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The Tikvah Essay Contest

Thank you for joining us for the Maimonides Scholars and Tikvah Scholars Program! By virtue of your participation in the Tikvah Scholars Program or our affiliate Maimonides Scholars Program, you’re entitled to compete in the Tikvah Essay Contest. You’ll have the chance to win prize money and be published. Here’s how it works: 

  • For each seminar, we have prepared a list of potential essay questions for you to answer. You are free to submit up to three essays, focusing on whichever question or questions you choose.
  • Essays are expected to be between 750 and 1000 words in length. 
  • Essays must be entirely your own work. Please do not consult parents, siblings, teachers, or friends. 
  • There will be a Gold Winner ($1000 Scholarship), a Silver Winner ($500 Scholarship), and a Bronze Winner ($250 Scholarship) awarded from this year’s Maimonides Scholars and Tikvah Scholars cohort (i.e., three winners for the entire combined program, both sessions).
  • Session One and Two essays are both due on August 31, 2020.

Winners will be announced on September 15, 2020, and winning essays will be posted on the Maimonides Scholars and Tikvah Scholars Program website.

Click Here to Submit Your Essay 

Essay Questions

Ideas Electives

Economics and the Human Good  

  • Adam Smith distinguishes between justice, which he calls “negative,” and beneficence, which is positive, and he argues that the government should protect and defend the former but that the latter should be left to private individuals, groups, and communities. Some critics, however, like Peter Singer, argue that the Smithian conception of justice is too ‘thin.’ Why does Smith argue for his ‘thin’ conception of justice, and is he right that the government should restrict its attention only to this conception of justice?
  • Hayek argues that a “rational economic order” cannot be planned centrally, but can be approximated only by decentralized economic decision-making responding to freely moving prices. Munger argues that prices should be allowed to move freely even after emergencies like hurricanes. Does allowing prices to move freely provide a better mechanism for allocating scarce resources than central planning would? Are there some areas where we should not allow market pricing? Is Kristol right that the “capitalism” that this implies is devoid of moral substance?  


The Magic of the Market: Literature and Economics  

  • We started the course with the quotation below from C. P. Snow. After four weeks of thinking about the relationship between economics and literature, how has your understanding of Snow’s argument changed and why?
    “The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies so far as that goes— ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity that has been where some of the break-throughs came. The chances are there now. But they are there, as it were, in a vacuum, because those in the two cultures can’t talks to each other.”  – CP Snow. “The Two Cultures” 
  • Identify a work of literature that you are familiar with, but that we did not read, that you believe illustrates one of the economic ideas we’ve discussed. Explain the concept and describe how it deepens your understanding of the work of literature.


Two Distinguished Americans: Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass

  • What lessons of life does Benjamin Franklin offer in his autobiography that apply to American lives today? What lessons of life does Frederick Douglass offer in his autobiography that apply to American lives today?
  • If Franklin and Douglass were to agree on a list of American virtues, what would that list contain, and how would its contents be taught or otherwise acquired?


Freedom without Freedom

  • What does it mean to be politically free? How do you define political freedom? What is its value?
  • What is the relationship between personal freedom and political freedom?


The Nature of Reason

  • Is moral certainty—the sort of certainty mediated by feeling and the body—real certainty, real knowledge, or do we call it certainty just out of convenience?
  • What is the proper role and function of scientific knowledge in society?


Tikvah Scholars Program

The Heroes of Zionism: Herzl and Jabotinsky  

  • There is a tension in Jabotinsky’s argument: he claims security is most important in assuring Israel’s continued existence, yet, on the other hand, he calls for territorial maximalism. Since Israel has attained a secure existence, the former has become a fait accompli. As such, what should its attitude be towards territorial expansion?
  • Herzl thought the creation of a Jewish state would end anti-Semitism, and Israel would therefore have normal enemies as any other state. Yet, we see anti-Semitism is alive and well in the 21st century. Herzl argued, though, that anti-Semitism can cause positive effects in helping unify Jews against a common threat. However, all Jews have a direct interest in trying to mitigate or overcome anti-Semitism and avoiding the atrocities that have punctuated Jewish history. Do you think anti-Semitism can be overcome? Would overcoming it negatively affect Jewish unity?


Jewish Bioethics 

  • What are “Jewish bioethics”?
  • In Session 2 of the Jewish Bioethics course, we saw that Daniel Eisenberg, Meir Soloveichik, and R. Aharon Lichtenstein each had different definitions of ethics/values and halakha/Jewish law.  We also saw how their definitions shaped their respective views on the relationship between ethics/values and halakha/Jewish law in responding to questions of bioethical importance.  Based on the readings and our discussion, what do you think is the relationship between Jewish law and values when deliberating on a question pertaining to Jewish medical ethics? Please define your terms in your response.
  • Throughout the course, we discussed how in ethics deliberation, one must think not only of the moral implications of the topic but also the intersecting moral challenges that are particular to the application of the ethical topic to the specific arena.  For example, in each of the following arenas, the questions change somewhat: 
    • Personal – What do I believe about an issue? 
    • Societal – What should I advocate for regarding that issue in the public square? 
    • Organizational – What should be the proper hospital policy, given all the stakeholders and the organization’s culture, with respect to that issue? 
    • Clinical – How do I relate to someone (a patient or member of the healthcare team) with similar or different values or beliefs regarding the issue in question?
    • When considering how to respond to bioethical questions, how does one’s answer remain consistent and/or change depending on the realm of application (i.e. personal, clinical, organizational, societal)? Please provide examples.


