Rabbi Dr. A. Yehuda Warburg

Recollections of Dayan Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine
Posted June 1, 2011 in the Jewish Press

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine, z”l, passed away on the first day of Pesach.

Prior to his demise, Rabbi Levine prepared a foreword to a forthcoming book authored by one of his colleagues wherein he writes the following:

“In referring to the highest level of truth finding in a judicial proceeding, our Sages make use of the phrase ‘hadan din emet la amitoe.’ What is being conveyed here is that knowledge of the law is not sufficient to render a verdict of truth. In order for the dayan to arrive at the correct verdict the precise facts of the case must be discovered as well.

“Over the past 15 years the Beth Din of America has been in the forefront in creative innovation of the judicial process in monetary matters. At once, this innovation consists of insuring that the panel it assigns is not only thoroughly versed in the relevant halacha, but it is well equipped by virtue of educational background and professional work experience to grasp the reality on the ground. This entails a relentless commitment to relevant fact finding, taking nothing at face value, and understanding the implications of the facts for commercial behavior of the parties.

“A second prong of innovation consists of the documentation that must accompany the verdict that the panel hands over to the litigants at the conclusion of the proceedings. First, the claims of plaintiff must be meticulously recorded. Respondent’s rebuttals and counterclaims are then, duly recorded. Next, a thorough discussion of the issues from a halachic perspective is presented. Finally, the verdict is rendered and this verdict is demonstrated to have flowed from a halachic underpinning ”

The above description of the workings of the Beth Din of America, the halachic forum which benefited from his erudite reasoned piskei din (decisions) for over a decade in actuality is an autobiographical sketch of Rabbi Levine’s persona. He possessed a relentless commitment to relevant fact finding, taking nothing at face value, and understanding the implications of the facts and above all, a drive to ascertain the truth. Throughout his tenure at the beth din, he communicated to his fellow dayanim and to the litigants his wealth of knowledge in halacha and economics. Rabbi Levine was not a talmid hacham who happened to have and use a smattering of economics, and he was certainly not an economist who happened to be a talmid hacham. He was who he was. His ability to resolve complex halachic issues regarding partnership dissolutions, labor relations, securities investments and the like were a testament to his mastery of economic reality and economic theory as well as his expertise in choshen mishpat. His mastery of the worlds of choshen mishpat and economics was known among the dayanim of various battei din throughout New York city as well as the parties, toenim (rabbinical advocates) and attorneys who appeared before him.

His tenure as a dayan which spanned over a quarter of a century, influenced a change in the stylistic format of his writings. Whereas, his initial works, Free Enterprise and Jewish Law, Economics and Jewish Law, and Economic Public Policy and Jewish Law are discursive presentations of diverse topics of economic import, his later contributions, Case Studies in Jewish Business Ethics and Moral Issues in the Marketplace in Jewish Law which provide ananalysis ofthe halaChic rules which ought to govern marketplace were communicated to the reader in a series of cases.

In short, through his recent contributions, Rabbi Levine, as a professor of economics introduced his readers to the richness of halacha and economics by scrutinizing the fact patterns of various cases. Utilizing such an approach has found a warm reception for all of us who are appreciative of the myriad of cases mentioned in the sea of the Talmud and in the over three hundred thousand teshuvot penned by rabbinic luminaries who rendered their pesakim in replying to cases posed to them.

Rabbi Levine’s pursuit for halachic truth and his strident admonishment of litigants who spoke disingenuously was only matched by his penchant for peace – a goal he valued and memorialized in his writings and piskei din. In his last din Torah which dealt with an employee termination, despite the fact that the tovea failed to advance a claim for severance during the beth din proceedings, in Rabbi Levine’s mind there was a need to impart to the nitva (defendant) that he should “go the extra mile” for a fellow Jew.

Consequently, he instructed the nitva to consider the awarding of severance to an employee who was dismissed due to poor job performance. As a professor of economics who learnt and examined for decades the American liberal ethos of rugged individualism and crass materialism, Dayan Levine emerges from the fray and communicates a Torah message in moral education to an employer in how to treat his employee. This message resonates throughout his writings – imitatio dei (lit. the imitation of God) – the halachic imperative to emulate Hashem’s attributes of mercy in our social conduct.

Rabbi Levine imparted to us the gift of his creative originality, his sense of self-effacement and humility and above all his sensitivity in interacting with his fellow man. Yehi zichro baruch.

Rabbi Dr. A. Yehuda Warburg is a dayan serving the chassidic, modern Orthodox and yeshiva communities of N.Y. and N.J