Jewish Trivia Quiz

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

Passover and Pets

As Jews worldwide prepare for Passover, which begins this Friday night, many people are wondering what they are allowed to feed their pets during the holiday. Which of the following are real rules?

Clementine dresses for the seder

Clementine Dresses for the Seder by Meryl Zimmerman Music is used with permission of the owner.

A. According to the website’s Ask the Rabbi feature, pets should not be fed food with chametz in it, because it is forbidden to derive any benefit from chametz during Passover, and if your pet eats chametz, you are indirectly receiving a benefit. However, the Aish rabbi says that pets can eat kitniyot, or legumes, regardless of whether or not the pet owner eats kitniyot (traditionally only Sephardic Jews eat kitniyot during Passover).

BAccording to Rabbi Yehuda Epshtein of the Orthodox Union, it is acceptable to include your pet on the list of items which you sell as chametz to a non-Jew, directly or through your rabbi or other religious authority. In that way, the pet is not considered to be yours, and you can then feed the pet chametz during Passover, as you are no longer benefiting from the non-Passover food.

CAccording to Rabbi Zvi Goldberg of Star-K, the kosher food certification organization, it is okay to feed non-kosher food to animals during Passover because one is allowed to derive benefit from non-kosher food. However, Rabbi Goldberg says that pets cannot be fed food which mixes meat and milk products.

DAccording to Rabbi Avi Weissman of Yeshivat Magen Torah in Brooklyn, it is only acceptable to feed your pets kosher for Passover food. However, Rabbi Weissman says that you cannot feed matzah to your pets. This is because matzah is viewed as the bread of freedom–the bread which the Israelites ate when they escaped from Egyptian slavery and crossed the desert. Because pets are not free, but are subservient to their owners, Rabbi Weissman says that it is not acceptable to feed matzah to your pets.

ERabbi Zakkai Zalmon Veisfisch of Temple Betta Al-Bakor in Pikesville, Maryland says that it is not acceptable to feed food flakes to aquarium fish during Passover, as these items are chametz. When asked what one should do with their aquarium fish since it would be wrong to not feed them for a week, Rabbi Veisfisch stated that he is happy to share his recipe for guppy-filte fish.

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Israeli Elections

Israel is holding parliamentary elections this Tuesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu running neck and neck with Benny Gantz, of the Blue and White Party. Whoever wins will have the challenge of putting together a coalition government in a country whose electoral system makes it very easy for small parties to gain representation in the Knesset. More than 40 political parties are competing in this week’s election, and in fact, more than 100 different political parties have been represented in the Knesset at some point in Israel’s history. This system has led to the establishment of many unusual political parties over the years. Which of the following was a real Israeli political party?

Knesset building

19172-Jerusalem by xiquinhosilva is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AHaMiflaga LeMilhama BeBankim, (The Party for the War Against Banks), which in 2006 advocated for laws making it easier for citizens to sue banks.

B. Nitzole HaSo’a’a Im Bogre Ale Yarok, (Holocaust Survivors with Green Leaf Veterans), a combined 2009 list of marijuana advocates and Holocaust survivors who want larger pensions. Their 2300 votes fell far short of the number needed to enter the Knesset.

CThe Lehem, or Bread, party (Lohame Hevra Me’uhadim), submitted a list in the 2006 elections, campaigning to represent the needy and homeless. They received fewer than 1500 votes.

DYibane, (Build It), a 2009 combined list of ultra-Orthodox Jews who advocated for the building of a third Temple in Jerusalem and a Sheldon Adelson-backed group who pushed for the building of a floating casino in the Dead Sea that would be accessible by boat both from Israel and Jordan.

E. Zehuyot HaGever BaMishpaha - Ra’ash, (Man Rights in the Family), advocated for equality for men in divorce proceedings in 2006. They did not attain any seats in the Knesset. 

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Cory Booker

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is running for president. At a CNN Town Hall meeting last week, he spoke of the importance of his Christian upbringing, but he then went on to say, “Can I quote some Hebrew to you? I studied the Torah, too. There’s a song sung during the High Holidays: ‘Ki veiti beit t’fila yikareh l’chol ha’amim’ — ‘May my house be a house of prayer for many nations’.” Booker has long had connections to the Jewish community. In the early 1990’s, while he was studying at Oxford, he went to a Chabad Purim celebration where he danced around the room with the other participants. What did Booker carry on his back during that dance?

Senator Cory Booker

190204-Z-AL508-1207 by New Jersey National Guard is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

AA Megillah scroll.

BHe carried a large map of the Jersey Turnpike, and on his head he wore an EZ Pass device.

