June 2020 -- Sivan-Tammuz 5780,  Volume 26, Issue 6

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Leffell School Competes in Moot Beit Din 2020!

By H. Pollack

 

Designed for high school students of all  Jewish backgrounds in a pluralistic competition, The Moot Beit Din is  meant to be enjoyable for all participants.

 

Originally scheduled for March, the pandemic moved the Moot Beit Din Competition to go virtual on Sunday,  May 24th. The competition, now run by Hadar,  included high school students from across North America and Israel,  involving 19 schools sending  a total of 27 teams, coming  together to debate a modern ethical issue through a Jewish lens and halakha. “The competition demonstrates to students how rabbinic wisdom can span cultures, geography and time,  to influence moral clarity. “

 

Students competed in teams of up to four members along with an advisor. The teams had been preparing for months and were looking forward to the competition and the Shabbaton that was scheduled to be held in New Jersey.  But things changed and everyone participated from their own home. Representing Westchester, The  Leffell School in Hartsdale competed with four students; Sarah Grand, Noam Schuck, Eitan Zemel and Sally Eisenberg. All 11th graders, the team was  led by their school teacher,  Joshua Cahan.  Student teams were divided into four divisions, judged by 3 Jewish leaders.  The Leffell team won 2nd place in the Kagan Division, named for Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

This year’s case dealt with students involved in a campus climate initiative,  looking to expand on the idea of  who is  able to get funding from a donor who has gotten his money from unethical means. Students had to ultimately decide if the students in the case could halakhically take the money.  To do this,  they were given a sourcebook that included over 25 pages of Jewish sources ranging from ancient to modern texts-- with half of the teams also choosing to include their own research beyond the sources given.

 

Cahan has taught  at The Leffell School for ten years and  said it was his job to make sure the students on his team understood the question. “ The choice of the topic was obvious as it was ripped from the headlines of the past months. The question of accepting money from morally compromised donors and creating a real crisis for Jewish institutions gets the students to have a deeper look at things. They learned about Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Ivan Boesky, the Sacklers.”

 

The challenge he gave the students to  ponder was, “Where do you draw the line when dealing with Jewish philanthropy?”

 

His role, he added, was to identify the most relevant sources to give the students. “I guided them to understand what would be the cost. When we all met to discuss, they had thoughtful and intelligent answers. They learned to use critical thinking skills by applying ancient wisdom.”

 

The team, Cahan mentioned, has studied Talmud with him. As a teacher of Rabbinics and Jewish Law, Cahan was delighted to be the advisor to the group. “These particular  students are all good friends. They are involved in many activities but they enjoyed the experience of the Moot Beit Din competition so much, they want to be the second team that the school sends next year to the competition,  when they are seniors.”

 

The students will receive a plaque for their participation in the event. Cahan commented,  “We were all excited and happy that the presentation went well.”