Varieties of American Conservatism

  • Drawing as you see fit from the various strands of conservatism we studied in class, how do you think American conservatism should define itself in 2020?
  • What are some of the distinctive features of conservatism as a philosophical and political approach, as opposed to classical liberalism and libertarianism? Why might a conservative, so understood, by wary of the “self-ownership” preached by a libertarian theorist such as John Hospers? Is “fusionism” a viable possibility in the long run?


American Democracy and Jewish Morality

  • Why does Rabbi Soloveitchik’s teaching on the sacrificial nature of marriage present an axiological and moral challenge to the progressive spirit in contemporary American culture?
  • In what ways does Rabbi Soloveitchik’s theory of covenantal marriage share common elements with Christian or American covenantal marriage? In what ways does it depart?


Varieties of Religious Zionism

  • From its inception, Religious Zionism struggled with how to maintain continuity with the Jewish tradition and yet participate in the Zionist project that was becoming increasingly secular in both vision and deed. Do you think it possible to reconcile these two commitments, and if so, what would you say are the “non-negotiables,” and where might there be flexibility? In your response, make sure to reflect on how you are defining religious Judaism and Zionism.
  • At first blush, ideologies of history are inherently falsifiable, as the passage of time and the unfolding of events will either corroborate or refute their analyses of history. Nevertheless, many such ideologies persist, almost regardless of what’s going on in reality. Why might this be so? Are secular and religious ideologies of history equal in this regard, or different? Why or why not? Lastly, must Judaism, as opposed to other religious traditions, articulate an ideology of history to be authentic? Why or why not?

Maimonides Scholars Program

Creation, Peoplehood, and Redemption  

  • What does the Tower of Babel narrative teach modern man about the challenges and opportunities of globalism, living in a cosmopolitan city, and the political uses of language? Pick any one of these themes to focus on or tackle the issues in a more integrated, holistic fashion.
  • What is the connection between prophecy and politics? How do the messages of prophecy and the way they are presented affect national and communal political choices?
  • Consider the biblical concept of humanity created in the divine image. What are the implications of this idea beyond “everyone is special”? What complications does it raise as we consider the best ways to govern, or other aspects of dealing with human differences?


Heroes of Zionism: Herzl and Jabotinsky  

  • Among the oppositions in Zionist thought, the most enduring is probably diaspora versus Israel (state, society, geographic location). What role—if any—do diaspora Jews have in the Zionist project in history and today? What suggestions would you make to strengthen the relationship?


American Jews and the Religious Liberty Project: From Polygamy and Peyote to Contraception and COVID   

  • How should Jewish values or Jewish identity inform religious liberty advocacy?
  • In a religious pluralistic society, how should we balance social values that clash with religious liberty?
  • What does justice require with respect to legal exemptions for religious minorities?


Heroes of Zionism: Menachem Begin 

  • We are witness today in particular that leadership—whether of countries, social movements, even institutions—is critical in determining the future of those countries or movements. As you think about Israel, its history, its purpose and its needs, do you think that Israeli leadership ought to be different than the national leadership of other movements? What should its characteristics be?
  • The United States is today awash in vitriol about former leadership who were far from perfect. None of Israel’s leaders were perfect, and some of its greatest leaders were either deeply flawed or made very controversial decisions. How do you believe leaders ought to be thought about, given the gift of hindsight?  


Zionism and Political Philosophy 

  • What made Zionism a revolutionary idea in the 19th century?
  • In what ways is Zionism relevant in the 21st century?
  • How has Zionism addressed the issues of antisemitism and assimilation?
  • Why is it important to understand the cacophony of Zionisms? 


Jewish Law and its Discontents  

  • In halakhic decision-making, what is the right relationship between Divine Command and human welfare?  
  • Explain how various Jewish responses to ethical problems presented by the commandment to commit genocide in Deut. 25:17-19 present methods for interpreting Biblical “mitzvot” in general.
  • Analyze the perspective/motivations of one or two of the characters in the story of the “Tanur shel Ahnai” (TB, Bava Metzia 59a-59b) as a jumping off point to discuss tensions with which Judaism contends as it relates to rabbinic authority and communal norms. 


Technology and Freedom

  • Discuss one way in which you think technology has expanded the realm of human freedom, and one way in which you think it has narrowed it. Which do you think is most consequential for the shape of the human condition?
  • Is modern technology inherently tragic?


Justice, Ethics, Theology

  • How does divine justice manifest in the Hebrew Bible? How does it differ from a simple reward-and-punishment model?
  • What complications to divine justice are created by the parameters of the divine covenant, or by human free will?


Genesis: A Family Drama

  • The Book of Genesis turns from a universal beginning to God’s choice of Abraham to become the father of a particular people who will be a “light unto the nations,” leading to an elaborate narrative about this family, extended over four generations. Why should the opening book of the Bible be devoted to that narrative and the family dynamic it portrays?
  • The recurring theme in the family drama of Genesis, first introduced with Cain’s killing of his brother, is the rivalry of brothers or sisters. Why should the Hebrew Bible present this as the central problem of the family dynamic?