Jewish Trivia Quiz

from RASHI, RAMBAM and RAMALAMADINGDONG: A Quizbook of Jewish Trivia Facts & Fun by New Orleans native Mark Zimmerman

Trump Hotels

In a rare move, President Donald Trump backed down from one of his highly-criticized plans—to hold next year’s G-7 meeting at Trump National Doral, one of his many hotel/resorts world-wide. The plan was seen as a violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits government officials from receiving money and gifts from foreign governments. Trump has previously been denounced for maintaining his ownership and/or control over many golf resorts, hotels, and other facilities, all potentially a violation of that clause. The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC recently instituted a change to make that property more attractive to Jews. What was that change?

Trump International Hotel, Washington DC

WERK for Consent by Ted Eytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AThe hotel set up one of its elevators as a Shabbat elevator, which is programmed to stop at every floor, enabling religious Jews to ride up and down on the Sabbath without violating rules about the use of electricity.

BThe hotel added a kosher option to one of its restaurant menus, with prepackaged kosher meals being brought in from an area kosher caterering company, with entree prices ranging from $105-$125.

CThe hotel set aside a small meeting room in its convention center for use by Jews who wish to hold morning and evening minyan services. On Sunday morning, they also provide bagels and lox to those participating in the morning minyan.

DThe hotel replaced the Gideon Bibles in a number of their rooms with copies of the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash. The rooms with the Jewish bible have been designated with a Jewish star on the door.

E. In an effort to be welcoming to their Jewish guests, the hotel’s Benjamin Bar & Lounge added an item to their menu which is listed as “Kosher Snacks” with the description “please inquire, you get to open your own bag!”

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Sukkot and Camels

The Talmud references camels in discussions regarding the holiday of Sukkot. What did the rabbis say about camels and Sukkot?

Sukkah

A. The rabbis stated that it is acceptable to build a sukkah on a camel’s back.

B. In a discussion of sukkah-building rules, the rabbis considered the problem of building a sukkah in the dessert where there were few resources. They noted that a sukkah could be built using camels as the walls, so long as palm fronds, which were usually available in the desert, were spread from hump to hump, creating the necessary s’chach roof.

C. The rabbis indicated that it is acceptable to use camel hair as s’chach, the topping of the sukkah, so long as there is also at least one variety of tree branches used.

D. In discussing how large a sukkah should be, the rabbis noted that a sukkah should have seats for at least two people. It was further stated that a single-humped camel was not acceptable seating, but a two-humped camel counted as the required two seats.

EThe rabbis ruled that it was acceptable to smoke in a sukkah. However, they noted that it was not acceptable to smoke Camel cigarettes as camels are not a kosher animal.

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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, also known as Yom Hakippurim, means “Day of Atonement.” What is another explanation for the name Yom Kippur or Yom Hakippurim?

Smoked fish sampler

Smoked fish sampler by T.Tseng is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. The name Yom Hakippurim can be translated as “A Day Like Purim.” On both Yom Kippur and Purim, we strive to make the mundane holy. On Yom Kippur this is done by avoiding focus on physical pleasures (such as eating and bathing). On Purim we actually elevate our physical selves into a holy realm through noisemaking, costuming, and eating.

B. The root of kippur or kippurim is kaf/peh/resh, which is the Hebrew word “kafar,” meaning “cover.” One explanation is that we are asking God to cover his eyes to forget our sins.

C. The word kippur shares a root with the word “kapporos” (Ashkenazic pronunciation) or “kaparot” (Sephardic pronunciation). Kapporos means casting, and is the ceremony wherein Jews twirl a chicken over their heads to cast off their sins. This ancient ceremony predated the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem, and was incorporated into the Yom Kippur ritual, lending its name to the holiday.

D. The root of kippur or kippurim is kaf/peh/resh. As the peh and the feh are basically varieties of the same letter in Hebrew, this root is linguistically the same as the Hebrew word “k’far,” meaning village. Therefore, Yom Hakippurim actually means “the day of the villages,” referring to the fact that on this one day of the year residents of all the villages in the land gather together to pray to God for forgiveness of their sins.

