Friday, January 15th 2021   |

Jewish Trivia Quiz

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

Alex Trebek, RIP

Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy since 1984, died this week after an 18-month battle against pancreatic cancer. The winner of seven Emmy Awards, Trebek was also known as an activist and philanthropist, supporting causes including World Vision Canada and the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue at the University of Ottawa. One of the fun aspects of the Jeopardy program is that on many occasions, the categories are given clever names, often with puns. Which of the following is a real Jeopardy category that contained an answer and question of Jewish content?

Alex Trebek

Photo by Kyra Rehn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A. The answer “This friar who headed the Spanish Inquisition also persuaded Ferdinand & Isabella to expel the Jews” [Question: Who was Torquemada] appeared in the category EUROPE TO NO GOOD.

B. The answer “As the rest of the Jews entered the promised land, Moses died aged about 120 on this mount” [Question: What was  Mt. Nebo] appeared in the category EVERYTHING’S COMING UP MOSES.

C. The answer “In this author’s Night, Moshe the Beadle warns the Jews of Sighet about the looming holocaust, but they don’t listen” [Question: Who was Eli Wiesel] appeared in the category MEET THE BEADLES.

D. The answer “Joseph II freed the serfs & ended discrimination against Jews during his 18th century reign as this emperor” [Question: What was Holy Roman Emperor] appeared in the category SERFS UP.

EThe answer “For his role in Nazi Germany’s mass murder of the Jews, he was hanged in Israel May 31, 1962” [Question: Who was Adolf Eichmann], appeared in the category NAMES IN THE NOOSE.

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Joe Biden, Jr.

Speaking in 2013, Joe Biden said of the Jewish people, “You make up 11 percent of the seats in the United States Congress. You make up one-third of all Nobel laureates. So many notions that are embraced by this nation that particularly emanate from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, charity.” He concluded by saying what?

Joe Biden, Jr.

Joe Biden - Caricature by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A. “These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this tzedakah.”

B. “These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this mitzvah.”

C. “These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this chutzpah.”

D. “These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this yiddisher kop.”

E. “These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this kreplach.”

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Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and personal attorney to President Donald Trump, is in the news because of his controversial appearance in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”  In the film, Giuliani was being interviewed in a hotel room by Borat’s daughter, and at some point he put his hand in his pants (according to Giuliani he was tucking in his shirt). Rudy Giuliani once controversially said the following about someone who is Jewish: “I’m more of a Jew than [he/she] is.” Whom was he referring to?

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani - Caricature by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

AFormer Democratic New York mayor Ed Koch, when Rudy ran against him in the mayoral contest of 1989 (both men lost, with David Dinkins becoming mayor).

BInvestor and philanthropist George Soros, whom many on the right criticize because of his support for progressive causes.

C. Michael Bloomberg, who ran for mayor at the end of Rudy Giuliani’s two terms. Giuliani endorsed Bloomberg at the time, but the two men started feuding when Bloomberg began his short-lived campaign for the presidency against Donald Trump in 2019.

DBarbara Streisand, who spoke at the annual meeting of the Jewish Democratic Council of America in October, 2019, criticizing Giuliani for his involvement in the Trump Ukraine scandal

EJesus Christ, who supposedly retweeted Joe Biden’s comment about Rudy Giuliani, “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence – a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”

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New Zealand

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was reelected in a landslide victory last week. New Zealand voted in favor of the 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine and officially recognized Israel in 1950. The countries have numerous trade agreements covering products including fertilizers, milk and cream, circuit boards, medications, and more, and a visitor visa waiver program makes it easy for citizens of each to visit the other country. New Zealand and Israel also increased cooperation in one area which had to do with “Atomic Falafel.” What was that?


Falafel! by young shanahan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A. Atomic Falafel was the code name for a secret security operation between the Israeli Mossad and NZSIS, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service in the 1960’s. The details still remain secret, though it is believed to relate to Israel’s successful effort to develop nuclear weapons. As a result of this inter-agency cooperation, New Zealand and Israel signed a joint agreement to work on developing safe methods of producing nuclear power plants, as both countries were dependent upon oil imports for their energy production.

