Jewish Trivia Quiz

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

Toilet Paper

One of the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic is a shortage of toilet paper, which is a result of people hoarding, as well as the fact that everyone is using their home bathrooms exclusively, rather than also using bathrooms at work, or at stores, restaurants, and other public facilities. A few years ago an Israeli company, the Gefen Team, worked with Lily, an Israeli toilet paper brand that is a division of Kimberly-Clark, to produce a product to aid in the use of toilet paper. What was this product?

Toilet Paper

"I'm just as shocked as you are! WHO could have done such a thing?!" by Lisa Zins is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AThey created  an internet connected toilet paper roll dispenser. The device keeps track of toilet paper use, enabling the user to generate usage reports, and also to automatically order replacement rolls of paper when needed. Users can communicate with the device using apps for iOS and Android systems.

BThey invented the Choose Your Own dispenser, a device which can hold up to three different rolls of toilet paper. This enables family members with different preferences to each use the toilet paper of his or her own choice–one ply or two, quilted, unbleached, gentle for sensitive skin, or others.

CToilet paper in Israel (as in many parts of the world other than the United States) is notorious for its roughness. Gefen, working with the Lily Company, developed a toilet paper dispenser that sprays a light layer of lanolin on the paper as it is dispensed, thus softening the paper and enhancing the comfort of the user. Lily determined that this was a less expensive and more environmentally friendly solution than changing production to the more expensive softer paper typically found in America.

D. They created a Shabbat toilet paper dispenser, which is internet-enabled, allowing it to keep track of the onset and end of Shabbat throughout the year. As a result, once Shabbat begins, the device will automatically tear and dispense the paper, enabling the Orthodox user to avoid the Sabbath prohibition against tearing. The device also keeps track of daylight savings time clock changeover, as well as Jewish holidays, and can be set to Israeli or Diaspora schedules, to accommodate the user’s practice regarding the second day of Chagim (holidays).

EIn response to a toilet paper shortage in Israel a few years ago because of a manufacturing plant fire at the Lily Company, they developed a toilet paper dispenser called TP-Yomi. The dispenser only provides one sheet of toilet paper per day, assuring that the toilet paper supply will last 7-1/2 years.

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Hey Jude

Fifty years ago (April 10, 1970), the Beatles officially split up. Their popularity, however, has not waned. At an online auction last week, an ashtray used by Ringo Starr at Abbey Road Studios sold for $32,500 and a drawing by John Lennon and Yoko Ono called Bagism sold for $93,750. The handwritten lyrics of the song Hey Jude sold for $910,000, nine times the pre-auction estimate. What was the Jewish connection to that song?

Hey Jude 45rpm record

Hey Jude/Revolution by Richard Bartlaga is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

APaul McCartney originally wrote the Hey Jude ending as “la la la, la la la la…”, using the “la la” sound that was typical in pop music at that time. But as he refined the song, he remembered the Chassidic chants, or niggunim, that he heard at the bar mitzvah of Brian Epstein’s nephew, which included the “na na na” syllables, so McCartney changed the sounds at the end of Hey Jude to "Na na na, na na na na.”

B. Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan founded the Voice of Peace radio station in 1973, which broadcast from outside Israeli territorial waters on a boat, the “Peace Ship.” Nathan had purchased the boat with financial help from John Lennon. Hey Jude was the very first song ever broadcast on Voice of Peace radio.

C. When the Beatles traveled to India to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Paul met Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who was also visiting the Maharashi’s ashram to explore Eastern spirituality. Paul learned from Reb Zalman about the group of Breslover Chassidim known as the “Na Nachs,” who found spiritual meaning in the phrase Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (referencing Rebbe Nachman). McCartney couldn’t pronounce the gutteral Hebrew letter Chet so he just said “Na Na Na Na, Hey Man” which he later incorporated into Hey Jude, singing “Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Jude.”

