Mensch Madness Game 6: Caro vs. Leibowitz

In a much-anticipated Mensch Madness match-up, fans watch eagerly as Morah Nehama Leibowitz and Rabbi Joseph Caro step to the center of the court for this tense Final Four battle.

Caro, the author of the Shulchan Arukh, was the slight favorite going into the tournament, as many of the analysts believe that the man who compiled the most widely accepted Jewish rule-book undoubtedly has better strategic prowess. Nehama is not going to leave-her-wits[1] on the bench though–the table is set[2] for a great battle.

The whistle blows and the two thinkers walk to center court. They make eye contact and nod, refraining from offering a typical pregame handshake to the other–this type of physical contact between a man and a woman is highly controversial. Despite their attentiveness to the laws of negiah, though, the two scholars are prepared for a physically demanding intellectual-and-sports battle.

Karo wins the tip off and takes possession of the ball. Nehama struggles early, largely because she has no direct derech[3] to the basket. Karo takes an early lead, but Nehama is not ready to cry uncle.[4] Unfortunately for Caro, the sports-challenged scholar fails to take Caro-f the ball. Meanwhile, Nehama’s laser-focused defense (and the Spanish Inquisition) quells Caro’s inquisitive spirit, sending him from Spain to Portugal, Egypt to Istanbul, and then to Tzfat. The “traveling violation causes” a string of turnovers. Still, Nehama trails by 5 at the half.

During halftime, Nehama comes up with a plan to take Caro to school,[5] hoping that combining strategic insight from college coaches[6] with that of the Yeshiva coaches will give her team morah-nergy[7] bring her team to life again.

Halftime’s over now, and WOW! Nehama and her team are unstoppable. The fans are iyyuun-ited[8] behind her, as Nehama personally corresponded with over a gilyon[9] fans through her gilyonot (worksheets). These fans– young, old, secular, religious, male, female, Jewish and not– led her commentary to be bound and re-bound so many times that she had over 18 rebounds during the game… a Rabbinic league record!

With ten seconds on the clock, Caro dribbled the ball up court. Down by just one point, he drove to the lane, but was called for a double dribble–the Shulchan Arukh contained extensive material from his previous work, Beth Yosef. He felt like a maran[10] as Nehama won the game. Rabbi Caro was the one crying uncle after all.

But what a game, sports fans! See you next time!

[1] Say it out loud…

[2] Shulchan Aruch translates into “set table”

[3] Nechama famously said, “I have no derech (path)…I only teach what commentators say. Nothing is my own.”

[4] Nechama married her uncle

[5] Nechama was a professor who chose to go by the more humble title of “teacher”

[6] Nechama revolutionized modern Torah study by utilizing classic biblical commentaries along with secular analytical techniques, including biblical criticism, archeology, and history.

[7] Morah is the hebrew word for teacher. More energy? I tried…

[8] Nechama famously wrote a series of iyyunim/studies on the weekly Torah portion.

[9] Nechama’s Gilyonot were worksheets with questions and commentaries about Torah portions that she sent to thousands of students. She personally read and responded to each of the responses.

[10] One of Caro’s names is Maran, which means ‘master’ in Aramaic, but in this context, it just sounds like ‘moron.’

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