Hazmana — Don’t Panic!
Margaret E. Retter, Esq.
YOU JUST RECEIVED AN HAZMANA — A SUMMONS TO BEIS DIN
WHAT DO YOU DO? FIRST, DON’T PANIC!
You realize that your relationship with your spouse has not been great lately. You thought that things were working out, either because you were going to counseling, or you were “talking about it”, or perhaps ignoring it. One day, you receive in the mail a letter (an hazmana) from a Beis Din, summoning you to appear. What do you do?
An hazmana is a Jewish judicial summons demanding that you appear before a certain Beis Din/Beth Din (Jewish/Rabbinical Court) on a certain date, at a certain time, to answer charges made against you by a particular person, in this case, your husband. Depending on which Beis Din sent you the hazmana, the document may be in written in English, Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The date for the scheduled appearance may also be a date based on the Jewish calendar.
Never underestimate the importance of the Hazmana! Do not ignore it! Do not throw it in the garbage!
So you opened the envelope and either: (a) you are in shock and freeze; (b) in denial that this is happening; (c) you panic; (d) you have no idea what the letter states, because it is written in a language you don’t read or understand; and/or (e) you don’t know what to do.
First, stay calm.
Now, you must realize that you need to take certain immediate steps to protect yourself, your children, and your assets. More importantly, YOU HAVE RIGHTS!
In this article, I am focusing particularly on marital cases when a spouse is requesting to dissolve the marriage. I am principally addressing issues faced by women, even though many of these concerns also affect men, since the overwhelming amount of cases I encounter and represent in Beis Din relate to wives.
In many cases, the husband wants “out” and will only resolve all issues in Beis Din. This includes financial matters, such as maintenance, alimony, child support, child custody, distribution of joint and marital assets, and ultimately demanding you accept a Get on his terms. In the case of the wife sending the Hazmana, she usually JUST wants her Get from Beis Din and wants the secular courts to deal with their finances and child custody.
Since most women do not have a clue what to do when they receive a hazmana, we will try to allay your fears.
A Beis Din proceeding is considered an arbitration in most states. (Check with a local attorney for the particular laws in your state.) This means that you have secular legal rights even in a Beis Din. This may include the right to an attorney.
When you receive the hazmana (hopefully in English), look at the date by which you must respond or appear. Remember, the date may be written according to the English calendar or the Hebrew calendar. If written in accordance with the Hebrew calendar, look up the date on your Hebrew calendar (or Google the date). Believe it or not, sometimes the date for you to appear may have already passed. Do not panic! You may want to call your Rav to find out what this is all about, but be careful, because conversations with your Rav may not be confidential. If you choose to call a Rav, only discuss the fact that you received a hazmana.
Remember, if you discuss your personal conduct with anyone but a lawyer, it is not wholly confidential. Your Rav may feel obliged to testify against you in Beis Din or secular court, if he feels that the conduct you have described may be detrimental to others including your own husband.
If you choose to call a family member or a Rav or an attorney, the following suggestions are important: obtain a memo book and write down every date and time of any correspondence you make, whether orally or in writing. Note to whom you spoke, the time you spoke, did he or his secretary answer, how many times you may have had to call back, the time your phone call was returned, and all the pertinent facts relating to the conversation. Always use your cell phone number, and give a time that you wish your phone call to be returned. If your phone is “blocked”, certain people whom you may need to speak to may not be able to reach you. Ask them to call at a particular time so that you can unblock your phone.
Read the hazmana, and see who signed it. It is usually the secretary of the Beis Din. If the date to appear is approaching or if the date to which you needed to respond has passed, call the number on the hazmana, and do the following (writing all this down):
(i) Ask with whom you are speaking and write down the person’s name;
(ii) Note the time of the call and how long the conversation lasted;
(iii) Tell the person that you received a hazmana with a date that has passed;
(iv) If the hazmana is not written in English, firmly request that all future correspondence be in English;
(v) Request a future date so that you have time to retain someone to help you (e.g., an attorney or to’en);
(vi) Inform the person with whom you are speaking that you are a “Bas Yisroel” (Daughter of Israel) and that you intend to comply with halacha after obtaining help;
(vii) Write down what the Beis Din representative tells you;
(viii) Depending on the state where you reside, you may be legally allowed to record your own phone calls, either made or received by you. If you are allowed, then do so.
FOLLOW ALL THIS UP WITH A WRITTEN LETTER TO THE BEIS DIN:
* Write a letter that same day (if possible, or the next day) to the Beis Din, addressed to the same person you spoke to confirming your telephone conversation.