B. Kiwi Foods, a New Zealand food products distributor, wanted to import hummus and other Israeli products from the Israeli company, Sabra. However, Kiwi did not want to harm their relationship with companies in Saudi Arabia with whom they did business. Saudi Arabia was a leader in the efforts to boycott Sabra because of the Israeli company’s alleged ties to human rights violations in the West Bank. The New Zealand importer arranged to secretly bring in Sabra products which they rebranded under the label Atomic Falafel. Sales were so successful that the two countries signed a trade agreement to open up the New Zealand market to other Israeli food products, ignoring the boycott efforts, while removing tariffs on wool exported from New Zealand to Israel.

C. In 1950, Israel had petitioned to enter the World Soccer Cup competition, but the governing body of the games, FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, rejected Israel’s application under pressure from Arab nations. Israel was again rejected when the games were held in 1954. In 1956, a Jewish soccer player from New Zealand emigrated to Israel and began to play competitively. The player, Benjamin Nathan, had been given a nickname by his non-Jewish teammates in New Zealand, who called him the Atomic Falafel for the powerful way he kicked the ball. When Israel applied again in 1958 to enter the World Cup, the Atomic Falafel was a member of the Israeli team. Word reached his friends and coaches in New Zealand who were outraged that their former teammate would not be able to compete. New Zealand’s soccer governing body, New Zealand Football, began lobbying other national teams and built support for Israeli participation, which was then granted by FIFA. Israel did not win any games, though Nathan, the Atomic Falafel, did score three goals during competition. Following the World Cup Games, New Zealand Football and the Israel Football Association signed an agreement which included an annual competition that rotated between the two countries.

DAtomic Falafel was a 2015 movie made by an Israeli director in cooperation with a New Zealand production crew. The plot concerns Israeli and Iranian teens who connect on Facebook and manage to prevent a nuclear crisis between their two countries. As a result of the commercial success of the film, Israel and New Zealand signed a treaty providing funding for additional cooperation for film, animation, television, and other digitial communications industries.

EIsrael had developed a new spy technology, which was a falafel ball that contained a microscopic radioactive isotope. Anyone who ate this “Atomic Falafel” could be traced using sophisticated drone equipment like a flying Geiger counter. Israeli intelligence agencies learned of a plot to bomb the Israeli embassy in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. To prevent this, they set up a falafel stand in Wellington as a front. They planned to get a low level terrorist courier whom they had identified to eat an Atomic Falafel, and then they could trace his movements to locate the terrorists planning the attack. The courier did buy a falafel at the falafel stand; however, unbeknownst to Israel intelligence, as the man lifted the falafel to his mouth, the Atomic Falafel ball fell to the ground, and a Kiwi bird swooped down and ate it. Israeli intelligence forces spent days roaming the streets of Wellington, surprised at the amount of territory the man was able to cover very quickly. When they finally burst into an abandoned building where they thought they had cornered the man, they only found a kiwi bird in a nest. Luckily, New Zealand security had foiled the terrorist plot on their own, but the incident led to a security pact between Israel and New Zealand known as the Atomic Falafel/Nuclear Kiwi Mutual Defense Pact.

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Birkat Kohanim

On the Jewish festival holidays, and additionally in some communities on Shabbat, the Birkat Kohanim–the Priestly Blessing–is traditionally offered as part of the Musaf service, the additional service that follows the Torah reading. But on Simchat Torah, which we just celebrated, the Birkat Kohanim is traditionally offered during the earlier Shacharit service. What is the reason for the earlier recitation of the Birkat Kohanim on Simchat Torah?

Birkat kohanim Vorsetzblatt by Ephraim Moses Lilien is in the public domain

ASimchat Torah celebrates the point in the Torah reading cycle when we complete the book of Deuteronomy and begin reading Breishit again. This is a moment of great joy, as indicated by the congregational dancing with the Torah. In contrast, the Birkat Kohanim is one of the holiest and most serious moments in the Jewish liturgy. Therefore it was decided to perform that ceremony first, before changing the mood of the service to one of merriment, as we dance with the Torah scrolls.

