Block Yeshiva: court lacks jurisdiction


Block Yeshiva High School has asked that a lawsuit filed against it by local congregation Nusach Hari B’nai Zion be moved from the civil courts to a rabbinical court.

NHBZ filed the suit in September alleging breach of lease and seeking more than $38,000 in back rent plus attorney fees. Block Yeshiva’s lease was terminated in August, according to an earlier statement from NHBZ’s board. The shul’s court filing said it had rented the back part of the synagogue to the school since 2005.


Block’s recent request was part of a motion to dismiss filed in late November, which asserts that the case should be placed under the jurisdiction of a beth din, a traditional Jewish court. The filing alleges “that Plaintiff lacks standing and this Court has no jurisdiction in that Plaintiff is an entity obligated to practice, advocate and maintain the strictly traditional Jewish orthodox faith and, by reason thereof, is prohibited from asserting its claim in this Court and is required to proceed in an ecclesiastical tribunal.”

“I think the filing speaks for itself,” said Shulamith Simon, an attorney representing Block as well as two individuals who are named as co-defendants in the case. “In connection with the matters in dispute between religious institutions, the matter should be heard by a beth din.”

Simon said she has already filed with the New York-based Beth Din of America.

Andrew Berg, attorney for NHBZ, said his client did not feel the change of courts was necessary.

“I don’t believe that it has to be in front of the beth din because of several reasons,” he said. “One is that there are no religious issues to be decided. It is for a sum certain, nor have we previously agreed to arbitrate any of our disputes with Block through the beth din.”

NHBZ’s earlier board statement had noted that there are exceptions in Jewish law that “permit the implementation of legal action through the secular court system. This matter is such an exception.”

Berg said he has received a communication from the Beth Din of America regarding the case requesting response by Feb. 11, and that he was answering the motions in both venues asking that the case remain in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The Beth Din of America’s website says that it is a “rabbinical court that adjudicates commercial, communal and matrimonial conflicts.” It notes that the court adheres to both Jewish and secular arbitration law and its rulings are legally enforceable since participants are required to enter into a binding arbitration agreement. Cases are decided by either a single judge, known as a dayan, or a three-judge panel. The Beth Din lists a wide variety of business cases as among those it handles including landlord-tenant issues and breach of contract cases.

The organization’s rules and procedures state that if there is no agreement between the two parties for arbitration the Beth Din will send a hazmana, or invitation, to participate at the request of a claimant if the Av Beth Din (supervisor of the court) deems it appropriate. The respondent is then expected to show that they would prefer an alternate beth din, that the parties would like to resolve the dispute through an arbitrator chosen by two other arbitrators they select, or that the dispute falls outside of the jurisdiction of the Beth Din of America. Jurisdiction is determined by Jewish law and the Av Beth Din.

According to its procedures, if the Beth Din determines that it does have jurisdiction but the responding party refuses to participate, the Beth Din will wait 30 days before issuing a shtar seruv, a document that permits the claimant to seek relief in secular court.

Sanford Neuman, a local attorney and President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis declined to comment on the lawsuit, and the Beth Din of America did not return calls seeking comment.

Circuit court records show no hearing date has yet been set on Block’s motion to dismiss.