* Explain that you will need at least four (4) weeks to respond to the hazmana in order to find professional help, as well as to discuss this with your family. Also ask for at least two (2) weeks notice before you have to appear at the Beis Din so that you have sufficient time to make these arrangements;
* Reiterate that you are a “Bas Yisroel”, and you have every intention of complying with halacha;
* Ask for the new date to be sent to you in a written letter;
* MAKE A FEW COPIES OF YOUR LETTER TO THE BEIS DIN;
* Mail the letter with RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED. (A green slip at the post office so you have proof that the Beis Din received your letter).
* Keep a copy of the letter and proof that you mailed the letter in a folder.
* If you have retained a to’en or an attorney, make sure that he has complied with all of the above, and demand copies of all correspondences between the to’en, your attorney, the Beis Din, and the opposing side. Keep it all in a folder.
ALWAYS MAKE COPIES OF YOUR CORRESPONDENCE AND SEND ALL YOUR MAIL “RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED.” THIS IS YOUR PROOF THAT YOU COMPLIED WITH HALACHA. If possible, give one copy of all your information to someone you trust and keep one set of copies in a safety deposit box.
You should contact an attorney who has experience in Beis Din cases, specifically matrimonial cases. The contents of your conversation with your attorney are confidential and privileged. But if a family member or anyone else is in the room with you and the attorney, you lose the privilege and the conversation is no longer confidential. Ask your attorney to explain “privilege” to you. Ask the family member to leave the room if you want to maintain the privilege. I know he/she is there for support, but it is in your best interests for this person to stay in the waiting room. Let the attorney explain this to your friend or family member. If you are going to counseling or family therapy, ask the counselor or therapist whether your conversations are confidential by law.
Important – the hazmana is summoning you to appear in a particular Beis Din. You DO NOT have to appear at the Beis Din chosen by your spouse. You have the right to choose a different Beis Din. Once you have had the time to discuss the matter with either your family, Rav, or attorney, you or your representative can then send another letter to the Beis Din stating that you choose not to appear before that Beis Din to decide your issues, but rather you have chosen a different Beis Din. Provide them with the name of the new Beis Din. Again, send a letter to the Beis Din confirming your decision and don’t forget to send it “return receipt requested.”
I know I am repeating myself but even though I advise my clients to act in this manner, then still forget to do so and havoc ensues.
But what if your spouse refuses to appear before the second Beis Din that you chose? There is a solution. A representative of your Beis Din and a representative of your spouse’s Beis Din will either agree to appear before a third Beis Din (with your approval) or you will agree to a zabla.
A zabla is when a representative of your Beis Din and a representative of your spouse’s Beis Din agree that your marital issues will be decided by three persons, e.g. borerim (arbitrators chosen by each party to represent them in the dispute, who must listen to the facts, and try to remain objective. The two borerim then agree on a third borer (“shlish”) for the panel to act as the chief dayan/judge. Even in a zabla you have the right to be represented by an attorney and/or a to’en.
Please remember that there are costs and fees to be paid to all of the above. The two parties must pay all Beis Din fees equally. That is halacha.
I have been faced with the following scenario many times: “I was just called to come to a Beis Din later tonight, or early tomorrow morning. I don’t know what to do. I have no one to watch my kids or I have work, and the Rabbi said that if I come right away and sign a piece of paper, I will receive my Get right immediately, what do I do?”
DO NOT GO AND DO NOT SIGN ANY PIECE OF PAPER WITHOUT slowly reading and fully understanding the document. Instead, review the document with an attorney or to’en; and understand your rights as it is explained in the document.
Presumably, you are being asked to sign is a sh’tar berurim (arbitration agreement) which binds you to the Beis Din and states what the conditions are for you to obtain a Get. These conditions and agreements will be upheld in secular court and are rarely overturned. By signing this document without truly understanding what it says, many women have unknowingly signed away their rights to maintenance/alimony, their marital home and assets, their finances (including monies and gifts given to them by their parents). Even worse, women have given up their right to child support, custody and visitation, and even their right to make decisions about their children’s health and education.
I CANNOT EMPHASIZE STRONGLY ENOUGH —DO NOT SIGN ANY PAPER(S) UNLESS EVERY SINGLE WORD HAS BEEN EXPLAINED TO YOU BY AN ATTORNEY OR ADVOCATE WHO IS ON YOUR SIDE!
So hopefully, by now, you know not to panic if you receive a hazmana. You know what to do and not to act in haste. You can protect yourself within the Beis Din procedure until you are able to find an advocate, an attorney, or to’en, to represent you in Beis Din. Take the time to calm down, carefully analyze the situation, and have enough information to proceed to the next step.
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