Touro’s Lander College for Men Holds Third Annual Model Beis Din Competition
New York, N.Y. – File this under “it really happened.” In Israel a father and caregiver for his mentally impaired son was diagnosed with kidney failure, and all attempts to find a suitable organ donor failed. His son, however, was a near-perfect match, but incapable of providing any reasonable form of consent. Could the son be allowed, under Israeli law, to donate a kidney to save his father’s life?
Ultimately the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that he could not, but was this consistent with Jewish law?
This question was put to students from eight U.S. high schools who squared off in the third annual Touro College Beis Medrash L’Talmud-Lander College for Men (LCM) Model Beis Din competition. The cutting-edge tournament invited teams to the Kew Gardens Hills campus to match wits on the ramifications of this complex halachic quandary.
“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 HaRav Yonason Sacks shlita, esteemed Rosh HaYeshiva of the Beis Medrash L’Talmud. “I was quite impressed with the caliber of the students’ presentations. They were creative and articulate and reflected a thorough knowledge of many mekoros. I am confident that they found this forum to be a most enriching experience.”
The winning team, for the third straight year, was the Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) in Teaneck, New Jersey. The teams from the Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia and the Cooper Yeshiva High School of Memphis, Tennessee placed second and third, respectively. Students from the Jewish Educational Center (JEC) in Elizabeth, New Jersey; Yeshivat Shaare Torah in Brooklyn, New York; Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence, N.Y.; Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael in Boston, Massachusetts; and Hebrew Theological College’s (HTC) Fasman Yeshiva High School in Skokie, Illinois also participated.
“We spent the last five months preparing the material, so to be able to put it into practice and argue our case made the learning fun and exciting,” said Yaakov Weiss, a 10th grader from the Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia. “We got to say what we thought and show what we know. After everything we did, I feel great. I feel like all the work we did really paid off.”
The high schools received the details of the scenario in September, along with a packet of relevant halachic sources to consider for their arguments. A rabbinic faculty member for each school served as an advisor for their teams.
“For our students, it was a marvelous opportunity to engage in serious and complex halachic discussions with motivated peers and expert scholars,” said Rabbi Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of HTC, who advised the Fasman team. “Personally, I took great pride in preparing the material with our high school students and cheering them on as they debated and argued.”
The first round of the competition was a debate format, each team assigned to argue one position—either supporting or oppose the court’s decision—against another school in front of five “judges” from the Beis Medrash L’Talmud faculty, Rabbi Dovid Mirsky, Rabbi Asher Leshem, Rabbi Ephraim Tanenbaum, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus and Rabbi Sacks. In the second round each team was matched up against a new school, this time arguing the opposite position. For the third round, individual teams presented their arguments for what they believed to be the correct decision to the judges, who questioned the students as to how they arrived at this conclusion.
Because the matter is subject to debate, the winners were chosen based on the quality of the presentations and their mastery of the different opinions and Talmudic sources, as well as on how well they supported their findings, according to Rabbi Aryeh Manheim, LCM’s coordinator of admissions and the organizer of the competition.
“The objective of the program was not to train the students in psak (deciding) halacha—this requires a seasoned halachic expert,” said Rabbi Manheim. “Rather,the competition was meant to encourage all of the participants to engage in halachic and Talmudic debate as a means to express timeless Torah thought and ideals in our daily contemporary lives.”
Following lunch, during which Rabbi Dr. Moshe Sokol, dean of LCM, spoke about the differences between a beis din and a secular court, the teams proceeded to the final round of the competition. Rabbi Manheim provided the schools with another real-life case to consider, which relied on the same sources as the first: Can an individual suffering from organ failure accept a kidney secured from state prisoners who had been executed, a former practice of China? Each team was given an hour to prepare their arguments, which they then presented to the judges, who tallied up the aggregate scores to determine the winners.
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, and students major 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.
About the Touro College and University System
Touro is a system of non-profit institutions of higher and professional education. Touro College was chartered in 1970 primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American and global community. Approximately 18,000 students are currently enrolled in its various schools and divisions. Touro College has 29 branch campuses, locations and instructional sites in the New York area, as well as branch campuses and programs in Berlin, Jerusalem and Moscow. New York Medical College; Touro University California and its Nevada branch campus; Touro University Worldwide and its Touro College Los Angeles division; as well as Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill. are separately accredited institutions within the Touro College and University System. For further information on Touro College, please go to: www.touro.edu/news.