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LONDON BETH DIN, COURT OF THE CHIEF RABBI

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/3400
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/Pages/ ›
Full title: LONDON BETH DIN, COURT OF THE CHIEF RABBI
Date(s): 1855-2008
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 68 linear metres
Name of creator(s): London Beth Din | Court of the Chief Rabbi

Context

Administrative/Biographical history:

The early origins of the London Beth Din are unclear. Probably the Court evolved, along with the Chief Rabbinate, from the Great Synagogue which was the first Ashkenazi synagogue in Britain following the resettlement. By the nineteenth century the Rabbi of the Great Synagogue had come to be acknowledged as spiritual leader of the the Askenazim in Britain and in British colonies overseas and he would have consulted other erudite and senior elders of the community on matters of Jewish religious law. Some procedures would have required the Chief Rabbi to have had at least two other Dayanim with him.

The influx of Jewish immigrants into Britain from the mid-nineteenth century onwards increased the workload of the Beth Din, particularly under the Chief Rabbinates of Nathan and Hermann Adler. In the twentieth century it was necessary to employ a small secretariat. This was led by a Clerk to the Court, later a Registrar. The Chief Rabbi remained the ex-officio President (the Ab Beth Din) as he still is today. One of the dayanim was appointed as a Rosh Beth Din (a senior judge).

The status of the Beth Din increased under the Chief Rabbinate of Joseph Hertz and with the appointment in the 1930s of Yechezkel Abramsky as a Dayan. Abramsky was in the words of the Jewish Chronicle: "a distinguished exponent of unbending East European orthodoxy...He yielded not one iota...in applying the strict letter of the Shulchan Aruch to all the diverse religions and quasi-religious issues of the day." The destruction of the continental European Batei Din and Jewish communities during the Second World War left the London Beth Din as the most important Beth Din in Europe. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the London Beth Din remains one of the oldest, most prestigious and orthodox Batei Din in the world.

Work of the London Beth Din:
The work of the London Beth Din increased throughout the twentieth century, but in essence remains the same type of work it always was. Dayan Grunfeld in an article for the Jewish Chronicle in October 1948 divided the functions of the London Beth Din into three categories: judicial, advisory and cultural.

1) Judicial:
The dayanim are required to interpret questions of Jewish law which affect the individual and the community. They also act as judges in cases of civil arbitration (Din Torah). These are cases which would normally come within the remit of the civil courts - for example landlord and tenant, vendor and purchaser, domestic differences. The Beth Din acts as a Court of Arbitration with the sanction of civil law and the moral force of Jewish religious law. The parties concerned sign an undertaking (submission) to take their case to the Beth Din and agree to accept the court's judgement.

The Beth Din also deals with questions concerning Jewish status and can undertake research to determine whether it would recognise if a person was Jewish. The London Beth Din does not recognise conversions supervised by non-orthodox organisations in Britain.

Judaism does not actively seek converts. People who wish to convert to Judaism under the auspices of the United Synagogue are referred to the London Beth Din (this is done to ensure all cases are dealt with fairly and consistently). Each case is dealt with individually and potential converts have to demonstrate a commitment to Jewish life and learn all the major Jewish laws and teachings. Conversion can be a long process.

Divorce proceedings take up a large amount of court time. The civil divorce dissolves the civil contract, but not the religious one. For this to be done a Jewish religious divorce or "get" is required. The husband writes the get under the supervision of the Beth Din and it is then handed over and received by the wife. Remarriage in a synagogue cannot take place unless there has been a get.

The London Beth Din supervises and grants licences to butchers, caterers and bakers in adherence to Shechita and Kashrut. Mohalim and the Initiation Society are supervised and approved by the Beth Din.

2) Advisory:
The Beth Din is consulted exhaustively both by individuals and organisations on points of Jewish law. The Beth Din has frequently been approached by communities outside the British Isles, particularly countries in the Commonwealth, for advice. Other Batei Din consult the London Beth Din. From time to time rulings on halachic matters are issued.

3) Cultural:
The Dayanim participate in the cultural life of the Anglo-Jewish community by giving lectures and Shiurim, and represent the Beth Din on the governing bodies of many communal organisations.

Content

Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Court of the Chief Rabbi, London Beth Din, 1904-1988. The bulk of the archive transferred to London Metropolitan Archives are the administrative papers and general correspondence of the Court, and in particular that of the Clerks and Registrar. There are also files concerning consultations the Beth Din undertook with the Government on the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill in the 1980s. Some correspondence and rough notes of the individual Dayanim and records relating to work done with refugees in the Second World War have also been deposited.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mainly English with some items in Hebrew.

System of arrangement:

The archive has the following arrangement:
Administration: ACC/3400/01;
Clerks to the Court: ACC/3400/02;
Registrar to the Court: ACC/3400/03;
Dayanim: ACC/3400/04;
Din Torah: ACC/3400/05;
Printed Material: ACC/3400/06;
Records of Other Bodies: ACC/3400/07

Conditions governing access:

PLEASE NOTE: access to this collection requires the written permission of the depositor. Contact the Chief Executive, United Synagogue.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at: http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in several accessions between 1994 and 2010.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Proceedings Books, case papers on gittin, divorces, conversions and questions of Jewish status are retained by the London Beth Din. Papers of the Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din can be consulted at LMA, see reference ACC/2980 for details.


Publication note:

For further information please consult the LMA Information Leaflet: "Records of the Anglo-Jewish Community at London Metropolitan Archives"; available to download here: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Leisure_and_culture/Records_and_archives/Visitor_information/free_information_leaflets.htm (URL correct Feb 2010).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Description prepared in March 2010. Updated February 2013 and June 2017.

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