EThe name Yom Hakippurim translates as Day of the Kippurs, the small oily herring fish which is traditionally eaten at the break-the-fast meal following the holiday.

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Shofar

Jews around the world will once again hear the sound of the shofar as Rosh Hashanah is celebrated this week. The shofar is typically made of a ram’s horn, but in Yemenite tradition the horn of a kudu is used. The shofar ceremony comprises two blessings followed by a series of blasts consisting of three different notes: tekiah–one long blast, shevarim–three broken sounds, and teruah–nine staccato notes. The total number of blasts is traditionally 100 for Ashkenazic Jews and 101 for Sephardim, with Yemenite Jews sounding 41 blasts. The shofar has also made appearances in popular movies, songs, and television programs, including which of the following?

10thStreetShofar (retouched) by Jonathunder is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

AThe 1983 movie Return of the Jedi and the 1979 film Alien.

B. Judith Shatin’s 1996 composition Elijah’s Chariot which was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and the 2013 album Shofar Rags by electronic musician Alvin Curran. 

CSteve “Gangsta Rabbi” Lieberman’s 2005 recording of Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport and punk band Yidcore’s 2007 song They Tried to Kill Us. They Failed. Let’s Eat!

D. Madonna’s 2005 song Isaac which featured a shofar blown by Yemenite singer Yitzhak Sinwani, and a commercial for the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards featuring rapper Macklemore blowing the shofar.

EThe 1963 movie Come Blow Your Horn and Carol King’s 1971 hit song Shofar Away.

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Ukrainian President Zelensky

The current president of Ukraine is Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the vote in April, 2019. He is now at the center of a controversy regarding a whistleblower complaint within the United States Intelligence service that purports to indicate that President Donald Trump improperly pressured Zelensky to assist him in his electoral campaign, particularly in trying to besmirch Joe Biden. Prior to his election as president, Zelensky, who is Jewish, was a comedian and actor who appeared in numerous movies and television shows. One of Zelensky’s roles was as the lead character in Servant of the People. What was the plot of Servant of the People?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

AThe TV show Servant of the People was a comedy created by Zelensky, based on the movie The Butler, by Lee Daniels. In the movie, Zelensky plays a butler, Fedir Tereshchenko, who worked in the Ukrainian president’s residence. Unlike Cecil Gaines, the title character in The Butler, Tereshchenko is a bumbling idiot who accidentally walks in on a secret sexual dalliance involving the president and a Russian spy. Despite efforts by the president to have Tereshchenko assassinated, the secret is exposed, Tereshchenko becomes a national hero, and is ultimately elected president following the resignation of the disgraced leader.

BThe television show Servant of the People was a comedy/political satire about a Ukrainian high school history teacher, Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko (played by Zelensky), whose rant about government corruption was filmed by a student. The video was uploaded to the internet where it went viral, eventually leading to Holoborodko being elected president of Ukraine.

C. Based on stories he had heard of ways that waitstaff in restaurants often prank rude diners, Zelensky began working as a waiter in restaurants in the Ukraine, and engaged other waitstaff in conversations about their actions, including spitting in food, “accidentally” tripping and spilling drinks on obnoxious diners, and other bad behavior. Zelensky secretly recorded those conversations, which formed the basis of a viral YouTube video, which he entitled Servant of the People.

DZelensky starred as a synagogue Shabbos goy in the movie Servant of the People. As the High Holidays approached, the congregation’s rabbi was suffering from panic attacks which were making it impossible for him to write his holiday sermons. Afraid to tell any congregants of his problem, the rabbi sat in his office in panic, until the Shabbos goy noticed his dispair and approached him. Though a simple man, the Shabbos goy’s gift was the ability to listen, and after many conversations over the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Shabbos goy not only served his people by turning on the lights, but ultimately by empowering the rabbi to complete his sermon.

