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Hey, Maimonides School, Ever Hear of “Exile”?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the team of Orthodox Jewish high school students who are suing to compete in a national mock trial competition. The team from the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., won their state championship and thus the privilege of competing in the national contest in Atlanta this weekend. Alas, the finals are on the Sabbath, so being Orthodox Jews, they cannot participate. Or anyway they couldn’t do things like take notes or use a microphone.

If they’d left it there, I would indeed sympathize. But what part of living in galut, exile, an existential condition pervading Jewish life as our own religion teaches, do they not teach at the Maimonides School? Exile implies at least a bit of discomfort, not having everything your way. It’s one thing to lobby the national organization that sponsors the competition, as they rightly did. Quite another to go to the courts.


I see they have retained the legal services of Washington, D.C., lawyer Nathan Lewin, himself an Orthodox Jew who represented the so-called “Yale Five.” Those were a group of students who sued Yale University for the right to live off campus rather than have to live in a co-ed dorm. I would have sympathized more with them, too, if they had lobbied forcefully on campus and left it at that.
I was a high school debater. I know this must be a let down. Am I heartless? In their position, would you sue?
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posted May 7, 2009 at 7:15 am

I don’t see why they shouldn’t file suit. There’s no legitimate reason the semifinals couldn’t be held on a Sunday. Yes, we’re in galut, but what about the minority protections guaranteed by the Constitution? This isn’t Iran.

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posted May 7, 2009 at 10:32 am

Yes, I would file suit, too. Just because you’re in galut doesn’t mean that with every obstacle you encounter, you should sigh, lie down on the ground, and let yourself be trampled upon. “Well, we’re in galut. Might as well resign ourselves to getting bullied by all the anti-Semites.” Where’s your sense of self-worth? If it’s *really* not meant to be, God will say no, and they’ll lose the case. What’s the harm in trying? I think there’s *every* bit of harm in not fighting for equality. Nachshon jumped into the Yam Suf – he wasn’t about to take persecution lying down. Nor should the Maimonides school.

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posted May 7, 2009 at 12:58 pm

The galut mentality you have displayed in recent posts borders on the obscene. I suppose the Jews of Kishinev should have accepted their fate, and allowed their homes to be plundered, their family members to be murdered and their women raped. After all, they were obliged to realize the hardships the exile imposed upon them. Perhaps I should have forgone my Ivy League education. After all, in those days the SATs were only given on Saturdays. I should not have applied for the religious exemption to take the exam on Sunday, and should have accepted that being in exile mandated my working as a counter man at Burger King. For that matter, I should have realized the same thing when applying to medical school. Silly me, for wanting to be a Jewish doctor in the golah. (Lucky for American soldiers that the US Army disagrees with you. They saw no problem in ensuring I had kosher food while on active duty in Iraq. The army apparently didn’t believe that I had to suffer in the exile and starve.) This all ties in to your bizarre “non-Zionist” philosophy. You have a uniquely odd concept of both exile and our relationship to the land of Israel – unless, of course, you wish to ally yourself to the extremes of chareidi Judaism. No one in non-chareidi, normative modern Judaism still uses the “excuse” of waiting for the Messiah. Even the far right wing generally accepts that with the UN resolution of Nov 29, 1947, the “vow” was annulled. And no one claims that the current State was “conquered” by force. For that matter Rabbi Hirsch supported nascent Jewish communities in Palestine (both morally and financially.) And his focus was on securing rights for the German Jewish community, thus requiring him to focus on the “German-ness” of his followers. Thus, using S.R. Hirsch as the basis for your philosophy is tenuous at best. If you choose to remain in the Pacific Northwest, good for you. Don’t try to find some convoluted religious rationalization for your behavior.

