Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann of Passaic has been named the new director of the Manhattan-based Beth Din of America.
The young father of two will oversee the daily caseload of this 48-year-old rabbinical court (literally, "house of law"), where each year some 600 affiliated and unaffiliated Jews seek halachically and secularly recognized divorce decrees, personal-status confirmation, and arbitration/mediation of commercial, familial, and communal disputes.
A Fair Lawn native and graduate of Yavneh Academy in Paramus and Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, Weissmann follows the rabbi-attorney model of his predecessor, Yale Law School graduate Rabbi Yona Reiss. Reiss is leaving after 10 years to become dean of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
"I was an intern at the Beth Din of America for a year while I was in [Columbia] Law School," said Weissmann, whose parents, Peter and Carol, live in Fair Lawn. "When I heard Rabbi Reiss was moving to Y.U., I contacted the Beth Din to ask if they would consider me."
Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the court’s Av Beth Din, or overall head, said a search committee of rabbinic arbitrators and board members interviewed several candidates before offering the position to Weissmann, who received rabbinical ordination from RIETS in ‘001.
Weissmann left his career as a commercial real-estate attorney at the Parsippany law office of Kelley Drye & Warren to start working with Reiss at the BDA on March ‘4, although his directorship does not officially begin until July.
"I will have three months to learn the ropes of this multi-faceted job," he said. "Rabbi Reiss has proven himself to be an effective and capable administrator, so stepping into those shoes is exciting but challenging."
As director of one of the largest rabbinical courts in the United States, Weissmann will work with a cadre of about ‘0 on-call rabbinic judges among them Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a lawyer and leader of Cong. B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck as well as lay professionals and experts in law, business, and psychology. The BDA is affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America and is sponsored by the Orthodox Union.
During Reiss’s 10-year tenure, the BDA was asked to adjudicate some high-profile matters such as determining the status of 10 women whose husbands were missing in the World Trade Center wreckage. A panel composed of Rabbis Schwartz, Hershel Schachter, and Mordechai Willig worked with authorities including the New York City medical examiner to prove a presumption of death in each case, thereby assuring that their widows could remarry under Jewish and secular law.
However, the most common function of any rabbinical court is to issue a "get," or bill of divorcement, upon the dissolution of a Jewish marriage. As Reiss wrote in the Orthodox Union’s magazine "Jewish Action" in 1999, this a vital procedure.
"Without a get," Reiss noted, "a couple remains married according to halacha even if they have obtained a civil divorce. Until the husband has given his wife a get, neither party may remarry. Should the wife bear a child from another man, that child will be a mamzer, and prohibited from marrying within the Jewish community." Reiss added that the BDA networks with other rabbinic courts across the world to help resolve difficult cases and to arrange for a get to be delivered by proxy if necessary.
The BDA judges do not permit a man to remarry or even to date other women until he has delivered a get to his wife, and it encourages Jewish communities to withhold privileges (such as synagogue membership, burial rites, social acceptance, and business relationships) from husbands who are recalcitrant.
These are just some of the sensitive issues with which Weissmann is familiarizing himself over the next few months.
"I am expecting to put my full energies into it," said Weissmann, a member of Cong. Tifereth Israel in Passaic. "This is not a 9-to-5 job; I’ll be on call all the time. Right now my only real charge for the future is to strengthen the Beth Din and help it continue on its path of growth."
For more information on the Beth Din of America, see www.bethdin.org