EThe television series Servant of the People is about an American president, Ronald Drumpf, played by Zelensky, who is running for reelection. He reaches out to his Ukrainian counterpart for help in his campaign, promising huge financial support to Ukraine as long as the Ukrainian president provides dirt on Drumpf’s political opponent. The political intrigue was exposed when a U. S. intelligence officer filed a whistleblower complaint against the American president. The president denied the charges before admitting them while claiming that there was nothing improper about what he did. Drumpf’s spokesperson, Judy Ruliani, who was also involved in the nefarious plot, went on a national news show to speak about her role in the sordid affair. “I never ever ever ever ever spoke to the Ukrainians about President Drumpf’s opponent,” said Ruliani. “Really. Never. Not at all. No way. The only thing I did do was speak to the Ukrainians about President Drumpf’s opponent.” The series was canceled after only two episodes as the Ukrainian audience found it to be so absurdly unbelievable, even for a satirical comedy.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Today’s question comes from the just-released RASHI, RAMBAM and RAMALAMADINGDONG: A Quizbook of Jewish Trivia Facts & Fun Volume Dalet. There’s 99 more where this came from!

Tension between Israel and Iran is rising. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released photographs which he claims are proof that Iran had destroyed its own clandestine nuclear site rather than have it discovered. At the same time, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei has sent signals that he may be open to allowing a meeting between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, something that Netanyahu strongly opposes. On what list did Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, rank three spots higher than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei

Ayatollah_Ali_Khamenei_at_27th_anniversary_of_Ruhollah_Khomeini's_death_01 by Tasnim News Agency is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

AFortune magazine’s 2015 list of the richest world leaders.

BTime magazine’s candidates for Person of the Year 2016.

CForbes’ 2013 World’s Most Powerful People.

DHuffington Post’s 2017 list of most hated world leaders.

EPeople magazine’s 2018 Sexiest Semites.

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Vaping

There have long been questions about the potential health consequences from vaping, or using e-cigarettes. Recent reports of serious lung illness among teens who vape, and in particular reports of at least 5 related deaths, have led to increased debate about the wisdom of vaping. Rabbinic authorities are considering the issue from a halachic point of view. Is vaping an allowed or prohibited behavior according to Jewish law? Much of the discussion has focused on previous decisions regarding cigarette smoking, with most authorities stating that the issues are the same. And most agree that smoking is prohibited as a “safek sakana,” meaning that it is at the very least a possible danger. A more complicated issue is whether a cigarette smoker could switch to vaping as a step towards cessation of all smoking, and on this authorities are still quite divided. There is rabbinic precedent that allows substitution of a less serious halachic violation for a more serious violation, i.e., that vaping, while harmful and generally forbidden, would be acceptable when replacing cigarette smoking, which is more dangerous. Authorities in this debate point to what other example where rabbis might allow a less serious transgression of Jewish law in lieu of a more serious one?

Man vaping

Vaping_1449 by Nicholas King is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. Among Conservative rabbis discussing vaping, many reference the Conservative movement’s Law Committee decision in the 1950’s that it is acceptable to drive on Shabbat, but only to and from synagogue, as this minor violation is much preferred to the alternative for many, which would be to skip shul completely (which potentially would lead to other violations such as watching television).

BThe Jewish debate regarding the lesser crime of vaping vs. the greater crime of smoking has been informed by the concept of the Shabbos goy, the non-Jew who was hired to perform tasks for Jews on the Sabbath, such as lighting the fire in the synagogue for heat (before electricity), or more recently, turning on the lights and air-conditioning or heating systems. In fact, it is considered a violation of Jewish law to hire someone else to perform forbidden Sabbath tasks; however, most rabbis agreed that this was a lesser sin than a Jew performing those tasks, which might well happen if those attending synagogue found the conditions simply unbearable.

C. Orthodox rabbis debating the acceptability of vaping in lieu of smoking have referred to a bet din (rabbinical court) under the auspices of the Orthodox Aish HaTorah movement that ruled in the early 1980’s that it is acceptable to use hearing aids on the Sabbath and high holidays. This discussion had begun in regard to the shofar ceremony, where the blessing which is recited states, “Blessed are You… who commanded us to hear the voice of the shofar.” Based on this bracha, the bet din decided that the minor violation of turning battery-operated hearing aids on was the better choice than violating the commandment to hear the shofar, and this decision was extended to allow use of hearing aids on all holidays and the Shabbat.