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my name is irrelevant

posted May 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Abigail, Naomi and especially mark are spot-on.
The essence of Klinghoffer’s narrishkeit can be seen in the following National Review excerpt from one of his right-wing fellow-travelers, Eric Cohen. (Remember: embryonic stem-cell research is one of the few subjects on which all Jews across the board- from secular humanists to ultra-Orthodox – agree.) Note my COMMENT following it.
National Review online: Unorthodox Endorsement
Why Judaism is wrong on stem cells.
By Eric Cohen
But on the stem-cell question, the conscience of Judaism has been misguided. And when it comes to the Castle-DeGette bill, Jews seem to have forgotten even the minimal liberal wisdom of tolerance — the wisdom of not trampling on the moral opinions of their fellow citizens, like pro-life Christians, who believe embryo destruction is not only evil but the gravest evil. As Jews, don’t we owe our fellow citizens the minimal decency of not asking them to pay for the activity that most offends them? (The Bush policy that the Orthodox Union seeks to overturn, one must remember, does not fund embryo research or ban embryo research; its practical effect is ultimately neutral.) As Jews, don’t we know what it is like to have our own deepest principles and practices trampled upon by the state? And as Jews, are we really so sure that medical progress justifies or requires the full-scale dehumanization of early human life?
COMMENT: Allow me to paraphrase the gist of Cohen’s argument. “ Jewish tradition (halakha) is inconsequential and of no relevance here, even as a point of departure. Face it, Jews: the U.S.A. is not your country. You are only allowed to live here at the sufferance of the Christian majority, as an exercise in Christian tolerance {despite what George Washington said in his letter to the Touro Synagogue, or the Constitution}. So don’t be uppity. Go sit in the back of the bus and shut up; or, if you must speak, learn to say ‘Yes’m’. ”
Mr. Klinghoffer – as his work with the “Christian-friendly” Discovery Institute demonstrates- is Mr. Yes’m himself.
(Deleting this will prove your lack of integrity.)

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posted May 7, 2009 at 3:49 pm

You could argue that they could turn it into a Kiddush Hashem opportunity and pull a Sandy Koufax but that’s a very high standard to hold a bunch of high school kids to. Accommodating concerns like these is part of the fabric of modern America and they’re asking the competition organizers to live up to the standards of general American society, not specifically to Torah standards. All that said, voluntarily missing the tournament would have given all of them blockbuster college application essay topics.
I also don’t think there’s a way for the Yale students to have “left it at that” after just lobbying. If the university continued to say no giving up would have meant either paying double rent (which I’m not sure the university would have even let them do), living in a situation amounts to a clear violation of Torah standards of behavior or leaving the university completely. None of those are reasonable choices and suing was a very defensible thing to do. They also took a public stand for modesty which is admirable in and of itself.

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posted May 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I’m not sure what that Eric Cohen quote was all about, he’s not the author of this blog. No need to set up a straw man.

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posted May 7, 2009 at 4:34 pm

No matter how this situation sorts itself out, it is guaranteed to be the topic for NEXT year’s mock trial competition.

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posted May 11, 2009 at 12:43 pm

When checking out med school, this looks like an awesome place to begin your academic program! The True Blue Campus at St. Georges University.

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posted May 12, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Just because we’re in galut doesn’t mean we can’t petition the government (including through lawsuits — after after this is a nation of laws) to accommodate us and allow us to participate in the social events we want to participate in. There’s nothing wrong for standing up for ourselves.

