- Inside the Classroom
- Upper Division
By Benjamin Levy, Upper Division Dean of Judaic Studies
Each year, Denver JDS high school students compete in an international Jewish legal competition called Moot Beit Din. This year, students from the US, Mexico, Canada, and Israel all received a case regarding the permissibility of a student non-profit group accepting and publicly recognizing contributions from an individual who has been implicated in both illegal and immoral activities relating to one of his businesses, a private prison, which abused prisoners and defrauded the government.
In a typical year, students use their free time to write a 7-10 page written decision on the case, based upon traditional Jewish legal texts like the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, along with more modern responses. Then a few months later, they travel to a city in the United States for a four-day Shabbaton which culminates with each team presenting their case orally before a panel of judges whose questions they must answer. This year’s April Shabbaton and competition, alas, were first postponed, and then canceled outright, to be replaced with a late May Zoom-format. The students still presented, and the judges still peppered them with tough questions, but all was done in the same format as every event in our lives the past few months, with a computer screen showing a Brady Bunch array of faces.
Team Denver JDS - composed of seniors Shira Fox and Eitan Kochavi, junior Jonas Rosenthal, and freshman Rachel Kaufmann - had to rework and choreograph their planned presentation to fit the new medium, and did so with flair, staging a Shark Tank-style presentation of the student group in question seeking to win a grant from an incubator foundation, inspired by the activities experienced in Marty Zimmerman’s Non-Profit Entrepreneurship course. They handled the judges' questions with poise and represented our school well. During the award ceremony, they were recognized for having the best-written decision in their division for their well-crafted and nuanced approach to the case. Our team argued that one may accept donations from a thief, provided that the specific funds in question were not stolen, and that public recognition of the donation would be inappropriate due to the issue of praising a criminal to cover up their misdeeds. Further, they required the donor to make an equal donation to the public debt to offset the funds of which he defrauded the government to avoid issues of potentially stolen funds.
Lastly, they based the entire acceptance on the donor’s authentic desire to do teshuva, formal repentance, which the Yom Kippur liturgy tells us requires the giving of tzedakah, an innovative approach that made their argument stand out from their competitors. We are very proud of their work, and look forward to next year, not in Jerusalem, but at least in person!