BBefore the Priests ascend the altar to offer the Birkat Kohanim, they prepare for this holy moment by duchaning, a ceremonial cleansing. At this time the Leviim wash the hands of the Kohanim. The rabbis determined that on the day when the Torah scrolls are carried around the sanctuary (and in some congregations outside around the synagogue as well), that the cleansing ceremony should take place first, so that the Kohanim would be in the highest state of ritual purity before lifting the Torahs aloft.

C. The Birkat Kohanim is also known as Nesi’at Kapayim, the “lifting of the hands,” as the Priests raise their hands aloft with fingers spread in the traditional pose. But on Simchat Torah, we lift all of the Torah scrolls high as we dance in celebration. The rabbis decided that the raising of the Torah scrolls takes precedent over the raising of the Priests’ hands; therefore the Birkat Kohanim was moved earlier in the service, making the raising of the Torahs the focal point of the Simchat Torah celebration.

D. The tradition during the Priestly Blessing is for congregants not to look at the Kohanim. In contrast, during the reading of the beginning and end of the Torah we are commanded to open our eyes and ears (tir’eh v’tishma) to the word of God. Therefore, the rabbis decided to offer the Birkat Kohanim first, when we close our eyes, followed by the Torah reading, when we look up at the Torah and receive God’s laws.

EThe custom on Simchat Torah is for all participants to drink schnapps (alcohol) after receiving an aliyah to recite the Torah blessing. Because it would be improper for the Kohanim to perform the Birkat Kohanim while drunk, this ceremony takes place earlier in the service before the Priests start drinking.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z”l

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died earlier this month at the age of 87, following 27 years of service on the United States Supreme Court, where she was the first Jewish woman to serve. Throughout her career she was an advocate for women’s rights, as evidenced by her writing the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996) which struck down the male-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute. Her forceful and principaled opinions earned her the moniker Notorious RBG. What was the “Great Yom Kippur Controversy” that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was involved in?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

614px-Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg_2016_portrait by Camilo Schaser-Hughes is in the public domain

A. Ginsburg was a member of the Jewish Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority at Cornell University. While she was a student there, a number of the sorority sisters proposed that the sorority house kitchen be open on Yom Kippur, though it had always previously been closed for that holiday. But many of the members were not observant, and wanted to be able to eat in the house as they did every day. Ginsburg herself was not observant, but she led the opposition to the proposal. Local rabbis and communal leaders also weighed in on what became a heated debate. Ultimately, Ginsburg’s side won and the kitchen remained closed in what became known as the “Cornell Great Yom Kippur Controversy”.

B. In 1995, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments on a case on Yom Kippur. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was resistant to canceling the hearing and changing the date. Said Rehnquist, “We confer on Good Friday and nobody complains about that.” Justice Ginsburg nevertheless convinced him to change the hearing date, emphasizing the fact that some of the lawyers who had been preparing their case for many weeks would find themselves torn between their court and client obligation and their personal religious belief.

C. Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the East Flatbush neighborhood. Her family was not very observant, but they were members of the Conservative East Midwood Jewish Center. When Ruth was in 3rd grade, there was a proposal in the Brooklyn schools to close on Yom Kippur (prior to that schools had always been open on all of the Jewish holidays). The proposal was pushed by the Teachers Union, a fledgling organization founded in 1935, which Ruth’s mother, Celia, a teacher, served as president. In a major speech given by Celia Bader, she said that the proposal was not only to accommodate the Jewish teachers, but also for the children, such as her daughter Ruth, who should be allowed to be with their families on the holiest day of the year. This  “Great Yom Kippur Controversy” led to an adoption of Yom Kippur as an official school holiday, and Rosh Hashanah was added to the list five years later.

D. In August 1991, a Jewish member of the Navy Seals who was serving in the Middle East on missions related to Operation Desert Storm filed suit because his commanders said that he was not allowed to fast on Yom Kippur. He argued that his religious rights were being violated. The military command countered that the national security interest of not having a team member whose physical weakness from fasting might endanger the mission and the lives of other personnel overrode his individual rights. Because the case was timely and national security was involved, the case was quickly escalated to Judge Ginsburg, who was serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case became known as the “Great Yom Kippur Controversy”, and received national attention from Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the Orthodox Union, as well as military and veterans organizations. Judge Ginsburg ultimately ruled in favor of the military and the Jewish serviceman agreed to eat on Yom Kippur.

