Five students from Toco Hills’ Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael finished third out of eight teams from yeshiva high schools competing March 15 in the second annual Beis Medrash L’Talmud-Lander College for Men Model Beis Din competition in New York.
A team from the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, N.J., won the competition at Touro College’s Kew Gardens Hills campus, and Yeshivat Shaare Torah of Brooklyn finished second.
The 15 competing students from the three winning schools were awarded plaques and sforim (books). LCM Dean Moshe Sokol also said that any member of those three teams who is accepted and matriculates at LCM will receive a $2,500 scholarship.
All 40 participants received Rabbi Yonasan Sacks’ commentary on the Haggadah and an LCM duffel bag.
The other schools participating were Rambam Mesivta and Mesivta Ateres Yaakov of Lawrence, N.Y., Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in Plainview, N.Y., Ma’or Yeshiva High School in Long Branch, N.J., and the Cooper Yeshiva High School of Memphis, Tenn.
The students had to wrestle with a complex halachic problem based on a real-life event: A pilot in the Israeli air force was sent on a mission to destroy an enemy platoon. While he was en route, the air force learned that the intelligence was flawed and that the target was an area populated by civilians, but the pilot was outside communication range.
According to Jewish law, was the air force permitted or even obligated to shoot down its own plane and kill the pilot to save the civilians on the ground?
The participating high schools received the details of the scenario and a packet of relevant halachic sources in January. A rabbinic faculty member at each school advised the team; at Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, Rosh Yeshiva Mayer Neuberger filled that role.
The first round of the competition used a debate format. Each team was assigned to argue against another school either for or against shooting down the plane in front of five judges from the Beis Medrash L’Talmud: Rabbi Dovid Mirsky, Rabbi Chaim Kirschenbaum, Rabbi Ephraim Tanenbaum, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus and Rabbi Sacks.
Each team then faced a different opponent and had to argue the opposite position.
In the second round each team presented arguments to the judges for what it believed to be the correct decision and answered questions about how the team members reached that conclusion.
There was no right answer. After all, this is Judaism, in which leading scholars can disagree about matters of halacha great and small.
The winners were chosen based on the quality of the presentations, the students’ mastery of the different opinions and Talmudic sources related to the case, and the students’ success at supporting their findings.
After lunch Rabbi Josh Sturm, the admissions coordinator for LCM, provided the students another real-life case to consider, based on the same sources as the scenario with the fighter pilot. The ropes for two paratroopers become entangled midjump. With no action, both soldiers are certain to die. Is either paratrooper permitted or even obligated to cut his lines to save his own life at the expense of the other?
Each team was given an hour to prepare arguments for the judges. Torah Academy of Bergen County edged out Shaare Torah in the final debate.
The Lander College for Men is an undergraduate division of Touro College. Established in 2000, LCM features a dual curriculum of intensive Torah study and a wide range of academic programs, and students major in professionally oriented disciplines.