D. The halachic question regarding substituting vaping for cigarettes has led some rabbis to reference the rules regarding hunting, which was always seen as a violation of Sabbath rules. However, in the 1800’s, rabbis in the Pale of Settlement in Russia ruled during times of great famine that in some cases hunting on the Sabbath was permissible. Specifically, they noted that when Jews were starving, they sometimes found themselves in the position of having to steal food to live and feed their families. The rabbis said that if the person were able to hunt on the Sabbath (an activity that is permissible on other days), this would be a better alternative to stealing food, an activity that is always a violation, as clearly delineated in the 8th commandment.

ERabbis discussing vaping noted that in the middle ages, many authorities argued that in order to prevent men from having affairs with a married woman, a major transgression, it would be acceptable to establish brothels staffed by single Jewish women, as sex with a single woman was a lesser sin.

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Rockland County

A video entitled “A Storm is Brewing in Rockland” was recently posted on Facebook and has generated a lot of discussion in Rockland County, New York and beyond. What is the video about?

Rockland County Route 17 road sign

Rockland County Route 17 - New York by Doug Kerr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AIt is a video made by the New City Jewish Center, a reform congregation, warning about the planned creation of an eruv, or religious boundary, around their town, which is the county seat of Rockland County. The eruv has been proposed by members of the Orthodox community, who want to make it easier for religious Jews to live in the area. The eruv, for example, will enable observant women to push baby strollers around the town on the Sabbath. But reform and other Jews fear that it will lead to a larger Orthodox community, followed by pressure on local businesses to close on Shabbat, as well as the establishment of new synagogues and yeshivas, taking current buildings off the tax rolls.

B. It is a video made by the Rockland County Democratic party, warning about the growth of the Chassidic community, evoking fear of “religious homophobia” and sexism that might lead to gender-segregated hours at the community pools, libraries, and parks as well as job discrimination against gays, and bans on gay bars. The video was taken down after being denounced by many as anti-Semitic, including Governor Mario Cuomo who said, “This type of attack and incitement against the Chassidic community is the very definition of discrimination and anti-Semitism.”

C. It is a film by the Anti-Defamation League’s New York office, detailing the growth of anti-Semitism in Rockland County. According to the ADL, the Proud Boys, an extreme right wing organization, recently established a chapter in Haverstraw in the conservative northern part of the county, at a time when there has been a record number of anti-Semitic acts committed in Rockland County.

D. It is a video made by the Rockland County Republican party, warning about the growth of the Chassidic community, evoking fear of “chaotic development” and redistricting that would be a threat to “our homes, our families, our schools, our communities, our water, our way of life.” The video was taken down after being denounced by many as anti-Semitic, including Governor Mario Cuomo who said, “There is no excuse for anti-Semitism masquerading as concerns over zoning or development.”

E. It is a video produced by the Vaad Hakashrus of Rockland County. The film focuses on the opening of a local Starbucks that has been advertising itself as a kosher establishment. Said Rabbi Gevalia Bar-Ista of the Vaad HaKashrus, “What’s brewing at this Starbucks is anything but kosher. They would not tell us who gave them kosher certification. When we asked their manager what makes the store kosher, he replied, ‘We have chai latte. Ain’t that enough?’ ”

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Gun Control

Following recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump indicated a willingness to consider a number of laws to reduce gun violence, including improved background checks and red-flag laws, although he has since backed away from that support. Many rabbis and other Jewish scholars have cited Jewish laws and traditions as arguments for or against gun ownership or use. Which of the following is one of those arguments?

Guns

Choose Your Gun by Michał is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

A. The Talmud states that “one may not raise a vicious dog in his house, and that one may not set up an unstable ladder in his house,” both of which would be dangerous. Some Jewish scholars maintain that the same restriction would apply to gun ownership, as that would be similarly dangerous.

BThe 13th-century Spanish commentator Nachmanides says that when Lemach (Adam’s great-great grandson) taught his son to smelt metal, his wives protested that this would enable the making of swords, which would be destructive. Some commentators cite this as a reason to forbid the making and owning of guns.

