Chassidus Wins at Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium

Two students from the University of Sydney and Western Washington University were awarded the Jewish Academic Innovation Award for their in-depth research papers that used modern, Western academia written in the age-old pilpul style to analyze contemporary matters in the context of Jewish tradition.

Liam Garman of the University of Sydney and Emily Seynaeve of Western Washington University were awarded the Jewish Academic Innovation Award this past Sunday, due to their in-depth research papers that used modern, Western academia written in the age-old pilpul style to analyze contemporary matters in the context of Jewish tradition.

Garman and Seynaeve were two of ten handpicked university students from around the world that gathered at Chabad of McGill University on March 19 for the annual Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium to present their papers.

Seynaeve, who majors in Communication Sciences and Disorders, presented a comprehensive research paper that dealt with how to reconcile having supra-rational faith in a rational world. The methodically researched paper cited many Kabbalistic, Midrashic and contemporary sources to expound on the Chassidic understanding of our flawed world, particularly the descent of G-dliness through seder hishtalshalut, and to analyze the task of serving G-d in the lowest of worlds.

During her remarks, Seynaeve related that she had grown up in a completely secular home and had decided in university to explore her Judaism. She was welcomed with open arms by Rabbi Avremi and Nissa Yarmush, directors of Chabad at WWU who enrolled her in the Sinai Scholars Society.

Garman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance, presented a comprehensive research paper that dealt with the Chassidic and Kabbalistic mysteries handed down through generations since ancient times. In his research, Garman cited many historical and Kabbalistic sources to shed light on some of the meditations lost in the Enlightenment Era, and that only began to resurface for mainstream Jewry with the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The Symposium was a doubly special for German who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with his first ever Aliyah on Shabbos. German grew up practicing Buddhism at home and is the first member of his family in three generations to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah.

The panel of scholars judging the event included Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law; Rabbi, Professor Lawrence Schiffman of NYU and formerly of Yeshiva University; Professor Jan Feldman of University of Vermont; Professor Lawrence Kaplan of McGill University; Professor Ira Robinson of Concordia University; and Professor Michael Ben-Avie of Yale University.

The young scholars collaborated with a group of mentors to prepare these papers that cover subjects like art and Judaism, belief in G-d; practice; and the modern Jew, and the importance of Israel to the Jewish people.

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 eight courses as well as a Shabbat dinner, a field trip, and a closing gala event.

Upon completion, participating students write a five-page analysis paper, with many of those expanded to research papers as part of the Mentor-Protégé Program. This program provides a unique opportunity for students to work one-on-one with an academic mentor to expand their research and fine-tune their ideas.

“It’s truly inspiring to see so many young Jews from all backgrounds and upbringings use academia to study Torah in depth,” said Rabbi Dubi Rabinowitz, Director of the Sinai Scholars Society. “The Rebbe always encouraged writing pilpulim, which until recently was only done by Yeshiva bochurim. This was a real kinus Torah and we hope this will bring nachas to the Rebbe.”

“My heartfelt congratulations 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 helps Jewish university students use academia to express their Jewish identity in brilliant ways and fortify their passion for Judaism. Both the students and the mentors benefit immensely from the exchange of ideas and discovery of new perspectives. Thanks to programs like the Sinai Scholars Society, these precious college years are when students build a strong connection to their Judaism that lasts a lifetime.”

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