D. Paul McCartney wrote the song about Julian Lennon, John’s son, and the original title of the song was Hey Jules. But McCartney changed it to Hey Jude because he liked the sound more. When the Beatles put a sign reading Hey Jude in the window of their London Apple Boutique store, McCartney received an angry call from a Jewish man named Mr. Leon who said, “How dare you do this!” He and many Jews thought this was an offensive slur, based on the German translation of Jew as Jude.

E. Until the release of the song Hey Jude, cantors in Reform and Conservative synagogues had sung Adon Olam to the tune of every pop song ever written. However, no cantor has ever managed to successfully fit the words of Adon Olam into the Hey Jude melody.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted Jewish life in every area, but probably the most significant is in regard to acceptable religious practices. Synagogues and Jewish communities across the religious spectrum have struggled with questions of the acceptability of live-streamed or Zoom services, whether kaddish can be recited with a virtual minyan, or what limits to place on funeral attendance and tahara (ritual preparation of the body). Upcoming Passover seders present many unique challenges as well. Which of the following is an example of exceptions to normal practice being allowed by religious authorities during this upcoming Passover celebration?

Zoom Seder

AA group of Orthodox Sephardic rabbis in Israel have ruled that a videoconference with Zoom or other apps can be used for Passover seders, so long as computers are turned on and everything is set up prior to the beginning of the holiday.

B. The Vaad Ha-Rabonim of India, the assembly of Indian rabbis, has ruled that the use of roti, the traditional unleavened flatbread, is acceptable on the seder plate in those communities where matzah is not available due to production issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, if using roti, the rabbis require the addition of a portion of the Al Cheyt prayers traditionally recited on Yom Kippur (e.g., “We have sinned against You unwillingly and willingly” and “We have sinned against You in our eating and drinking.”)

C. Rabbi Menachem Posner, staff editor at, has noted that it is acceptable to open the door for Elijah only so long as your door does not face your neighbor’s door.

DPesach Sheni, or 2nd Passover, falls one month after Passover, and exists to benefit those who were not ritually clean at Passover time (such as those who had contact with corpses), because these people are not allowed to eat the Korban Pesach, the Passover sacrifice, when impure. Rabbis in many Chassidic communities, including in Bnei Brak, the suburb of Tel Aviv that has been devastated by coronavirus, have ruled that the virus is a form of ritual impurity; therefore, Passover in these communities can be delayed until Pesach Sheni, which this year falls on May 8.

E. The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in the United States ruled that video conferencing is acceptable for seders. While the Assembly would prefer that a non-Jew activate the technology, lacking that option, the Assembly prefers that Siri or Alexa take on the role of the “shabbos goy.”

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan just released a new 17-minute song titled Murder Most Foul, which is about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and more broadly about the music and culture of the 1960’s and beyond. Dylan, who has toured almost non-stop for years, recently canceled his current tour because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bob Dylan once offered a promotional blurb that was printed on the back cover of a book by a Jewish author: “Anyone who is either married or thinking of getting married would do well to read this book.” What book did Dylan promote in this way?

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan by Xavier Badosa is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AFear of Flying, by Erica Jong, the 1973 best-selling novel about a Jewish journalist who struggles to free herself from the shackles of traditional male relationships.

BDoesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore by Rabbi Manis Friedman, a 1990 book about the importance of modesty and intimacy in relationships, including the advice, “If you help yourself to the benefits of being married when you are single, you’re likely to help yourself to the benefits of being single when you’re married.”

CKosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, published in 1999 by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, wherein the noted rabbi and author discusses sex, love, trust, and intimacy in these modern times through the lens of Jewish wisdom and tradition.

D. Dr. Ruth’s 2009 book Top Ten Secrets for Great Sex: How to Enjoy it, Share it, and Love it Each and Every Time, in which the noted Holocaust survivor and sex therapist discusses such issues as kicking boredom out of the bedroom and knowing the Kama Ruthra.

E. Philip Roth’s 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, about “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,” and his relationship with his parents, girls, Israel, and liver.

