision which the court will make.

“The Beth Din’s refusal to hear the dispute between Rabbi Galperin and the East London community wasn’t a ruling,” says Weinberg. “Rather, it was an indication that unless both parties submit to the Beth Din’s jurisdiction, the Beth Din isn’t able to entertain the dispute. If the High Court agrees with Rabbi Galperin, then the High Court will refuse to entertain the dispute and it will have to be referred back to the Beth Din. Seen in this light, the Beth Din cannot criticise Rabbi Galperin for bringing the application to the High Court.”

But the advocate acting on behalf of the ELCK and ELHC, Stanley Pincus SC, says, “Rabbi Galperin firstly refuses to accept the Beth Din’s decision that it cannot determine the labour dispute. Secondly, he refuses to adhere to the heter arkaos issued by the Beth Din by failing to proceed in the secular courts to have the labour dispute determined.

“The rabbi, in wilful disrespect for the Beth Din’s decision, has instead chosen to bring proceedings in the secular courts to review and set aside the Beth Din’s ruling on the basis, inter alia, that they ‘failed to apply their mind to the matter’,” he says. “When the Beth Din says the rabbi is ‘within his rights to turn to the secular courts’, that’s incorrect. He’s not permitted to refuse to accept the Beth Din’s decision. That constitutes a wilful disrespect and disobedience of the Beth Din.” In fact, Pincus states that in terms of Jewish law, disobedience of a ruling of the Beth Din can result in cherem (excommunication).

When the Beth Din says that the ELHC refused to have the labour dispute determined before it, Pincus states that “there are situations where a person or entity may be excused from refusing to have a dispute determined before the Beth Din, such as where there is a perceived bias on the part of the Beth Din.

“The manner in which the Beth Din conducted the proceedings relating to the disputed will wasn’t only disturbing to me, but demonstrated a bias in favour of Rabbi Galperin,” he says.

“For example, they interviewed Rabbi Galperin and his wife after the hearing had taken place, in the absence of the ELCK. Not only did the Beth Din not disclose this to the ELCK, but they regarded these facts as vital evidence and incorporated them in the award handed down by them in favour of the rabbi [which is also being disputed in court]. The Beth Din further never disclosed to the ELCK that the rabbi’s wife drew up the will. This is unacceptable, and clearly would justify a perceived bias on the Beth Din’s part.”

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft of Small Jewish Communities Association (SJCA) has tried to mediate a resolution. He proposed a day of mediation between the two parties with their legal teams (each in separate rooms), and a commitment to come to an agreement or compromise by the end of the day.

“But before that, an agreement has to be signed that says that whatever comes out of the day, that’s the final settlement,” he says. “I proposed this in consultation with the Beth Din and the lawyers. The congregation agreed, but Rabbi Galperin refused. It looks like the East London Jewish community has died an unnatural death. We at the SJCA are standing by, at any given moment, to assist it to re-activate. It was a community of such great esteem, and for those that remain, they are entitled to have shul services, say Kaddish with a minyan, have yom tov, and enjoy communal activities.”

A community member who asked not to be named says, “As long as the Galperins remain in the congregation house [after they were told to vacate it when they were dismissed], we cannot bring people to do services as we would have the additional expense of accommodating them. If we had our house back, we could easily accommodate a few people over yom tovim or weekends to get us back on our feet.

“People are saddened by the situation, which came on top of COVID-19. They are shocked by the rabbi’s continued occupation of the house. They miss Friday night services, brachot, and yom tovim very much. We just wish this nightmare would end!”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *