July 17, 2024
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TABC Wins Lander College Model Beis Din Competition

New York—The Beis Medrash L’Talmud- Lander College for Men (LCM) held its inau­gural Model Beis Din competition for high school students in the tri-state area. The cut­ting-edge tournament invited teams to the Kew Gardens Hills campus to match wits with regard to the Jewish legal ramifications of a complex halachic quandary. The teams repre­senting the Torah Academy of Bergen Coun­ty (TABC) in Teaneck and Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence came in first and second place, re­spectively. Students from the Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, also in Lawrence, and the Jewish Edu­cational Center (JEC) from Elizabeth also par­ticipated.

“The Model Beis Din was an exciting and creative way of demonstrating the dynam­ic nature of halacha—how the Torah can in­form and confront moral and legal challenges in the most sophisticated way,” said Rabbi Yo­nason Sacks, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Beis Me­drash L’Talmud. “I was quite impressed with the students’ presentations and am confident that they found this forum to be a most en­riching experience.”

The innovative competition centered around “The Case of the Poisoned Sandwich,” a well-known but unconfirmed story in which a bullied high school student put a poisonous substance in his lunch, knowing full well that it would be stolen by his tormentor. Even if the accuracy of the story is in doubt, the case introduced a controversial halachic dilem­ma about an individual’s right to self-defense in such a scenario, which motivated the stu­dents to not only delve into the facts of the case, but the halachic ramifications as well.

At the start of the program, each team presented its arguments, either defending or condemning the actions of the bullied stu­dent, to three “judges” from the Beis Medrash L’Talmud—Rabbi Chaim Kirschenbaum, Rab­bi Ephraim Tanenbaum, and Rabbi Sacks. To simulate the case, members of the teams played the parts of the victim-turned-aggres­sor, who explained why he was permitted to poison the sandwich under Jewish law, and the bully. After a representative delivered a concluding statement with what his squad believed to be the correct halacha, the judg­es questioned the team members about how they arrived at their psak.

Because the matter is subject to debate amongst the poskim, the finalists were cho­sen based on the quality of the presenta­tions and their mastery of the different opin­ions and Talmudic sources as related to this case, and based on how well they supported their conclusions. The final round was in a de­bate format—including opening statements, rebuttals, and closing arguments—with a coin flip deciding which position each team would take.

The teams offered varying opinions with regard to the guilt or innocence of the offend­ing student. Some argued that the poisoning was warranted as a way to teach the bully the error of his ways or that the intent was not to do harm as he presented the antidote as soon as the bully took ill, according to the account of story. Others argued that his actions were reckless because he had no way of knowing if he would be with the bully at the time and able to give him the antidote.

“What was fascinating was that there was such a mix of opinions,” said LCM Coordina­tor of Admissions and Community Program­ming Rabbi Josh Sturm, one of the organizers of the Model Beis Din. “The level of scholar­ship on display was amazing, and every­one was extremely well prepared. What’s more, before the final round the teams had just a few minutes to organize their argu­ments and then they were off and running.”

TABC and Ram­bam Mesivta were awarded plaques and the recently pub­lished Dirshu editions of the Mishnah Brurah. Every participant on the four teams received all seven volumes of Rabbi Sacks’s commen­tary on Pirkei Avos. Over the course of the day Dr. Sokol spoke about the synthesis of hala­cha and everyday life, Rabbi Sacks discussed Kiddush Hashem and its relation to the Jew­ish legal system, and Prof. David J. Kirschner, a professor of business at LCM and a practic­ing attorney, talked about the distinctions be­tween the Jewish and secular approaches to law.

“Halacha addresses the most surprising corners of human life. These students rose to the challenge and applied their learning and ingenuity to a disturbing case study,” said Dr. Moshe Sokol, dean of LCM. “They and their rebbeim are to be congratulated.”

The Lander College for Men is an under­graduate division of Touro College in service to the Jewish community. Established in the fall of 2000 and located in Queens, N.Y., the Lander College for Men is grounded in a dual curriculum of intensive Torah study and a wide range of academic programs, with stu­dents majoring in professionally oriented disciplines. Lander College for Men provides students with an environment that produc­es ethical, mature, and well-rounded profes­sionals committed to scholarship and career growth. Dedicated to Touro’s mission of per­petuating the Jewish heritage, Lander Col­lege for Men prepares students to uphold the ideals of Torah and pursue positions of profes­sional and communal leadership.

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