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It's safe to say we were all happy and comfortable in the restaurant.

London Beth Din Visit

About ten of us gathered in an anonymous building on Ballards lane near the Tally Ho in North Finchley. David Frei, registrar of the court and a solicitor of long experience in English law, talked about the variety of cases which arise and how they fit in with English law.

The court's judges are rabbis of considerable education and experience. David stated that they all train for fifteen years or more before sitting on the court. A rabbi becomes accepted as a judge through social processes – gaining wide respect for quality of thought and capacity for objective judgement.

It turned out that judgements of the court, which follow Jewish law, are technically speaking arbitration awards, within English arbitration law. They state this on their face and are written in English. It follows that they are in principle enforceable in the English courts. It can happen that an award which follows some aspect of Jewish custom would not be enforceable. Parties often accept an award despite this, but obviously a recalcitrant party can avoid such an award.

Unusual features are that no papers are shown to the court of three rabbis before they hear a case. This follows logically from the Jewish principle that the court will only hear a party in the presence of the other party or parties (there is no possibility of an ex parte procedure here).

The largest body of work before the court concerns the regulation of kosher food although the Beth Din also deals with religious matters and procedure. We heard in the main about other areas – conversion to Judaism, divorce, family disputes about property, business disputes. In general the court provides a place for disputes between (orthodox) Jewish people to be resolved without airing them in public, for the proceedings are private (as is usually so for any reference to arbitration).  There are certain matters the court does not deal with and these include criminal matters and children's rights.

There are other Jewish courts in the UK. Some are within the orthodox community but suited to smaller disputes. Other branches of Judaism also have their courts.

After the talk we had an opportunity to ask questions, which David Frei handled with good humour and wit.

Taxis took us to Reubens Restaurant (79 Baker Street, London W1U 6RG, 020 7486 0035). For me this was a very nostalgic ride through parts of North London where I grew up and which I have hardly seen since. They've built a shopping complex beside Finchley High Road where I used to fly model planes and swim in an open air pool. The Bishops Avenue looks as remote from mortals as ever. It was so over the top that Hampstead looked quite dowdy after it.

For me this was a significant eating experience. I want to go again. The barley soup was full of taste and exploded barley. The chicken Schnitzel was plate-coveringly large and also tasty. The red wine was smooth and full of flavour. The desserts were also excellent.

Daniel Djanogly organised the event.

Report by Court Assistant Mike Gifkins