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COVID-19 in Israel

The first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Israel came on February 21 when an Israeli woman returned from a cruise that took her to Japan. On March 19, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a national emergency, one day before the first Israeli coronavirus death. The pandemic has become one more complication in the effort to form a new government following Israel’s third election within the past 12 months. What group of Israelis were among the very last to learn of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on Israel and the world?

Coronavirus model

Coronavirus  by Yuri Samoilov is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AA group of 20 Israelis who had recently completed their service in the Israel Defense Forces left Israel in late January for a 6-week hiking and mountain climbing adventure in Huaraz, Peru. The trek covers terrain where there is no cell service, and the participants carry everything they need for the adventure, including tents, food, and other supplies. It was only upon their return to the base camp in early March that they learned of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the fact that they would not be able to fly back to Israel.

B. It was reported by Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that a small group of Mossad intelligence agents just returned from an eight-week training mission which left them completely incommunicado during the entire period of the spread of the coronavirus. The agents were dispatched to a secret location, believed to be a desert in Australia, where they practiced survival skills which they may need when operating undercover in enemy territories across the Middle East. They basically are left with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and must find ways to survive the harsh desert conditions, with their only connection to the outside world being one secure cell phone which they can only use in an emergency.

CMembers of a Chassidic sect known as the Boryslaviner Chassidim, who live in a small village near Tzfat. This group maintains no contact with the secular Israeli society–no computers, no cell phones, and not even any Israeli newspapers or magazines. They only learned of the virus when an employee of the Israeli Ministry of Health was dispatched last week to notify them of the situation.

D. Among the last Israelis to learn of the coronavirus pandemic are members of Israel’s Bedouin community. While the Bedouins have traditionally lived as nomads, living in tents and moving sporadically following their livestock, most of Israel’s Bedouin population now lives in the Negev city of Rahat and other smaller neighboring towns. But there are approximately 10,000 Bedouins who still have no permanent address, and maintain no electronic communication with the larger society. Israeli health officials are in the process of traveling throughout the areas where the Bedouin generally live to notify them of the situation, as there is concern that individuals who live in the towns may visit them and carry the virus with them.

E. Among the last Israelis to learn of the COVID-19 pandemic are participants in Israel’s Big Brother reality television program, which began filming in January before the pandemic had begun. The show’s contestants have been housed in a villa in a secret location in the hills of Jerusalem, having no contact with the outside world while living under constant surveillance for the television audience. One contestant who had left the villa noted that his seclusion is much worse now at home where he is restricted and cannot go out and drink beer.

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Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders continues his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, though he now faces an uphill battle against Joe Biden. Sanders recently released a video in which he states that he is “very proud to be Jewish” and that he looks forward to “becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.” Nevertheless, he has alienated many Jewish voters because of his criticisms of Israel, as well as his recent refusal to appear at the AIPAC conference, about which he tweeted, “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” What were the circumstances a number of years ago when Bernie Sanders said the following?–“All in all, it’s not so bad. When it’s good, it’s good. If it doesn’t feel right, just say no. There’s always tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow. It could be worse. Now, let’s just thank God you have your arms, you have your legs, let’s eat.”

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A. He said these words as he welcomed guests to the luncheon following his son Levi’s bar mitzvah in 1982.

BHe uttered these words at Brooklyn College in 1949, when he played the butcher Lazar Wolf in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. In the scene where Lazar Wolf summons Tevye to ask for Tzeitel’s hand in marriage, the characters start by making small talk, and Tevye asks Lazar how his butcher shop is doing. At one performance, Sanders forgot his lines, so he ad-libbed the above words.

CHe offered these remarks when he played the part of Rabbi Manny Shevitz in the 1999 movie My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Receptionas he addressed the guests at the reception.

DHe said these words on the Senate floor during a 2013 debate on the legalization of marijuana.

E. When Sanders was 12 years old, his Hebrew school teacher caught him talking during class. He brought Sanders up to the front of the class and said, “Alright, Mr. Sanders. Instead of just telling your friend what this week’s parsha is about, why don’t you tell the entire class.”