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Mock Trial Maven

posted May 13, 2009 at 7:48 am

As someone who was involved, let me add my two cents.
First of all, there was no lawsuit. There was a complaint made to the Department of Justice that there may be religious discrimination ensuing and that state personnel and facilities were being used to facilitate that discrimination. Obviously, there was merit to that concern because on May 1, the Department of Justice wrote to the Administrator of Georgia courts that there was concern under the Safe Streets Acts that federally funded resources were part of an event that may be engaging in religious discrimination. In the end, the Chief Judge of the Fulton County courts took that concern seriously and insisted that no trials would be held in the courthouse unless Maimonides competed fully. While the national mock trial resisted till the very end (and perhaps continues to resist to this very day), wisdom comes from the mouth of babes as the Maimonides team garnered much sympathy and support from other student participants at the event.
Mr. Klinghoffer’s approach is troubling because it is as equally unresponsible as those who scream and complain no justice no peace whenever there is an inconvenience to the Jewish community. There is no bright line test to determine when to challenge and when to accept. The facts make all the difference. In this situation the facts screamed out for a challenge.
1. This controversy has been brewing for ten years. In 1999, the New Jersey bar notified national mock trial that more Jewish school were becoming competitive and that there may be a need for a scheduling change in the national competition. In fact, that year, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) placed third in New Jersey. National mock trial responded emphatically “No.”
2. By 2005, the New Jersey bar’s warning had come to fruition. TABC won the New Jersey state championship. The New Jersey bar asked for a simple, reasonable accommodation. The event begins on a Wednesday even though the trials do not start until Friday. So the New Jersey requested moving two of the 150 trials from Saturday to Thursday night/Friday so that TABC could compete fully. Mock trial said No.
3. That year, the competition was being held in Charlotte, North Carolina. When the head of the North Carolina Trial Lawyers, the host administrator, learned of national mock trial’s refusal to accommodate, it insisted that the competition would not go forward if TABC did not compete fully. Mock trial begrudgingly relented and TABC competed. The surveys and analyses of the TABC accommodation conducted by mock trial itself showed that the accommodation did not affect the competition and more importantly that it was a vital learning experience for the talented students who participate in events like these.
4. Yet, national mock trial was furious. Even before the trials took place, on May 5, 2005, the state coordinators held a meeting at which they voted 23-6 NEVER AGAIN to accommodate Satruday Sabbath observers. The board of national mock trial ratified that policy in October 2005.
5. In response, New Jersey and North Carolina withdrew from national mock trial until such time as the policy changed. To this day, neither New Jersey nor North Carolina will compete in national mock trial. They created their own competition to be held during the week. Both states are waiting for the policy to change.
6. In May 2006, various members of Congress wrote to national mock trial asking for a policy change. National mock trial rebuffed the request.
7. On September 25, 2007, congress passed house resolution 25 condemning national mock trial’s never again policy and encouraging it to accommodate in the future.
8. When Maimonides won the Massachusetts state competition on March 27, 2009, this was the context in which it requested the same accommodation as TABC — move two trials out of over 150 from Saturday to Thursday night/Friday. Is that unreasonable?
We are blessed to live in a country ruled by laws and guided by a constitution that fosters equality and inclusiveness. Yes, we may do things a little bit different than some others and we will not abandon those principles but we are 100 percent of this country and we need to teach our children how realistically to navigate genuine living and giving to this country while staying true to principle. Your approach is that of one who sees Jews as second class citizens. The non Jews in North Carolina and New Jersey obviously don’t agree with you.

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posted May 20, 2009 at 10:29 am

