Tzvi Szajnbrum
To ease the immigration and absorption process for Olim

The Israeli “Trust me” Phenomenon

How many times have you heard Israelis say: Trust me (“Smoch Alai”) even, and especially when they don’t have a clue of what they are talking about?

Most times they don’t really know who you are what your needs/goals are and they don’t even have any final plan in mind to begin with! This is one of the most common syndromes that exist in Israeli society – for better or worse.

Exactly on the opposite side of the spectrum is the “I never trust anyone syndrome”. Surprisingly enough, this is the most common approach used when referring to lawyers in Israel. Let me elaborate.

Now let’s, for a moment, take patients who visit and trust their physicians almost blindly with God-like awe and reverence. When consulting with any professional, including a doctor, obviously one must trust his professional expertise to some extent because we, who have never learned medicine, do need a person such as him/her to service us using their knowledge and to eventually cure us from whatever our infliction may be.

The funny thing is that when it comes to our health and well-being, it is rare for someone to ask for a second opinion even with the knowledge that medical malpractice is one of the most serious serial killers we know of today. More people die from doctor’s mistakes than from the actual danger the sickness itself presents. If we could be diagnosed correctly, and in a timely manner, many lives could be saved.

When being prescribed medication why don’t we try to learn how the medication works, what kind of chemistry it has with our bodies and why don’t we bother to even read the package leaflets of the medicinal products to understand its risks etc.? Most of us accept it blindly even when it is our own health on the line. Truthfully, if we did bother to read the warnings and drug information the chances are high that we would think twice before taking it.

Lawyers on the other hand are subjected to constant doubt and suspicion across the board.

The exception lies in two very distinguishable groups in society (please note that this is an overall generalization and is not necessarily true for all individuals).

The Tycoons which includes the multinational corporations that function abroad.

I’ve spoken to lawyers representing Microsoft, just as an example, who were never asked by Mr. Gates to translate any of the extremely intricate contracts they were representing into English. These people know they have to trust local lawyers and they rely on them wholeheartedly to complete their business since otherwise no contract would ever be signed between two companies in two different counties.

In order to have a binding contract in Israel it must be in Hebrew. The original contract can be in any language but if any divergence arises between the parties, the contract presented in court must be in Hebrew only. These multinationals hold local law offices as their trustworthy representatives and in order to be well represented, a strong mutual trust is needed and maintained.

Foreigners the second group in which the trust plays itself out in very different ways.

There is a very deep sense of trust among foreigners (New Immigrants) who have a very difficult time trying to understand and sometimes get frustrated when trying to fight the system. They want to understand what they are signing which is fair enough especially if what they are asking you for is the basic principles and not every detail.

Sometimes they want to know all of the intricacies of the issues at hand and a lawyer, although wanting to be transparent and accommodating, can often times come across as being the exact opposite when they are not keen on sharing every little detail.

The Israeli law is a mix of many legal systems: The “Halachik” law, British law, Legacy left behind by the Turks, even some German and American law. In addition we don’t have a written constitution – what a mess isn’t it? The law is based on legal precedents making the system a very dynamic one. A lawyer defending a case in the Supreme Court must be updated the very morning of the hearing about any latest decisions made by the Supreme Court the day before.

Because most of our important laws have already passed some form of “Judicial Criticism” it is most likely that a lawyer will have to review them before making a decision regarding the case or the legal question presented to him. This is why it is almost impossible to translate legal documents in a clear, everyday language without explaining in detail the meaning of every one of the different clauses and laws.

This is all even more relevant and correct when dealing with criminal law and real estate (purchasing a property in Israel). The criminal law is very complicated and very different from the American Law. Real Estate is a legacy from the British and Turkish mandates in Palestine (sometimes even from the Jordanian law) and is extremely difficult to work with.  For this very reason one must, like it or not, trust the lawyer that one chose to represent him/her.

Words to the Wise:

  • You must work with the system and not fight it.
  • Even if you don’t understand the system or don’t like it use it to the best of your advantage because it is this very system that you will be relying on to buy or sell a property in Israel or to, God forbid, work out some form of settlement if you are accused of a crime.

Your lawyer can be your best friend on these occasions. You don’t have to follow anyone blindly and you should definitely question and clarify when you feel the need, but the final decision is yours. Just remember that you hired your lawyer for a reason and if your lawyer knows the law he/she will make sure the system works for you and not against you!

About the Author
Passionate about helping new immigrants, Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law and Notary, founded the Voleh Organization, through which he and a team of volunteers provide “pro-bono” guidance to English speaking new immigrants, helping to ensure their successful integration into Israeli Society. As a former officer in the Israeli army, Tzvi is also able to help lead new immigrants in the right direction regarding the IDF. CEO of The Szajnbrum Group
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