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual conference and festival held in Austin, Texas since 1987. The 10-day event includes a film festival, concerts, workshops, a trade show, speaker panels, and many other activities, attracting tens of thousands of people. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, SXSW organizers have decided to cancel this year’s event, which was scheduled to begin this week. In the past, there has been a large Jewish presence at SXSW, not only in the number of Jewish attendees, but in terms of the specific activities taking place. Films on Jewish themes, panels on topics of interest to Jews, and Shabbat activities are among the many programs with a Jewish theme. Which of the following was a 2018 Jewish-themed SXSW event?

South By Southwest (SXSW)

SXSW 2012: South by Southwest 2012 by shelbysdrummond is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

AA production of the play Bar Mitzvah Boy by Mark Leiren-Young, about a non-observant Jewish man in his sixties who suddenly decides to become a bar mitzvah and his interaction with a rabbi who is not sure about her own faith.

BA performance by the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars as part of their 25th anniversary tour.

CA presentation of the one-man show IN BETWEEN, written and performed by Ibrahim Miari. In the show, Miari, the son of a Palestinian Muslim father and an Israeli Jewish mother, tells of his unique upbringing in two worlds, his theater and dance studies, and his work with Israeli and Palestinian students in a Canadian “Peace camp” as he struggles to reconcile his dual identities.

DA dance performance by the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company called Venezuela, choreographed by Ohad Naharin. The piece consists of two 40-minute sections with choreography that is the same in both, but music style, lighting and cast which change.

EA screening of the documentary movie Death Metal Grandma about a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who became a death metal singer.

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Joe Biden

Joe Biden’s campaign for the Democratic party presidential nomination received a huge boost with his big win in the South Carolina primary. Biden has a long history of support for Israel. At the 2013 AIPAC conference, Joe Biden spoke of his love for Israel and described the moment years earlier when he first realized that Israel mattered to him. As a child in 1948, he sat at his dinner table listening to his father speak about the debate over the establishment of a Jewish state, and it greatly impacted him. How did he describe what his father told him?

Joe Biden ordering fast food

Sen. Joe Biden at Kewpee Burger by Beth Rankin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A“It was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough...the phrase, ‘Never again.’ It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”

B“It was at that table I first heard the phrase that says so much in only three words ‘Am Yisrael Chai,’ the people of Israel live, the nation of Israel lives. It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that the Jewish people, the people of Israel, would continue to live was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”

C“It was at that table I first heard the strange word ‘sabra,’ used to describe Israeli people, that they were like the prickly pear–tough on the outside but sweet and delicate on the inside. It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that these unique and special people, these sabras, could continue to thrive was through the establishment and existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”

D. “It was at that table I first heard the word ‘Hatikva,’ the beautiful anthem of the Jewish people, which meant ‘the Hope.’ It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that the hope of Israel to survive and thrive after the horror of the Holocaust was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”

E. “It was at that table I first heard the word that is used by so many Jews today, the word ‘Bamba,’ that incredible snack that was in a basket on the table. Now my father was talking about Israel, why there should be a Jewish state or something. But I don’t really know what the heck he was talking about because I was just focused on this amazing Israeli peanut butter-flavored crunchy snack. Now, as a politician, I’m used to eating just about anything. Corn dogs, deep-fried Oreos, bacon balls, and smoked raccoon. And being just a regular guy, I love it all. But it was at that table, when I first ate Bamba, that I learned that the only way to ensure that I could keep eating that heavenly food was with the establishment and existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”

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Quentin Tarantino

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and his Israeli wife (singer and model Daniella Pickjust welcomed their first child. The couple have a home in the affluent Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv Gimel, and Tarantino, who plans to learn Hebew, says that Israel is now his home. Tarantino recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay for the film Once Upon a Hollywood, and in his speech, he addressed his wife who was at home awaiting the birth of their child, saying, “todah, geveret,” meaning, “thank you, ma’am.” How did Tarantino and his wife spend Christmas/Chanukkah at their Israeli home this past December?

