With the right teacher, the study of Jewish Law and the Jewish Legal System (Mishna and Gemara) is exciting, insightful, and extremely relevant to contemporary issues. What most students do not know is that British Common Law (the source for the U.S. and Canadian Legal Systems) has its basis in Jewish Law. Moot Court versus Moot Beit Din is a program that takes composite, real life legal problems, and divides students into two teams who research, recreate, and present each side of the case before both a Beit Din and a civil court giving the students incredible real world experiences.
British Common Law and Jewish Law:
Moot Court versus Moot Beit Din
The Mishna and Gemara (Talmud) include Rabbinic arguments that provide both majority and minority opinions which generate exciting debates amongst the sages. British Common Law follows that tradition and appeal court and supreme court decisions handed down by courts in Britain, the U.S. and Canada provide both the majority and minority opinions.
Watching students of Talmud arguing over issues both ancient and contemporary is really inspiring as they advance arguments from different sources and from both types of reasoning. More amazing are the critical thinking and creative twists that students bring to their positions.
Since there are many similarities between the British Common Law and Jewish Law, it is interesting to look at the approach that Halakha takes to legal issues and compare Jewish Law to current jurisprudence. Engaging students by applying the knowledge and wisdom of the Jewish sages to contemporary concerns provides a novel way of learning.
In the Akiva Moot Beit Din and Moot Court program, students in grade 6-8 are studying the Talmud, Perek Hakones, which covers responsibilities of an attendant or owner of an animal. They learned how to categorize different types of watchers based on the extent of their responsibility and how to pro rate payment based on external factors. They are also studying Perek Hachovel which details responsibility for physical damage to a person.
Based on the topics covered, a volunteer law student (this year William Katz) creates a composite, contemporary legal case that covers those two sections of the Talmud. The volunteer law student then works with the students to provide consulting on the relevant case law and legislation surrounding the facts of the case.
Students are divided into two teams. Each team is comprised of lawyers representing the opposing parties and students who take on the roles of the various characters who make up the scenarios within the case. Students prepare legal briefs and character scripts. They also practice their roles. A volunteer judge (and jury if appropriate) presides over the case in
either a moot court of law or an actual court room if available. The Judge questions the lawyers and the student actors. It is incredible to see how well the students, through practice, immerse themselves in the roles that they are playing. They need to be quick witted as the judge’s questions are incisive and challenging.
The Judge listens carefully to the presentations and the responses to his questions. He then gives a detailed ruling explaining what he heard, the rules of law, and his interpretation of those rules as they apply to the case in hand. Students then get an opportunity to question the judge (who also takes questions from the audience) about his reasoning and his opinions about their performances.
Once the students have finished the Moot Court, they begin to study the rules of the Beit Din and prepare their cases to present before a Beit Din. Again, they consult with rabbis who specialize in the area and divide into teams to present their case.
The Moot Beit Din is made up of volunteer rabbis (sometimes only one specialist) who also listen to the petitioners and ask detailed questions. They also render their decision and provide insight to the students on their reasoning.
After the Moot Court and the Moot Beit Din, students spend time back in class talking about the similarities and differences between the two systems. One of the most poignant differences is that the Beit Din endeavors to find a compromise if possible whereas the Legal systems tends towards winners and losers.
The attached PDF shows examples of students in both the Canadian Court and in the Beit Din. The vitality of the Jewish Legal system comes alive when students are given real life problems to research, enact, and perform in real life scenarios before a Moot Beit Din and a Moot Court.