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Talmudic Debate Raises Modern Questions

Blending current events and tradition, our Grade 8 Beit Midrash students put their Talmudic knowledge to the test in a debate in front of “judges” and an audience of parents. The students came together to study questions related to the current Israel-Hamas conflict — and what next steps, according to Jewish Talmud and text, the Israeli government should take.

Rabbi Hochner, who teaches the class, stressed that the goal of the debate was to analyze Jewish texts. He explained that the debate was the students’ idea, a chance to practice real-world decision-making. 

This event was part of the Grade 8 Beit Midrash Talmud class, the most advanced, in-depth course offered for the grade. The students argued not based on what happened, or even their own personal beliefs, but by the interpretations that they have been working on all year.

Pulling examples from Jewish text, Dylan C. ‘28, Jonathan N. ‘28, and Jake W. ‘28 argued against Jack E. ‘28, Shmuel K. ‘28, Solomon K. ‘28, and Eva W. ‘28 argued in favor.

“We studied both sides, outside sources, and halachic cases for research,” said Jack. “The idea was to see and understand other people’s perspectives.” 

Jonathan agreed: “I went into the eyes of the opponent. I tried to think of what they were going to say, and researched counterpoints to that. There was a lot of preparation, but a lot of thinking on the fly too.”

This was a stunning display of research and public speaking skills, as well as a solid mock trial. Students presented opening statements, were questioned by the judges, and prepared many significant and hard-hitting pieces of evidence. Impressively, they were able to take their own personal feelings and emotions away from the conflict, and examine it with an analytical lens. 

“These kids are brilliant,” praised Mrs. Naim,  Jonathan’s mom. “They discussed such beautiful words of Torah and current topics. Thank you, Rabbi Hochner, for inviting us, I’m so grateful to be here.” 

Learning about the Talmud is important, but developing an understanding of it is even more special. Scheck Hillel offers various options in Jewish Studies, including two separate tracks — Beit Midrash, where texts are read in Hebrew and Aramaic, and Yahadut, where texts are read in English. This allows students to explore topics and learning styles that most fit their interests, their passions, and their individual Jewish journey.