EIn 1987, when Judge Ginsburg was serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, she was also on the Board of Trustees of her Conservative synagogue, Adas Israel Congregation. The Law Committee of United Synagogue of America had approved egalitarianism as an option for member synagogues a few years earlier, and Adas Israel was now debating whether to allow equal participation by women in their ritual life. Judge Ginsburg opposed women’s participation, stating, “When it comes to the Torah, I am an originalist. Judaism clearly states that counting in a minyan, leading services, and other roles, are for men only. There can be no leeway, as the words and meaning of Torah and the Rabbis are clear.” There was a huge split in the congregation, and when the board voted by a narrow majority to maintain a non-egalitarian approach, board members who favored egalitarianism filed a lawsuit to force the leadership to allow equal rights for women. Judge Ginsburg represented the Board of Trustees in court, while the dissenting members hired a lawyer to represent them, Antonin Scalia, who argued in court that Torah is clearly a living document, one that should be interpreted according to its core principals, but consistent with modern life. A judge ruled in favor of attorney Scalia’s argument, and egalitarianism was implemented. Judge Ginsburg resigned from the board stating, “My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives. Sadly they accepted the argument of Mr. Scalia. He seems like a nice man, though. I suspect we would get along very well together.”

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Ray Frank

While women will serve as Rabbis and Cantors in synagogues across the country next week on Yom Kippur, it was 130 years ago, on the evening of Yom Kippur in 1890, that a Jewish woman became the first female in America to give a sermon from the pulpit. The woman, Ray Frank, was the great granddaughter of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon, the renowned Gaon of Vilna. She actually organized the service that night in Spokane, Washington, as that community did not have a synagogue. She preached such a compelling message to the thousand attendees (Jews and non-Jews) about the importance of the Jewish community coming together and creating a congregation that a non-Jewish audience member stood up and offered the donation of a site for the Jewish community to build a synagogue. Ray Frank went on to speak and to preach across America, including at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and at High Holiday services at an Orthodox synagogue in British Columbia. What nickname did Ray Frank acquire?

Ray Frank

ARebbitzin Ray.

BThe Spokane Spokes-Jewess.

CThe Girl Rabbi of the Golden West.

DMadame Rabbi Ray.

EThe excommunicated Ray Frank.

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One of the traditions on the first day of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, when Jews symbolically cast away their sins by tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water (though the ceremony can take place at any time during the High Holidays until Hoshana Rabah, the 7th day of Sukkot). The ceremony arose from a verse from the prophet Micah (7:19), which states, “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities, You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Last year, Hillel at Stanford University partnered with another student organization to celebrate Tashlich in a non-traditional way. What did they do?

Tashlich in Tel Aviv-1920

Tashlich in Tel Aviv 1920 by Shimon Korbman is in the public domain.

AHillel partnered with the Student Space Initiative to celebrate the tradition with Tashlich in Space. Jewish students wrote their sins on slips of paper which were placed, along with breadcrumbs, inside a rocket which the Student Space Initiative built and launched skyward. The program was promoted with the slogan “Reflect. Renew. Blastoff.”

BHillel partnered with the Stanford Muslim Student Association to celebrate the Tashlich tradition with Pita for Peace. Jewish and Muslim students met together and baked pita bread, while teaching each other about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah, the Islamic New Year. Then all of the students collected the crumbs from the baking project and tossed them into nearby San Francisco Bay.

CHillel partnered with the Mock Trial Club to celebrate the tradition with Mock-Atone. Jewish students described the sins which they wished to symbolically cast away, and members of the Mock Trial Club voted on whether to accept their contrition or not. The students whose sins were absolved then pushed the non-forgiven students into the university swimming pool as prayers were recited.

DHillel partnered with the Stanford chapter of Swipe Out Hunger, an organization that provides meals from student meal cards to homeless and hungry people in the local community. The program, Cast Out Your Sins–Hand Out Your Bread, enabled Jewish students to give away loaves of bread to those in need, rather than simply throwing away breadcrumbs. The program was promoted with the slogan “Feed Your Soul, Feed Your Neighbor.”

