Four students from Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto won their division in the 2020 Moot Beit Din. The students on the team were Sawyer Anderson, Yuval Mazor, Noga Rafalin, and Dahlia Soussan.
In the competition, which is sponsored by the New York egalitarian yeshiva Hadar, teams from Jewish schools make halachic arguments about a case study provided by Hadar. A beit din is a Jewish legal court; the program is analogous to a moot court. This year, 27 teams from 19 schools in Israel and North America participated.
In this year’s case study, a campus climate initiative is offered money by a donor who made his money through unethical means, specifically by profiting from a private prison company. The students had to decide if it was halachically permissible to take the money. The Kehillah team’s win came in the Cardozo Division, in which teams base their ruling on a 25-page book of Jewish texts from throughout history selected by the organizers.
The Kehillah team’s verdict was that the group may accept the money, but in “a way that ensures no flattery” to the donor, noting that accepting the money is praiseworthy because it offers the donor a measure of repentance.
In an ordinary year, the teams present their arguments in New York during a weekend of learning. This year, each team submitted a video of their discussion and conclusion.
“Through a deep engagement with the provided sources, Moot Beit Din inspires the development of moral leadership skills rooted in the timeless wisdom of Jewish texts,” says the Moot Beit Din website. “Our halakhic system arose from vigorous minds engaged in lively debate. Moot Beit Din models this dynamic process, demonstrating to students how rabbinic wisdom can span cultures, geography, and time to influence our moral clarity today.”