At a time when crucifixes were placed on the walls of Quebec courtrooms, Jewish community organizations in Montreal created their own arbitral tribunals, giving the immigrant generations a culturally-relevant alternative to both religious adjudication and the civil law courts. Large portions of the records of one of these courts, the Jewish Community Council's Mishpat HaShalom, survive. They allow a rare look at the workings of an arbitration court, a type of institution whose private nature too often makes it opaque to legal scholars.
The Jewish arbitration courts of North America have often been wrongly seen simply as vestiges of Old World customs. This article places the Montreal courts in the context of similar institutions across North America, particularly in New York City, to show the links between their practice and procedure and the progressive philosophy of court reform of the early twentieth century. In doing so, this article breaks new ground in explaining the rivalry between the two major New York Jewish arbitral tribunals and why there was a split between them.
By way of contrast with the New York courts, whose caseload consisted primarily of family matters, a large proportion of the cases before Montreal’s Mishpat HaShalom were corporate-commercial disputes. In these and other kinds of cases the court employed flexible remedies that would not become accepted in civil law until the 21st century, suggesting, among other things, that scholars of corporate law need to revise their understanding of the history of the corporate oppression remedy and that scholars of the evolution of legal doctrine need to incorporate the workings of such private arbitral tribunals into their narrative.