“no Dowry, No Bride” Jewish Court Rules, Adding “cohen Comes First”
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“no Dowry, No Bride” Jewish Court Rules, Adding “cohen Comes First”

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“No dowry, no wedding,” said Larry, who kept his bride and two hundred wedding guests waiting until midnight. He did not appear and the marriage was off. The “wedding” had been arranged by a matchmaker and Larry understood that he would receive a dowry of $2,000 three days before the wedding. The bride’s father, however, maintained that he was unaware that such an agreement had been entered into.

The disagreement was brought up before the Jewish Court of Arbitration. A reconciliation was attempted, but failed because the bride’s father refused to provide the dowry demanded. The court then decided, basing its judgment on the Talmud, that Larry was justified in his refusal to go on with the wedding. The Talmud says: “Each man must give part of his property to his marriageable daughter.”


This is but one of the thirty-nine cases in “Cohen Comes First,” a story of the controversies brought before the Jewish Court of Arbitration, compiled by Dr. Samuel Buchler, who founded the court thirteen years ago. Since the establishment of this tribunal, some 5,000 cases have been settled by its judges. Before each session three judges are appointed—a rabbi, a business man and a jurist. Dr. Buchler justifies the establishment of the court on the ground that “most of the cases coming before it are of such a nature that a civil court could hardly comprehend the meaning of the arguments, and the motives of the litigants”.

The institution is primarily concerned with the type of controversy peculiar to the Jew. The situations in these cases arise from conflicts within the Jewish community and although they are within the legal jurisdiction of the civil courts, these cases are intrinsically alien to them. It has been, according to Dr. Buchler, the supreme duty of the Jews in every age, (and especially after the beginning of the period of the Crusades), to keep Jewish affairs from the secular law courts.


The volume takes its name from the story of Mendel Cohen, who complained to the court that his rights as a “Cohen”—the oldest order of aristocracy in the world—were not being recognized by the congregation Shearith Israel. The court ruled that the nobility of the “Cohen” was still in effect among Jews of the Orthodox faith, and that the presence of a “Cohen” in a synagogue must be recognized by the congregational leaders.

Another case with a widow who charged that the Yaslowitzer Benevolent Association, having some years before buried the leg of her late husband after it had been amputated, now refused to bury the husband himself, contending that no member was entitled to two free funerals.

Family quarrels, religious disagreements, divorce, marriage bureaux, congregational disputes, the punishment of gossips, are but some few of the cases brought before the court. The opinions handed down by it are based on authoritative comment, laws and Scriptural and Talmudic legends, parables and the conclusions of great rabbis as well as practical judgment.

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