The Fine Art Of Compromise

Another Journal article; cognate lecture, in various formats, is available from the Internet Archive.

Although it is a cliche that everyone is entitled to his day in court, this is actually apparently far from true under American law; Robert Barron tells ups that about two dozen states, plus some federal jurisdictions, allow for court-ordered mediation at least to some degree. In Michigan, for example, a trial judge is authorized to order the litigants to participate in facilitative mediation, even over the objection of a party1

What is the Torah’s perspective toward dispute resolution via mediation or arbitration rather than through the rigid application of the law? Although it is generally known that Batei Din encourage Pesharah, and often even insist on retaining for themselves the right to deviate from the strict Din to impose at least some level of compromise, a careful look at the Sugya and the Halachah yields some surprises.

Are Batei Din Encouraged, Or Even Allowed, To Resolve Disputes Through Pesharah?

There are actually four different Tannaitic opinions on the permissibility and desirability of ‘Bitzua’ (Pesharah):

  1. The Tanna Kama permits Bitzua until the final verdict has been issued2, but does not consider it a Mitzvah.
  2. R. Eliezer b. R. Yosi Ha’Gelili forbids Bitzua, calling it a sin and declaring that it angers Hashem.
  3. R. Yehoshua b. Karchah declares Bitzua a Mitzvah.
  4. R. Shimon b. Menasya permits Bitzua, but only until the Dayyan knows “to where the Din is inclined” (unlike the Tanna Kama, who only forbids Bitzua subsequent to the issuance of the final verdict).

Virtually all Poskim rule in accordance with R. Yehoshua b. Karchah, that Bitzua is a Mitzvah3, but what exactly that Mitzvah entails is far from clear, as we shall see.

Opening With Pesharah

The Gemara explains R. Yehoshua b. Karchah to mean that there is a Mitzvah for the Dayyan to ask the litigants “Do you want Din or do you want Pesharah?”, and records that this was the practice of R. Huna; the Poskim disagree whether the Dayyan is actually supposed to mention Pesharah before Din4, or whether the Mitzvah is merely to introduce the option of Pesharah to the litigants, but the sequence of the alternatives in the Dayyan’s question makes no difference5.

Advocating Pesharah

An even more important question is whether Dayyanim are supposed, or even allowed, to attempt to persuade the litigants to accept Pesharah. As we have seen, the Gemara is ambiguous, stating merely that the Dayyan should mention the option of Pesharah and ask the litigants their preference, and major Aharonim line up on opposite sides of the question: Sema6, Nesivos7, and Birke Yosef8 rule that the Dayyan *should* try to convince the litigants to accept a compromise, whereas Maharal (cited, and apparently accepted, by Taz) and Tumim9 maintain that he should *not* do so.

Several Aharonim adopt (fittingly!) compromise positions:

  • Bach10 maintains that the Dayyan should initially merely note the possibility of Pesharah and ask the litigants’ preference, but once they have agreed to accept a compromise, it is the Dayyan’s duty to convince them to abide by their resolution.
  • Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer11 holds that Pesharah is only appropriate where there exists a Lifnim Mi’Shuras Ha’Din responsibility; therefore, he explains, before the Dayyan hears the details of the case, he cannot yet advocate for Pesharah, but may merely mention the option, but after he understands the issue and sees that there exists such an obligation, he should press for compromise.
  • Rav Efraim Navon12 maintains that the Dayyan is not strictly required to urge Pesharah, but he who acts Lifnim Mi’Shuras Ha’Din and does so is praiseworthy13.

Pesharah After the Final Verdict

As we have seen, Pesharah is prohibited after the final verdict, either because it is considered unfair to the victor14, or because it dishonors the Beis Din15. This, too, however is the subject of a major dispute between the Aharonim: Shiltei Gibborim, followed by Shach16 and Nesivos17, argue that this applies only to an imposed settlement, but not one that is accepted by the parties without “any element of compulsion, only persuasion and convincing, and this is a great Mitzvah and the bringing of peace between fellow men”. Bach18, Tumim19 and Birke Yosef20 disagree, maintaining that even this is prohibited, with the latter recording that this was the custom in Eretz Yisrael and Egypt.

Here, too, we find Rabbanim Navon and Kalischer adopting compromise positions:

  1. Rav Kalischer explains that the Dayyan is forbidden to simply suggest, subsequent to the final verdict, that compromise is appropriate, since the litigant may err and believe that the Din is no longer clear to the Dayyan and that he is retracting his verdict, and this would constitute compulsion, but it is unobjectionable for him to clearly explain that although he stands by his ruling as a matter of law, it is nevertheless right and good (yashar ve’tov) to compromise21.
  2. Rav Navon maintains that while the Dayyan may not ask the litigant to authorize an unspecified Pesharah, “for as long as he does not know what he will ultimately concede, his current acquiescence is considered forced”, no one actually disagrees with the Shiltei Gibborim, whose intention is that the Dayyan may present the litigants with a concrete compromise proposal22.


The relevant Talmudic discussion is Sanhedrin 6b-7a, and Tur / Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat siman 12; all sources are relative to these discussions where appropriate, unless otherwise specified. Heavy use has been made of the invaluable reference work on Hilchos Dayyanim, Halachah Pesukah (Machon Harry Fishel).

  1. Richard Barron, “Which Cases Are Most Suitable For Court Ordered Mediation”, available here (retrieved on Jun. 16, 2011). This clearly reflects society’s view that mediation is often a more desirable solution to a dispute than justice. []
  2. This is the opinion of Rashi; the Shulchan Aruch seems to rule this way, as does the Shach, as well as other Poskim (see Halachah Pesukah n. 88). There is, however, an alternate understanding – see Tosafos (s.v. nigmar ha’din) and Birke Yosef #5 s.v. um”sh ha’Tosafos. []
  3. Halachah Pesukah n. 85 argues that there is a minority opinion that rules like R. Shimon b. Menasya, but Birke Yosef #8 seems to disagree. []
  4. See Beis Yosef, Bach, Birke Yosef #3 and Beis Moshav on se’if beis. []
  5. Resp. Mishkenos Ya’akov #9, Rosh Yosef #11. []
  6. Derishah, and Sema #6. []
  7. Chiddushim #3. []
  8. #9 s.v. u’mikol makom. []
  9. Urim #4. Halachah Pesukah sides with this view, arguing that this is indicated by the language of the Rishonim on our Sugya. []
  10. #4, as understood by Halachah Pesukah n. 62. []
  11. Moznayim Le’Mishpat #3. []
  12. The second, the son of Rav Yehudah Navon, the author of the Kiryas Melech Rav, and the grandson of Rav Efraim Navon the first, the author of the Machaneh Efraim. Rav Efraim Navon II published his Beis Moshav together with his father’s Kiryas Melech Rav. []
  13. Beis Moshav to se’if daled, cited in Halachah Pesukah n. 60. []
  14. Rishonim, as cited in Halachah Pesukah n. 87. []
  15. Rosh Yosef #12, cited in Halachah Pesukah ibid. This is also apparently the view of the Be’er Eliyahu, as cited in Halachah Pesukah n. 105, who states that even if the litigants desire, of their own volition, that the Dayyan arbitrate between them after the final verdict, it is nevertheless prohibited out of concern for the honor of the Beis Din. []
  16. #6. []
  17. #1. []
  18. #4. []
  19. End of #3. []
  20. #9 (and see #10). []
  21. Moznayim Le’Mishpat #4. []
  22. Beis Moshav to se’if gimmel, s.v. ve’nireh de’ha’Shach, cited in Halachah Pesukah n. 101. []

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