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September 21, 2004

Court upholds Jewish Orthodox right of excommunication

In a case reckoned to be watched by Jewish communities around the world, a Johannesburg businessman has failed to prevent his excommunication from the Jewish Orthodox community. A report in The Star says Judge Frans Malan has dismissed the case brought by the man whom the Jewish ecclesiastical court – the Beth Din – had decided to shun because he failed to honour his child maintenance agreements. In his affidavit, the man said that issuing a cherem (an excommunication) against him would render him a pariah in his religious and cultural community. However, Judge Malan said the cherem formed part of Orthodox Judaism and that those who wished to practise the faith were obliged to demonstrate fidelity to it. ‘(Those who adhere to the religion) consensually undertake to submit themselves to the discipline which has been imposed on them ...’ He said that under the circumstances it seemed reasonable and justifiable to limit the religious rights of the man because a failure to do so would have the result that the Jewish faith and community would not be able to protect the integrity of Jewish law and custom. Earlier, Beth Din senior counsel Gerald Farber said a ruling against them would have been like ‘taking a pencil and drawing a line through centuries of religious practices’

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