Friday, July 11, 2008

Just How Far Does A Beis Din's Jurisdiction Extend?

Does it extend for five thousand miles? Or across three centuries?

It seems that (according to Vos Iz Neias) a Kol Korei was issued in Kiryas Joel* banning silver and gold shoes for women because such shoes are immodest, stunning and attention-getting.

According to the Kol Korei, the basis for the prohibition of gold and silver shoes is a ban issued by the Bais Din of R. Yechezkel Landau (the Noda B'Yehuda, who passed away in 1793).

Now, I'm sure that the people in Prague (where the R. Landau lived) would certainly have adhered to the ban. But just how far does the jurisdiction of R. Landau's Bais Din go? Does a local Bais Din have the power to prohibit all Jewish women everywhere in the world from wearing a particular style of shoe? Do the Rabbanim of Kiryas Joel follow the decrees of every properly constituted Bais Din in the entire world? If so, how could you possibly avoid running afoul of contradictory rulings? (It reminds me a lot of Ned Flanders' plea to God: "I've done everything the Bible says - even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!")

Of course, I don't think that's the case. A local Bais Din's ruling should only apply to the community in which it is located. I can't see how basing this ban in Kiryas Joel based on a ban by a Prague Bais Din makes it legitimate.

Interestingly, according to the article, it seems that shoes that were bought in Prague before the ban were not included in the ban. This leads me to two thoughts:

1. The ban was not entirely for tznius reasons. If it was, why should shoes bought before the ban be exempted? Were they any more modest than the post-ban bought shoes?

2. The ban was about tznius, but R. Landau was concerned about the welfare of the community to such an extent that he didn't want to see people lose money on the shoes they already bought and was willing to let women in his community wear shoes that were non-tznius anyway, becuase he understood that you can't be a tzaddik with someone else's money.

If the latter point is true, then perhaps some of today's community leaders can take a lesson from this and understand that you shouldn't cause undue monetary losses to people in the name of enforcing chumras.

Nonetheless, I'd still be interested in hearing from people on this. How far does a Bais Din's jurisdiction last? How much time has to elapse before a ruling can be reconsidered? Or do we say that since we aren't as wise as R. Landau, we can't convene a Bais Din to overrule him and therefore the shoe ban lasts forever?

The Wolf

* I have not seen the Kol Korei. If anyone can send it to me, I'll be more than happy to put it up.


Alan said...

Do you think its possible that he is not implementing the ban simply because R Landau did?

Kiryas Joel Beit Din may have wanted to implement the ban for Tzniut/nonTzniut reasons, but felt that it would be better/taken more seriously if related to the Noda BYehuda one -- people won't think "that crazy Beit Din, uprooting our tradition and fun of wearing gold/silver shoes" if they feel it comes from an earlier time.

BrooklynWolf said...


That's fine, it strikes me as underhanded. If they have a clear halachic basis for their ban, then it should be able to stand on it's own without having to resort to the p'sak of a bais din from halfway around the world and two centuries earlier.

In addition, have they taken the context of R. Landau's ruling into consideration? Perhaps the reasoning that applied then does not apply now. By taking it out of context (which I'm not saying it does... I don't know) you can get very dangerous results. An example would be someone ruling that a woman shouldn't leave her house more than once or twice a month because the Rambam ruled that way. Well, that's true, but the Rambam lived in a very different world than we do. Context played a big part in his ruling, and it wouldn't apply to today's world.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...


I think you are way off in your analysis here.

First of all, even the secular courts have the concept of precedent. While precedent does not bind you to the prior decision or concept, it is something that needs to be taken seriously. So too here.

Secondly the KJ bais din would likely be banning this with or without the N"B's psak. It is just begin used to buttress and make it more acceptable to the masses because of the increased authority.

No, a psak from years ago does NOT have automatic application today. But it needs to be evaluated to see when it is relevant. That is the job of the Rabbonim in each community and that is why they need time to just sit and learn the volumes of seforim.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part is where he says that people will have to sit shiva if they wear the shoes!

And I thought all this craziness is a product of our pathetic generation. Nice to see that some things have a long tradition in Judaism.

Dan Rabinowitz said...

Jurisdiction is indeed an issue in Jewish law. One of the more interesting applications of jurisdiction had to do with an anonymous book that was published in 1789 attacking the Chief Rabbi of the triple community of Altona, Hamburg, and Wansbeck. That book, Mitzpeh Yekutel was put under a ban and the unknown author was subject to a ban as well. It turned out the author was the son of the Berlin chief rabbi, R. Tzvi Berlin. After he found out his son was the author, they succeeded in getting the ban overturned by arguing the Triple community does not have jurisdiction over Berlin. The Noda b'Yehuda as well as others were involved.

ProfK said...

The Jewish Press also reported this kol koreh. There was another one as well--this one was against the wearing of white jackets by women (I believe by Satmar.) The color is too "exciting" among other things. And they too go back centuries for a precedent on the ban. White is too exciting? Kallahs must drive them crazy.

Anonymous said...

Considering the Noda B'Yehuda's caustic disapproval of Chassidus, I doubt the residents of Kiryas Yoel accept his jurisdiction totally.

Anonymous said...

profk: that's so interesting that white now may be on the way to being assured. When the beis hamikdash was standing and the laws of tumah would still apply, all women who were niddah had to wear white, so others would know that the woman was niddah and anything she touched would become tameh. I wonder what's going to happen when the third beis hamikdash will be build?

I know that there is nothing particular about white. The community just needs to agree that all niddah women need to wear the same color and tahora women cannot wear that color. But what's left for the future? niddah women wear dark navy blue and every other woman wears black?

Anonymous said...

ProfK the press also reported that the reason for the kol koreh was against being stylish and since white jackets are in they should be ossured. What's really strange with that is that chassidishe women have the minhag to wear all white or mostly white on Yom Kippur. Is this also going to be assured? How about kallahs--is the new bridal dress color going to be black? And then there are tachrichim.

It occurs to me that the point of the kol koreh might have been for the women to cut down on their spending on new clothes. Same thing with the shoes--not about tsnius at all but about cost. But then why not just say so?

-suitepotato- said...

And Satmar women wearing anything provocative on their feet was a problem exactly when???

I am not worried about the Satmar deciding to adhere to a beit din decision from a different century given that they refuse to leave the 19th most of the time as it is. I'm more worried that they actually felt it necessary to go ahead with this.

Did the succession battle crack the egg?