EHillel partnered with the Stanford Cannabis Alliance to celebrate Tashlich/Hashlich. The students spent the evening smoking pot and munching on Cheetos, Oreos, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Then they all picked up the munchy crumbs from their laps and tossed them around the room before falling asleep on the couch.

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Israeli Drone

A drone suddenly appeared over Rabin Square in Tel Aviv last week and dropped hundreds of small packets on the unsuspecting crowd of pedestrians below. What did the drone drop?

Rabin Square

Tel Aviv_Rabin sq_ 2 by Dana Friedlander for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A. A group called Green Grains dropped packets containing small organic round challahs. On their website they announced the stunt, saying “It’s time my dear friends. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Green Grains handing out socially distanced manna from heaven.” 

B. A group called Green Love dropped packets containing condoms. On their website they announced the stunt, saying “It’s time my dear sisters and brothers. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Green Love, handing out free love from the sky.” 

C. A group called No More Green Line dropped packets containing small Israeli and Palestinian Flags. On their website they announced the stunt, saying “It's time my dear Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s No More Green Line telling all of you below that it’s time for the separation wall to come down.”

D. A group called Greenpeace dropped packets containing etrog seeds. On their website they announced the stunt, saying “It’s time my dear Israeli friends. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Greenpeace, handing out etrog seeds, so that next year you don’t have to buy your etrog from industrial farmers who are destroying the land.” 

EA group called Green Drone dropped packets containing marijuana. On their website they announced the stunt, saying “It’s time my dear brothers. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Green Drone, handing out free cannabis from the sky.”

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Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving prime minister, announced his retirement as a result of deteriorating health. Japan recognized Israel in 1952, but for many years they did not have strong relations, as Japan was a major trading partner of the Arab League, which supplied oil to Japan. Over time, however, Japan and Israel have strengthened their ties, particularly since 2014 when the two countries increased their security, economic, and political cooperation following a visit to Japan by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2018, Prime Minister Abe and his wife visited Israel, and while the trip was considered to be successful, there was one diplomatic gaffe by the Israelis. What happened that upset Abe and his wife and the Japanese staff and diplomats?

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by Hudson Institute is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A. A dinner was held at the residence of Prime Minister Netanyahu in honor of the Japanese prime minister. At the beginning of the dessert, Prime Minister Abe raised his glass and offered the traditional Japanese toast, “Kanpai.” Prime Minister Netanyahu misunderstood his guest, however, thinking he said pecan pie, and he replied, “No, I'm sorry, we are serving apple pie.”

BA dinner was held at the residence of Prime Minister Netanyahu in honor of the Japanese prime minister. For dessert, the Israelis served chocolate pralines, that were placed on the table inside shiny leather shoes. However, the idea of a shoe on a table is highly offensive in Japanese culture, where shoes are not even worn inside homes, causing much distress among the Japanese dinner guests.

C. As part of a trade agreement signed between the two countries, Israel agreed to increase imports of cars from Japan. However, in the official document, the Israelis wrote “Nisan” (which is the spelling of the first month in the Jewish calendar) instead of “Nissan,” (which is the spelling of Japan’s second largest automobile manufacturer). Unfortuntately, however, the Israelis did not catch this spelling error in the document, and did not know that “Nisan” is a Japanese slang word for a sexual act.

D. A dinner was held at the residence of Prime Minister Netanyahu in honor of the Japanese prime minister. Placecards on the table noted the spot for each person to sit. The Japanese prime minister’s seat was designated by a card reading “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” when in fact, it should have read “Prime Minister Abe Shinzo,” as in Japanese culture the correct form is to state the persons surname first followed by his or her first name.

EA dinner was held at the residence of Prime Minister Netanyahu in honor of the Japanese prime minister. Among the guests was Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who addressed the Japanese prime minister incorrectly, saying his name as if it were spelled Abby (the proper pronunciation is A-Báy, accented on the second syllable). When he was corrected, Carlson said, “So I’m disrespecting him by mispronouncing him intentionally? So it begins. You’re not allowed to criticize Abby, or Abie, or Abu Dhabi, or whatever?”

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