Two teams from Herzliah High School in Montreal have earned a berth in an international competition, which tests young people’s ability to argue a complex, modern-day legal case, drawing on Jewish law and rabbinic sources.
Five teams of Grade 9, 10 and 11 students from the school competed to impress a panel of experts, to clinch the two spots. This is the third consecutive year that Herzliah will be represented at the Moot Beth Din, which is sponsored by the New York-based Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools.
Herzliah is among 26 high schools from throughout North America, and the only one from Montreal, to make the cut. In its last two outings, the school was a top performer, earning gold and silver medals.
The Moot Beit Din helps students sharpen their critical thinking skills by applying the ancient wisdom of halakhah to some of the thorniest ethical issues of our time. They see the relevance of Jewish law today and are familiarized with the Jewish legal system.
The case presented to the students was of a woman with cancer who has found a donor match through a bone marrow registry – specifically, a Jewish registry. The potential donor has since decided he is not ready to go through with the transplant, as he is now a father of young children and the major breadwinner of the family.
But the rare match is the only hope for this woman to survive. She asked him if he would go to a beit din (rabbinical court) to decide what to do, and he agreed.
The students were tasked with wrestling with whether the man should honour the commitment he made when he registered, or put the security of his family first.
Students researched their answers using various biblical sources, collaboratively wrote their decisions and made oral arguments before a panel of judges.
“Students study rabbinic sources and are asked to use their knowledge and understanding of these texts to make difficult ethical decisions on a contemporary case,” said Kelly Castiel, Herzliah High School’s head of school. “Their ability to present in front of a panel of judges, using analogy and divergent thinking, is extraordinary. This experience is one that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Susan Orenstein, president of the Lederman Foundation, which sponsored the event, and one of the judges, added that, “It was a pleasure to participate in an innovative competition that allows students to creatively explore Jewish law in a modern context. I was impressed by the poise and energy that each team brought to the competition. The teams demonstrated strong technical abilities and original ideas that raised the level of the debate and engaged the audience.”
The students prepared under the guidance of Judaic studies director David Azerad, teacher David Wallach, Rabbi Menachem White and former Judaic studies teacher Shimon Aviel, a theatre veteran who could provide tips on performing before an audience.
The Moot Beit Din has been held at different U.S. sites in the past, but this year it is a virtual competition. The written decisions and video recordings of the oral arguments must be submitted to a panel of judges by the end of March.
There will also be a question-and-answer component, in which teams pose and respond to questions about each other’s arguments on a digital platform.