Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The New York Times reports on a war between two kosher pizzerias in Brooklyn, which has now gone to a religious court:
Two pizza restaurant owners, both Orthodox Jews, have become entangled in an only-in-Brooklyn lawsuit, not in an august courthouse, but in an obscure hall of justice known as the Rabbinical Court of Borough Park, which hears cases in a simple room above a synagogue on a residential block.

At the center of the battle are not prices or sauce recipes, but cryptic interpretations of holy law set down in ancient Aramaic thousands of years ago. Both sides have invoked rules dictated by the Torah and the Talmud, as well as a cookbook’s worth of interpretations of kosher rules and certification standards.

Armed with their arguments, the two pizza sellers appeared last month in rabbinical court, known as a beth din. There, things proceeded like a Hasidic People’s Court, with the judges — three rabbis — dressed in traditional all-black garb, facing the litigants.
The litigants are Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, an upscale restaurant offering specialty pizzas, and Calabria, which opened across the street and is much more casual but has offered very similar pizzas. Daniel Branover, owner of Basil Pizza, felt his establishment's identity was being coopted -- so he went to the beth din.
While some may see this as mere capitalism, Mr. Branover considered it a violation of Talmudic law on unfair competition by a new nearby business — in Hebrew, hasagat gevul.

So he sued in rabbinical court, claiming a case of “one business hurting the livelihood of another business.”

... “They did everything that was against Jewish code, and that’s the reason I went after them,” said Mr. Branover, whose partner at Basil, Clara Perez, said that Calabria’s owners had stealthily debriefed employees about Basil’s most popular pizzas and how to make them. She also accused Calabria’s owners of poaching customers while they waited outside for Basil’s tables to clear.

... Beth dins are better known for mediating and adjudicating religious bills of divorce, kosher certifications and conversions to Judaism. But on occasion, they also rule on more enigmatic points of Jewish law, such as claims of ruinous competition.

... Cases have plaintiffs and defendants, and proceed in Hebrew, with witnesses, evidence presentations, questions from the rabbis and cross-examinations.
The court ruled for Basil Pizza, and Calabria was ordered to alter its menu. But that's not why I'm bringing this up. I want you to try to explain to me the difference between this court and the court that inspired this Breitbart headline in 2015:

An Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law in Texas has been confirmed by Breitbart Texas. The tribunal is operating as a non-profit organization in Dallas. One of the attorneys for the tribunal said participation and acceptance of the tribunal’s decisions are “voluntary.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with one of the “judges,” Dr. Taher El-badawi. He said the tribunal operates under Sharia law as a form of “non-binding dispute resolution.” ...

El-badawi said the tribunal follows Sharia law to resolve civil disputes in family and business matters. He said they also resolve workplace disputes....

Breitbart Texas asked what happens when there is a conflict between Sharia law and Texas law. El-badawi said most of the time, the laws are in agreement. When pushed further he admitted that, “we follow Sharia law.” However, he explained, “If the parties are not satisfied with the tribunal’s decision, they do not have to accept it and they can take the matter to Texas civil courts.” He did not say what the social ramifications of rejecting the “judge’s” decision would be.
In fact, when this article appeared, the tribunal "had been a registered nonprofit in Texas since 2012," as Dallas's D Magazine reported. Nevertheless, the Breitbart report set off a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria, as local elected officials rushed to express support for a bill in the state legislature banning the use of foreign law in court rulings (which was already prohibited).

In fact, the tribunal never sought to supersede U.S., state, or local law. Snopes quoted the tribunal's own website:
Conflicting problems within American Muslim society may range from personal and family matters such as marriage and divorce, as well as disputes among community members and those in positions of leadership. The courts of the United States of America are costly and consist of ineffective lawyers. Discontent with the legal system leads many Muslims in America to postpone justice in this world and opt for an audience on the Day of Judgment.

It is with this issue that Muslims here in America are obligated to find a way to solve conflicts and disputes according to the principles of Islamic Law and its legal heritage of fairness and justice in a manner that is reasonable and cost effective. These proceedings must be conducted in accordance with the law of the land; local, state and federal within the United States. Through effective mediation and arbitration, decisions can be made that are stipulated in the Shari’ah and adhering to the binding, ethical and legal code that exists within this country with the final approval of the relevant courts and judges.
(Emphasis added.)

I wrote about this at the time, and noted that you can find Jewish and Christian as well as Muslim faith-based courts in America. I noted the existence of Texas's Metroplex Mediation, and quoted from itswebsite:
Metroplex Mediation provides Christian mediation services aimed at facilitating settlements for parties involved in a broad range of legal, personal, and financial disputes, including family, church, business, trusts, probate, real estate, personal property, oil and gas, contracts, intellectual property, personal injury, interpersonal matters and others....

When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?...If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?...Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. (1 Cor. 1-7a)
Your right-wing uncle probably still believes that there's some town in Texas where the U.S. legal system has been replaced by sharia law. But when this kind of mediation happens among Texas Christians or Brooklyn Jews, right-wingers don't utter a peep of protest.

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