In Orthodox Judaism, a betei din, or beth din as it is also known, is a rabbinical court of Judaism. In ancient biblical times, it was the building block of the legal system in Israel, but today its legal powers and its judgments hold varying degrees of authority in matters related to Jewish religious life. For the Orthodox Jew, a betei din is required or preferred for validation of religious bills of divorce. In Florida, a state bill may end up preventing Orthodox couples from using betei din to arbitrate their divorce even though the bill is not targeted for that purpose.
The new proposed Florida state bill, The Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases, is actually targeting an alleged threat from Islamic law, the Sharia. Shaira is an Arabic word meaning the path or way, but today the term is used most commonly to mean Islamic law, the very detailed system of religious law developed by Muslim scholars long ago and still in force among fundamentalists today. In the Sharia, Islam must be dominant and only Muslims are considered full citizens, with Jews and Christians, being deemed lowly members of society. Sharia also discriminates on gender with men being considered superior to women. The concern for Americans are the cases where Muslim litigants seek to have their cases in U.S. Courts decided by principles of Sharia law. According to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), as of May 2011, they had identified 50 examples in 23 states where Muslim-Americans had their cases decided by Sharia Law against their will.
Though the Florida bill is trying to target just the Sharia Law threat, Jewish leaders fear the law will instead prevent Orthodox couples from using the Jewish religious courts for arbitrating their divorces and other family court matters as the bill only applies to divorce, child support and custody hearings in family court. According to the proposed bill, arbitration is unenforceable if a tribunal system bases its ruling on a “foreign law, legal code or system” that does not grant people the same rights as the Florida State or U.S Constitutions. David Yerushalmi, who drafted legislation the Florida bill is based upon, said that courts would not apply the bill to arbitration rulings of the batei din because these Jewish courts do nothing to violate constitutional principles.
The controversial bill has already been passed by the House, but is expected to stall in Senate unless leaders steer it to the floor.