Local High School Students Face Off at Annual Yeshiva University Debate Tournament
Wandering the corridors of Furst Hall at the Yeshiva University Wilf Campus on Sunday, December 18, would have revealed an unusual sight. Nearly every classroom on the second and third floors contained six individuals in business dress—some with rolled-up sleeves, others swiftly taking notes—all methodically but passionately arguing over the intricate nuances of the ethics of scientific research.
Taking part in the 23rd annual Great Debate, these aspiring orators belonged to 11 Jewish high schools in the greater New York metropolitan area. Started by Harriet Levitt, English teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB)—The Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, in 1988, the Great Debate offers Jewish high school students an opportunity to participate in a large formal deliberation among their peers from other schools, a relatively difficult task as most debate meets occur on Saturdays.
This year’s participating schools included the Ezra Academy, Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC), Maayonot, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Ramaz High School, Rambam, SAR High School, SKA High School, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), YUHSB and Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls, with the Jewish Educational Center and DRS High School observing.
The Great Debate joins the ranks of the Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament, the Wittenberg Wrestling Tournament and the Yeshiva University National Model United Nations as one of the many annual events that exposes Jewish high schools to the Yeshiva University community.
Teams either had to argue for or against the resolve that stated, “The scientific community should make use of results obtained from unethically performed research.” The results? TABC took first place and YUHSB placed second.
“Debate has the power to change students from self-absorbed individuals into deep-thinking intellectuals,” said Levitt. “Once they get into debate, they turn into different creatures. They realize that there are two points of view on everything. I notice that students on the debate team in my classes are much more likely to speak up with confidence.”
The student participants expressed a variety of reasons for attending. Ari Himber, a senior at HANC, aspires to attend law school in the future and wanted to hone his skills. Zachary Fineberg, a senior at TABC, had a different reason. “I guess I am just a polemical guy,” he said. “I love debating people.” Others simply enjoyed the intellectual exercise, like SAR senior Aviva Leshaw, who said, “I feel alive when I am debating and picking apart an argument.”
Many enjoyed the social aspects of meeting new people within the greater community and studying new topics. “This is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn more about different controversies in our world,” said Shifra Arnheim, a Maayonot senior.
Many of these students had participated in other YU-sponsored events in the past: from previous great debates to attending the Yeshiva University Dramatics Society Production of 1776 or the annual Seforim Sale.