Writ, process, or order sent by the court messenger ("sheluḥa di-rabbanan," or "sheluaḥ bet din"), and commanding a defendant to appear before the bet din. Raba, as dayyan, frequently indorsed such a document (Giṭ. 88a, and Rashi ad loc.). Disobedience of a summons is treated as contempt of court. In villages, where the people are often absent from their homes, the process-server must try at least three times to find the defendant and personally hand him the summons for the trial to be held on the first or second Monday or the intervening Thursday, these being the regular court days (B. Ḳ. 113a). Should the messenger fail to find him, he may leave the notice with the defendant's wife or with one of his neighbors. If the defendant does not put in an appearance after three court days have passed, the bet din will declare him in contempt ("niddui"), and he must apologize to the court within thirty days, when the niddui will be quashed; otherwise he is excommunicated, and the bet din will issue a "petiḥah," or preliminary order, of which the following is an example:
"Before us, a tribunal of three sitting as a unit, there came N. N. and produced a promissory document of N. N. for thesum of . . . And we have duly summoned him and appointed a day for him to come and defend the action; and we have waited for him Monday, Thursday, and Monday, but he has failed to put in an appearance. We have therefore declared him in contempt for thirty days. And now we issue this petiḥah and will allow him another thirty days and in addition thirty days more, at the expiration of which time if he still fails to come, we will issue an 'adrakta' [final judgment] to sell his property for the benefit of the creditor. Done in our presence, on [date] . . . at [place] . . . [Signed by three dayyanim]."
This form, probably of the ninth century, in the Aramaic language, is copied by Isaac b. Abba Mari of Marseilles in his "Sefer ha-'Iṭṭur." Judah b. Barzillai of Barcelona (11th cent.) had in his collection a long document in Hebrew as a substitute for the Aramaic form ("Sefer ha-Sheṭarot," ed. Meḳiẓe Nirdamim, p. 3, Berlin, 1898).
The three terms of thirty days each are respectively granted for the following reasons: (1) to allow the defendant time to borrow money; (2) if he is unable to borrow, to enable him to dispose of his property; and (3) to allow the purchaser time to pay for the property (B. Ḳ. 112b).
A change of venue does not affect the summons. A woman who was cited to appear before the court of Amemar in Nehardea was compelled to follow the court to Maḥuza (R. H. 31b). The defendant may plead that he wishes to be tried before a higher tribunal ("bet din ha-gadol"), but not after the petiḥah has been issued by the lower court (B. Ḳ. 112b).
The summons may not be served on a Friday, when people are busy preparing for Sabbath, nor may it call for an appearance during the month of Nisan or of Tishri, when the people are celebrating the holy days. If the defendant appears and offers ample excuse for not being able to attend the trial on the days appointed, the bet din may adjourn the case.
When the defendant is a distinguished woman who would regard her attendance in court as a disgrace to her, or when a learned man is sued by one of the common people ("'am ha-areẓ"), the bet din is empowered to send notaries to interrogate the defendant at home, and to waive personal appearance in court.
- Maimonides, Yad, Sanhedrin, xxv. 5-11;
- Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, ii. 124.