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AWatching the 1947 holiday classic comedy-drama Miracle on 34th Street. The movie tells of a Macys Santa Claus named Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn) who claims he really is Santa Claus, leading to a trial to prove his sanity and verify his claim, ultimately restoring faith to those around him.

BWatching the 1946 holiday classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, starring James Stewart, a suicidal George Bailey’s life is saved through the intervention of his guardian angel, ending with George surrounded by his loving family and singing Auld Lang Syne.

CWatching the 2000 animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The movie, based on the book by Dr. Seuss, stars Jim Carrey as the Grinch who decides to ruin Christmas for the residents of Whoville. However, his encounter with six-year-old Cindy Lou Who ultimately leads him to an epiphany and a renewed understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.

DWatching the 1997 animated version of A Christmas Carol, about a miserly businessman, Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Tim Curry). Scrooge is led on a journey by three ghosts looking at his past life, his present life, and his future life, leading him to self-redemption and a recognition of the joy of giving.

EWatching the 1994 holiday classic movie Pulp Fiction. The beloved family film revolves around hitmen Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) in a series of violent, bloody, horrifying stories of murder, rape, drug overdosing, accidental killings, and a Twist dance contest, bringing Christmas joy to all involved.

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Kirk Douglas, z”l

Kirk Douglas died recently at the age of 103. Douglas, whose real name was Issur Danielovitch, made his film debut in 1946, and went on to perform and star in dozens of movies, in addition to writing, directing, and producing. He was nominated for and received numerous awards, including Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, Kennedy Center Honors, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. After Douglas’s bar mitzvah, his synagogue offered to sponsor him to become a rabbi, but he declined, already knowing that he wanted to be an actor. Judaism was only a minimal part of his adult life until he was in a near-fatal helicopter crash, about which he later said “I came to believe that I was spared because I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish.” He did, however, make one reference to his religious observance during his acting career. What did he say?

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas by monstersforsale is in the public domain.

AReferring to the 1950 film Young Man With a Horn, in which Douglas played Rick Martin, a character based on jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Douglas said, “As a kid, I used to love hearing the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I tried it once, but couldn’t get out a single note. I thought that was hard, until I had to learn to play the cornet for this role.”

BIn the 1960 epic Spartacus, Douglas played a Roman Republic slave named Thracian. In the opening scene, Douglas refused to work in the mining pit, so he was sentenced to death by starvation. Said Douglas, “While I wasn’t an observant Jew, I did always fast on Yom Kippur, even though I never went to synagogue. So there I was on the set of Spartacus, being sentenced to death by starvation, and it was actually Yom Kippur, the day I wasn’t eating. It was just a crazy coincidence, but I never forgot that. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.”

CIn 1966, Douglas starred as Colonel Mickey Marcus in the film Cast a Giant Shadow. The plot is based on the real-life story of David “Mickey” Marcus, a Jewish officer in the United States military who was recruited to help the fledgling Israeli Defense Forces in the 1948 War of Independence. Douglas told of his experience filming in Israel on Yom Kippur. “The shoot went on that day. I didn’t mind, I never celebrated Jewish holidays, and neither did the other cast and crew, almost none of whom were Jewish. I went into the food tent on the set during a break and got a sandwich. I sat down next to an Israeli actor who I was shooting a scene with that day. He wasn’t eating, just reading. I offered him a bite but he said he was fasting. I didn't understand that. He was working, but he wasn’t eating. I always thought Judaism was all or none. That was the first time I thought about how I could find my own place in my Jewish observance, and the next year, I began fasting on Yom Kippur.”

DDouglas starred as Doc Holliday in the 1957 movie, Gunfight at the O. K. Corral. Douglas said of the role, filmed on location in the desert town of Tombstone, Arizona in September of 1956, “It wasn’t very comfortable. Especially on Yom Kippur. I worked on the holiday, but I still fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy riding horses in the hot Arizona sun on an empty stomach.” 

EReferencing his costar in the 1952 movie The Bad and the Beautiful, Douglas said about Yom Kippur, “I still worked on the movie sets, but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy making love to Lana Turner on an empty stomach.”

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