19 year-old Cameron Isen, a sophomore in Dartmouth college, was awarded the Jewish Academic Innovation Award this past Sunday, due to his in-depth research paper that used modern, western academia combined with the age-old Jewish academic style of the pilpul to analyze contemporary matters under the light of Jewish tradition. The student was one of ten handpicked university students from around the United States that gathered at the Hilton in Carlsbad, CA on February 7 for the annual Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium to present their papers and co-won the award alongside Shlomit Ovadia of California State University, Northridge.
Isen presented a ten-page research paper that analyzed the historic place of secular wisdom in the life of a Torah-observant Jew. The meticulously researched paper cited more than a dozen biblical and Talmudic sources and used writings from the 20th Century Talmudic scholar, Saul Lieberman as a guide. In the paper, the author contrasted passages of the Talmud that disapprove of secular learning against Jewish laws that were clearly developed due to secular understandings of the world. Likewise, the paper delved into the life of Maimonides, who famously partook in secular wisdom as a medical doctor, maintaining his belief that secular education is a necessary step to understanding G-d.
The panel of scholars judging the event, including NYU professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, PhD, Professor of Comparative Religion at the Academy for Jewish Religion, Tamar Frankiel, Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law and Rabbi Dov Greenberg, co-director of Chabad on Campus at Stanford University. The young scholars collaborated with a group of mentors to prepare these papers that cover subjects like the ethics of euthanasia, the mystery of Jewish survival, and the relevance of the Ten Commandments.
The Sinai Scholars Society, a joint project of Chabad on Campus international and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, has been helping educate Jewish college students about their Jewish heritage since its founding in 2006. Each year, over 2,500 students from 120 universities attend 8 courses as well as a Shabbat dinner, a field trip, and a closing gala event. Upon completion, participating students write a 5-page analysis paper, with many of those expanded to research papers that are considered for the academic symposium.
“We are so proud of Cameron for receiving this prestigious award,” said Rabbi Moshe Gray, Co-Director of Chabad at Dartmouth. “I was excited to see that the incredible amount of work he put into his impressive paper was recognized and I can definitely vouch that it could not have gone to a more worthy participant. The entire Dartmouth community can be extremely proud of this devoted young man.”
“I am so impressed by the quality of the research and the amount of work that went into these winning papers,” said Rabbi Dubi Rabinowitz, Director of the Sinai Scholars Society. “The program thrives on three key principles, which include discovering your Jewish heritage, connecting and networking with other Jewish students on campus, and learning to become an empowered Jewish leader. Students have shown us time and time again how willing and excited they are to take a deeper look into their Judaism and to analyze their ancient heritage.”
"Congregations to this year’s winners of the Jewish Academic Innovation Award,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus International. “The Sinai Scholars Society offers thousands of young Jewish university students the chance to truly explore their Judaism. It is a unique opportunity for these young people to gain perspective, share their ideas, and learn from highly accomplished mentors about what it means to have a Jewish identity. Thanks to programs like Sinai Scholars, the college years are often a time when students build a strong connection to their Judaism that lasts a lifetime."
Click here to read the winning paper.