BET DIN (; pl. batte din):

Rabbinical term for court-house or court. In view of the theocratic conception of the law, which pervades Biblical legislation and is strictly carried out by rabbinical Judaism, including both civil and religious law, the bet din is not only a civil, but also a religious authority.

The Great Bet Din.

The "Bet Din ha-Gadol," or Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem existing during the time of the Temple, was called also "Sanhedrin Gedolah" or, briefly, "Sanhedrin" (Soṭah i. 4, ix. 11; Sanh. i. 6; Shebu. ii. 2.) According to the Talmud, this bet din represented the supreme court of the country mentioned in Scripture (Deut. xvii. 8-13), and acted chiefly as court of last instance in legal or ritual disputes, in which case its decisions had to be obeyed on pain of death (compare rebellious Elder). It also had a certain voice in the affairs of the state—no war of offense () could be undertaken without its permission—and it was in charge of civil affairs to the extent of appointing the judges of the country. The principal passages regarding this bet din are: Sifre, Deut. 152-155; Sanh. i. 5, 6; Hor. i. 1-5. The president, who bore the title "Nasi," was in a way the supervisor, but not a member of the court, which consisted of seventy members, corresponding to the seventy "elders" appointed by Moses (Num. xi. 25). The most learned and important of these seventy members was called "Ab Bet Din," a title similar to that of vice-president (see Zugot). It is highly improbable that there was a bet din of this class in Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple (compare Sanhedrin). The detailed description of such an authority found in the Talmudic works is probably theoretical even in its chief points, and may have had its origin in the fact that the bet din instituted after 70 was considered the ideal by the Rabbis, and that they were reluctant to omit it from the earlier periods of Jewish communal life. Hence the Talmudic sources speak very freely of a bet din that existed from the time of Moses to that of the Rabbis (R. H. ii. 9), mentioning even the bet din of Gideon, Jephthah, Samuel (Tosef., R. H. ii. [i.] 3), or those of Shem, of Samuel, and of Solomon (Mak. 23b), which they imagined similar to a later rabbinical court. And, furthermore, since the conditions in heaven were supposed to be analogous to those on earth, they likewise spoke of the heavenly bet din () (Mak. l.c.), calling it the "Great Bet Din" () (Soṭah 22b).

Bet Din at Jabneh.

The bet din as the highest religious as well as civil authority of the Jews can only be proved to have existed for the period between 70 and the end of the third century. It was Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai who made his bet din the intellectual center of the Jews when the destruction of Jerusalem deprived them of their bond of unity. He could not, of course, give his bet din the political importance of the old Sanhedrin; but, considering the new conditions under which the Jews were living, he succeeded in investing it with greater powers than any authority had before possessed. It had entire charge of the calendar system, and hence became the religious and national center not only of Palestine, but also of the Diaspora. Its power and influence increased under Rabban Johanan's successor, Rabban Gamaliel II., culminating under Judah ha-Nasi I., whose grandson, Judah Nesia, may be regarded as the last person under whom the bet din was the real center of the Jews. Hence the Talmudic sources speak of Rabban Gamaliel and his bet din (Tosef., Ber. ii. 6), and of R. Judah ha-Nasi and his bet din ('Ab. Zarah ii. 6), meaning thereby the central body representing the highest civil as well as religious authority of the Jews.

On the death of Judah ha-Nasi the bet din of the Nasi lost its importance in consequence of the rise of Jewish scholarship in Babylonia toward the middle of the third century, as well as the increasing oppression of the Palestinian Jews under the Roman rule. Although the dignity and, also, to some extent, the power of the Nasi continued until the end of the fifth century (compare Origen, "Epist. ad Africanum," xiv.), the bet din was no longer an intellectual center. According to Talmudic sources, decrees (Taḳḳanot) binding for all Judaism were issued by the patriarchs before and during the time of Judah Nesia; but his successors had not such authority. In Babylonia no bet din was ever considered a central authority, even for Babylonia alone, although, of course, the higher the reputation of a scholar, the greater was the authority of the bet din under him. Similar conditions obtained there even in the time of the Geonim, for no central bet din could exist on account of the rivalry of the two academics. From about 500 there was not even any formal and authoritative ordination, and members of an actual bet din must be ordained at least. Alfasi made an attempt to reestablish the former central bet din, considering his bet din the highest ecclesiastical authority, and claiming for it prerogatives which belonged to the Bet Din ha-Gadol (R. H. iii., beginning; compare Naḥmanides, "Milhemet," on the passage). If Jacob Berab had succeeded in reintroducing ordination, his bet din would have achieved the position of that of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai; but he encountered too much opposition.

Other Classes of Batte Din.

Aside from the Bet Din ha-Gadol and the similar bet din of the Nasi, the term was applied to every court, consisting either of 23 members, who sat only in capital cases—, or of three (according to some, five), who decided in monetary affairs— (Sanh. i. 1-4; Tosef., ib. i. 1). Yet even in Talmudic times it was usual to have at least 11 scholars present at court (Sanh. 7b), a custom observed in later times also, at least in difficult cases. A scholar of standing () required no assistant for holding court (Sanh. 5a), so that, during the Middle Ages as well as in modern times, the local rabbi alone frequently represented the bet din. In larger communities, however, there is a bet din consisting of at least three members, which sits daily except on Sabbath and holidays, and decides ritual as well as legal questions. The local rabbi generally presides, but in large communities the direction of the bet din is an office in itself, the incumbent of which bears the title "rosh bet din." The associate rabbi of a place has the same title, while among the Ashkenazim, and especially among the Polish-Russian Jews, the rabbi proper is designated as "ab bet din" and "resh mata." Compare Authority, Judges, Ḳahal, Nasi.

J. Sr. L. G.
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