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Letter: Mock trial ranking system fundamentally flawed
By Jeff Kosowsky
Regarding “Letter writer, not mock trial organizers, showed no grace” (May 19): unfortunately, Larry Bakko, the decision support system coordinator for the National High School Mock Trial Championship (NHSMTC), continues to blow a combination of statistical fallacies, lies, and canards to impugn the performance of the Sabbath-observing high school team from Massachusetts rather than graciously conceding a successful accommodation welcomed by the vast majority of students, coaches and observers.
As a Harvard Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, I am shocked by Mr. Bakko’s stunning lack of knowledge of elementary statistics. In the following analysis, it is important to note that Massachusetts was one round ahead of the other teams due to the Sabbath accommodation.
Lets begin with round one. Mr. Bakko claims “They [Massachusetts] faced a limited risk, since many teams were still in flight to Atlanta and were not available to create the same pool of competitors.” As any first year statistics student knows, sampling from a random subset (those who arrived early) is equivalent to sampling from the entire pool since there is no reason to assume that those teams with earlier flights were any better or worse on average than teams with later flights. Hence, the first round assignment was statistically fair.
Now for round two. Since Massachusetts lost round one, ideally it would have been matched against another team that lost round one. Instead, Massachusetts faced a randomly selected team from the entire pool including 20 teams that went on to win the first round. In fact, the team they played went on to win their first two rounds and ended up ranking higher. Disadvantage Massachusetts.
Turning to round three. Since by now Massachusetts had lost two rounds, it was appropriate to match with another team that lost the first two rounds. Instead, since Massachusetts was one round ahead, it was matched against a team that had lost only one round. Since half of these first round losing teams go on to win the second round, Massachusetts actually risked being matched with a stronger team than it deserved. Disadvantage Massachusetts.
Finally, round four. Since the Massachusetts record was now 1-2, the closest match was either a weak 1-1 team or a strong 0-2 team. Instead, Mr. Bakko chose a relatively strong 1-0 team who won all 3 ballots on their first round. Disadvantage Massachusetts.
The fact that this fourth round team was the Georgia-B team or that it didn’t play all the rounds is a canard. The host state runner-up is only invited to participate (as in this case) when there exists an odd number of teams in a round and has no intrinsic “right” to compete in the tournament. In fact, had Massachusetts not participated, the Georgia-B team would not have not competed at all.
Finally, given that Georgia had won the national championships for the past two years, it is disingenuous to claim that the runner-up state team is necessarily weaker than other participants.
The above analysis clearly proves that contrary to Mr. Bakko’s assertions, the first round was statistically fair while the last three rounds if anything statistically disadvantaged Massachusetts.
Now what about Mr. Bakko’s claim that one of Massachusetts’ wins was against a school that ended up ranking #34 or that Maine, which also ranked #20, played a tougher schedule? Here Mr. Bakko enters into the fallacy of retrospective analysis in a system that prospectively matches teams based on the results of prior rounds.
Indeed, Mr. Bakko now treads on very dangerous grounds since a retrospective analysis of the complete 2009 Power Matching system reveals intrinsic flaws in the rankings that are far more severe than the purported “anomalies” attributed to Sabbath accommodation. For example:
– Louisiana ranked #7 yet lost to #18 and then beat #29, #37, and #22. Indeed, two of the three teams it beat won only one round.
Based on these match-ups, it can be argued that Louisiana merits no higher ranking than #19.
– Similarly, #14 ranked Arizona never beat a team better than #34 (out of 40), yet Mr. Bakko complains that Massachusetts which at #20 beat the higher ranked #33 should be asterisked for facing a weak schedule.
– Finally, #5 ranked Nevada beat #35 and #15, lost to #12 and then beat #21, yet was ranked higher than #12 Kentucky, who beat them head-to-head while only losing to near top-ranked #4. In fact, a total of 7 teams were ranked at least 5 places *lower* than a team they beat head-to-head.
The truth is that it is mathematically impossible to create a matching system that after a mere 4 rounds results in a statistically significant complete ordinal ranking of all teams. Claiming the contrary would be equivalent to saying that one could schedule a football season of just 4 games and not just determine the Super Bowl winner but also delineate the precise ranking of all other 31 teams.
Unfortunately, the NHSMTC Power Matching system suffers from even more significant flaws in that the rankings are based purely on raw win-loss, ballot, and point totals. There is no retrospective normalization of these raw scores to reflect the vastly different strength of opponents, the relative generosity of different judging panels in awarding points, the randomness of assignments within a round (particularly the first round) or even the logically conflicting results of direct head-to-head match-ups.
As a result of this analysis, I modify my previous claim to say that the NHSMTC organizers lack not only grace but also statistical aptitude.
Jeff Kosowsky
Newton, MA
The writer is the father of a Mock Trial participant from Massachusetts

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