The Weber School’s Moot Beit Din team has once again proved its scholarly prowess, using its knowledge of ancient Jewish law to win a national rabbinic mock trial competition.
Weber beat 22 other teams from the United States and Canada to win this year’s national Moot Beit Din, held in Philadelphia April 18-21.
But the Weber School is no stranger to victory. The school’s team has been the national champion four times over the past five years.
The five-member team from Weber acts as a Moot Beit Din, or rabbinic court, and uses Jewish law, known as the Talmud, to come up with a solution to a dilemma.
Though the answers come from ancient texts, the dilemmas deal with issues of modern relevance, such as bioethics, terrorism and Jewish-Christian relations, said Marc Levinthal, a teacher at Weber and the advisor for the Moot Beit Din.
“We’re always concerned about bringing present-day relevance to the Talmud, which is 2,000 years old,” Levinthal said. “This is the epitome.”
This year’s case involved the question of whether a Jew could participate in a Catholic wedding. The team was given three months to develop a written opinion.
Based upon their research, the students argued that the traditional law would allow for the individual to attend the wedding as an onlooker, but not as a bridesmaid.
“You’re given no sources, just the case. We had to find our own sources,” said Daniel Gordon, a member of the team. “We wrote a 10-page argument, which took hours and hours.”
The students put in a lot of work, researching, citing their sources, and ultimately writing their opinion.
“We had a lot of after school meetings during first semester, Sunday meetings, lunch meetings,” said team member Daniela Friedman. “We went to our teacher’s house over winter break.”
The research can be challenging, but the students said it encourages them to think critically to put together a strong argument.
“A lot of times you find commentaries that oppose one another, so you have to decide how to value each one,” said Adina Karpugh. “I think a lot of us were really surprised with our conclusion. I didn’t think we’d end up where we did.”
Levinthal said the thing that makes the Moot Beit Din competitions so challenging is the material that the students have to sift through, which often is in a medieval Hebrew that can be difficult to translate. And Levinthal said the Talmud is not as well-organized as secular codes of law.
“The difference being that lawyers practice in one jurisdiction, the codes of law are organized and indexed very well over a short period of time,” he said. “When you’re researching Jewish law, you’re researching voluminous texts over 2,000 years, often without any indexing, codification.”
And the students have to make decisions for themselves, he said.
“It often is not out there in black and white. They often have to see contradictions between rabbis. They have to analogize,” Levinthal said.
Though it’s a lot of extra work, the students on the team enjoy the challenge.
“It’s a serious commitment if you want to be part of it. But you end up loving it,” Gordon said.