C. The 13th-century Spanish commentator Nachmanides says that when Lemach (Adam’s great-great grandson) taught his son to smelt metal, his wives protested that this would enable the making of swords, which would be destructive. However, Nachmanides went on to say that Lemach’s great grandfather Cain killed Abel without a sword. Some commentators cite this as a reason not to forbid the making and owning of guns—in other words, swords (and guns) don’t kill people, people do.

DMany gun advocates point to the Talmudic dictum from Abba ben Joseph bar Hama, known as Rava, that if someone comes to kill you, you should kill him first. They argue that this is a clear justification for owning and when necessary, using guns in self-defense.

E. Most Jews considered the use of guns to be acceptable within Judaism, until the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. The OK Corral was the kosher slaughterhouse operated by the OK Kosher Certification Organization. One day a dispute began as one group of rabbis claimed that an animal which was about to be slaughtered was a horse, while an opposing group of rabbis claimed that the animal was a mule. The argument quickly turned into a shouting match. “Horse.” “Mule.” “HORSE.” “MULE.” “HORSE.”  “MULE.” Suddenly, guns were drawn and rabbis began dancing in circles and firing indiscriminately into the air, until the head shochet, Rabbi Uzi ben Kalashnikov, intervened and restored calm to the OK Corral by saying “We must live in simple peace and harmony. Otherwise our lives would be as shaky as... as a firearm on the roof!”

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Greenland

Donald Trump has recently expressed interest in the possibility of the United States purchasing Greenland from Denmark (Note: It is NOT for sale). While it is not exactly clear why Trump is interested, it may be related to the natural resources on the island (iron, oil, gold, uranium and more), which are becoming more accessible as global warming has led to huge ice melts on Greenland. What is a Jewish connection to Greenland?

Greenland map

AThe idea of the United States purchasing Greenland was first proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with Jared Kushner. Bibi suggested that the United States peace proposal could then include a land swap with the Palestinians, wherein Israel would get permanent possession of the entire West Bank, and the Palestinians would move to Greenland. Said Netanyahu to Kushner, “Instead of having Palestinians across the Green Line, I propose having Palestinians across the Greenland.” Kushner expressed interest in the idea, even as his real estate company was coincidentally in the process of purchasing multiple apartment buildings in Greenland as an investment. President Trump was not available for comment as he was meeting with advisors helping him finalize plans for Trump Greenland, a golf resort that will offer colored balls that are easier to find in the snow.

BPeter Freuchen, a Danish Jew, was a medical school dropout who became a whaler and explorer (surely to the chagrin of his Jewish parents). During his travels, Freuchen lived with various Eskimo communities, where he learned more about hunting, fishing, and surviving in the difficult weather and terrain of Greenland. He also became fluent in various Eskimo languages, and as a result of his knowledge of the Eskimo peoples, he was appointed by the Danish government to be the resident governor of the Thule Colony on Greenland in 1913.

CJews had a long history of living in Denmark, having fled there after the Spanish Inquisition. In the early 1900’s, Theodor Herzl traveled to Denmark and met with representatives of the Jewish community and the Danish government, exploring the possibility of setting up a Jewish homeland in Greenland, a Danish territory. While the Danish government was open to the possibility of providing some land for the Jews, the plan was ultimately abandoned, as it was felt that the conditions were simply not hospitable and would not attract Jewish immigrants.

DGerman forces invaded Denmark in 1940, at which point the Danish government negotiated with the Nazis, leading to more leniency from the Nazis than occurred in other European countries. But in 1943, the Nazis established martial law, and the risk of pogroms and/or deportations of Jews became real. Many efforts were made by non-Jewish Danes to protect their Jewish neighbors, including the establishment of a clandestine plan to send Jews on fishing vessels to Greenland to hide. This was one of many ways in which a high percentage of Danish Jews survived the war.

EErik the Red, the Norse explorer, founded the first settlement on Greenland. Erik, who was Jewish (real name Arik Ha-Adom), raised his son Leif Erikson there (real name Lev ben Arik), and Leif went on to found and serve as first president of Greenland’s only synagogue, Congregation B’nai Norvay Oy Vey.

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