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by Rabbi Ari Ellis and Avichai Stoller, April 11, 2011

Moot Beit Din is a unique Ravsak program that enables students from Jewish high schools around North America to delve into issues of Jewish law through creative engagement with contemporary situations. It provides students with an opportunity to explore the relevance of Jewish Law and to stretch their imagination by applying traditional Jewish sources to dilemmas of the modern world.

Every year Ravsak prepares a new case on a topic to which there is no clear consensus or precedent within Jewish Law. After an intense study of relevant classical and modern sources, students prepare written decisions on the case. They then present and defend their decision before judges during an oral argument.

The students meet for a four-day Shabbaton held in a different location each year. They break ice and break bread together, learn together, Daven together, perform a Chesed project, sightsee, and celebrate Shabbat together. Before their teams step into the room to compete, they have formed friendships and established spiritual bonds that last far beyond the Shabbaton.

On April 3, Gray Academy of Jewish Education competed in this year’s Moot Beit Din in San Francisco, California. Under the guidance of Rabbi Ari Ellis, Keenan Benarroch, Meir Cohen, Adam Stoller, and Avichai Stoller spent several months pondering the question of human cloning-both whether the cloning of a human being should be permitted according to Jewish Law and what the status of cloned individual would be.

Some of the sources we studied together seem to permit cloning and take a positive attitude towards scientific and medical advances. Others seem to prohibit it as violating the natural order and God’s master plan for the world. All the sources we studied provided deep insight into the ethical and moral dilemma involved. Together, we came to the concussion that that while there is no clear prohibition that forbids cloning, it is nevertheless not in the spirit of Jewish tradition and should only be permitted under extraordinary circumstances.

The Shabbaton was filled with classes and fun activities in which we made new friends from other schools. The Shabbat services and Torah Reading were entirely led by students while Shabbat afternoon classes were taught by the schools’ advisors.

On Sunday morning, we left the hotel and made our way to the Jewish Community High School of the Bay where the competition took place. Despite having never participated before and being that the organizers decided that the schools would compete by reverse alphabetical order of their city, we were selected to present first in our division. Although we didn’t win the competition, the judges selected Solomon Schechter of Westchester in New York as first place in our division, one of the other three Canadian teams, CHAT – Wallenberg of Toronto won first place in their division.

Our return flight home wasn’t until the next evening. So after the presentation, we spent a day and half touring the beautiful city of San Francisco. Rabbi Ellis, who is originally from California, took us to see many of the famous sites of the San Francisco Bay area. We visited Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, and even took a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island. We ate lunch twice at San Francisco’s only Kosher restaurant downtown. And we even had some time to shop at Union Square before heading for the airport.

The whole experience was a great success. We made new friends, learned Torah, and had lots of fun. We want to thank Ravsak and Gray Academy for their generosity, making it possible for us to participate.

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