Jewish Trivia Quiz

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

Adam Neumann & WeWork

Israeli Adam Neumann graduated from the Israeli Naval Academy and became a captain in the Israeli Navy before going to business school at Baruch College in New York. In 2010 he co-founded WeWork with his friend Miguel McKelvey, providing shared workspaces geared to startups, entrepreneurs, and small companies. WeWork (which at one point included the following slogan on their website: “We dedicate this to the energy of we – greater than any one of us but inside each of us.”) grew over the next nine years to employ more than 5000 people, and achieved a value of approximately $47 billion. The company began plans for an IPO in 2019, but public scrutiny of the company’s business model and Neumann’s leadership led to a huge drop in valuation (to approximately $12 billion) and a postponement of the IPO offering. Neumann stepped down as CEO in September. Neumann has always been a controversial figure. He claimed to have convinced Rahm Emanuel to run for president and says that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman improved the standing of Saudi women because of his intervention. He also stated that he aspired to be the Prime Minster of Israel, as well as the “president of the world.” Prior to starting WeWork, Neumann unsuccessfully pursued other business ideas, including the design of a line of women’s shoes with collapsible heels. Which of the following was another one of Neumann’s failed business concepts?

Adam Neumann

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 - Day 1 by TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. He created a baseball cap with a built-in solar panel that could be used to charge cell phones. The product was marketed with the line “Use your head on a sunny day.”

BHe created a company which sold baby clothes with knee pads, under the slogan “Just because they donʼt tell you, doesnʼt mean they donʼt hurt.”

C. He designed a golf ball with a built in GPS which would communicate with golfers via their cell phones, enabling them to locate where the ball landed, thus preventing them from losing their balls. The product slogan was “You'll never be teed off after you teed off.”

D. He designed an airbag to go on wheeled baby walkers, marketed with the tagline “You have ten in your car. Shouldn’t you have at least one for your baby?”

E. He designed a synagogue with individual phone booth sized rooms for each congregant to pray in, under the slogan “You love to daven. You just can’t stand the whiny sound of the Jew in back of you.”

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Halloween in Israel

Halloween is controversial in many segments of the Jewish community. Halloween originated as a pagan festival, and was later adapted by the Catholic Church as All Hallow’s Eve, preceding All Saints Day on November 1. Because of these roots, many Jews do not consider the holiday appropriate to celebrate; however, others view it simply in modern-day terms as an American fun neighborhood celebration with candy, costumes, and parties. Given that history, the holiday is largely unrecognized in Israel, though in recent years there have been some Halloween celebrations–not door-to-door trick-or-treating for children, but among young people who celebrate in nightclubs, bars, and community centers. Which of the following is a real event from Halloween 2019 in Israel?


A. Halloween Costume Party at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, advertising that “Everyone is dressed to kill or be killed so don’t miss it.”

B. Halloween week at Kuli Alma in Tel Aviv, promoted with the description “Why not squeeze the lemon until it’s a skeleton. Than we hang the skeleton and use it as decoration.”

C. Halloween Costume Party @ The Kerem House in Tel Aviv, a center which typically offers Shabbat meals, lectures, and open mics. According to their advertising for the event, “Halloween is a celebration where little kids dress up and get candy, teens dress up, get drunk, and go get candy, and adults dress up, get drunk, and give out candy, funny how things all work out.”

D. A spooky Halloween Party at the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. Ads say “Make sure you have a pretty cool costume on because there will be prizes waiting for you. DJ Brother of God will take care of the music.”

E. The Lubavitchers of Bat Yam threw their annual Chabadoween party, noting in the publicity that “Goldenberg Chews will be given out to all. Children can try bobbing for apples, though that is the forbidden fruit and biting it will lead all attendees to be expelled from the party. Awards for the best Yac-Ov’-Lantern.” At the party, there was a tie in the costume contest, with the 300 attendees sharing first place for their identical Rebbe costumes.

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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?


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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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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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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