C. The rabbi’s daughter, dressed as Queen Esther.

DA Four Seasons record album, as he was dressed as a Jersey Boy.

ERabbi Shmuley Boteach.

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Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy, recently announced that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. At the time, he noted that he welcomed the prayers of his viewers, which led Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, a former Jeopardy contestant, to organize a digital interfaith prayer service for Trebek. The participants were all former Jeopardy contestants who are members of the clergy. When Rabbi Mitelman was a Jeopardy contestant, what happened when he missed the final Jeopardy question?

Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek by Peabody Awards/Anders Krusberg is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. The category was “The French Revolution,” and the clue read: “The last prisoner moved before the Bastille was stormed, this nobleman left behind the manuscript for his most infamous work.” Mitelman did not get the answer, which was “The Marquis de Sade.” Another contestant said “I’m pretty happy the rabbi didn’t know about sadism!”

B. The category was “Animal Adversaries Speak” and the clue read: “I initiated a hostile takeover because Snowball had no business sense & would have bankrupted the Homestead.” Mitelman did not get the answer, which was “Napoleon the pig speaking.” Another contestant said “I’m pretty happy the rabbi didn’t know about the pigs!”

C. The category was “Pick a Pope,” and the clue read: “Was guilty of excommunicating the heretic Pelagius.” Mitelman did not get the answer, which was “Pope Innocent.” Another contestant said “I’m pretty happy the rabbi didn’t know about the popes!”

D. The category was “Historic Nicknames,” and the clue read: “Learning her craft from Tessie the Tassel-Twirler, this burlesque artist was ‘The Best Undressed Woman in America’.” Mitelman did not get the answer, which was “Gypsy Rose Lee.” Another contestant said “I’m pretty happy the rabbi didn’t know about the strippers!”

E. The category was “Alliterative Commentators” and the clue read: “These commentators cover the gamut of topics from Aggadah to Zohar.” The answer was “Rashi, Rambam, and Rashbam,” but Rabbi Gitelman incorrectly answered “Rashi, Rambam and Ramalamadingdong.” Another contestant said, “I’m pretty happy the rabbi guessed that. I’ve been wanting to ask this question for a long time. So Rabbi, can you tell me, who put the ram in the Ramalamadingdong?”

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College Admissions Scandal

Last week saw the indictment of celebrities, financiers, coaching and admissions personnel, entrance exam administrators, and others, all of whom participated in a college admissions cheating and bribery scandal led by William “Rick” Singer. This is by no means the first time that college admissions has been shown to have a dark side, including a long history of quotas and other procedures meant to limit admission of Jews and other minorities. In fact, the addition of interviews, letters of recommendation, and a focus on qualities other than high school academic performance (including extra-curricular activities, particularly participation in sports) goes back 100 years, as part of an effort to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard and other prestigious institutions. In 1922, Harvard University added a question to be asked of applicants which was clearly intended to help identify Jewish students: “What change, if any, has been made since birth in your own name or that of your father? (Explain fully).” Which of the following are also real examples of stories from a century ago regarding efforts to limit Jewish acceptance to Ivy League schools?

Yale Logo: Urim v'Thummim, Lux Et Veritas (Light and Truth)

Yale 1 by SubtlePanda is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. Francis Parsons, who was a fellow of the Yale Corporation, noticed a large number of Jewish names listed among the Yale  freshman class of 1929, leading him to write the following to the chair of admissions at the university: “This list reads like some of the ‘Begat’ portions of the Old Testament.”

B. In 1927, a Yale alumnus wrote a letter complaining that his donations to the school were being used to educate “Yids.” The school’s associate treasurer responded saying, “It will interest you to know that we are making every effort to remedy the condition.’’

C. In 1922, Harvard’s president, A. Lawrence Lowell, proposed a quota to lower the number of Jews gaining admission to the university. Lowell argued that this would benefit the Jews at Harvard because “The anti-Semitic feeling among the students is increasing, and it grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews.”

D. There is a folder from the early 1920’s in Yale University’s archive labeled “Jewish Problem.” Among the documents in the folder is a memo from the university’s admissions chairman urging a limit on the acceptance of “the alien and unwashed element.’’

EIn 1922, the Yale Board of Trustees voted in secret to enact a quota on Jewish students, and then discussed ways to ensure that this would not become public information. As part of their coverup, they decided to take actions which would imply that Yale was friendly to Jews despite the reality. These included adding the Hebrew words “Urim v’Thummim,” meaning “Light and Truth” to the official Yale logo, as well as giving their students the nickname “Elis,” claiming that this was a way to give honor to the people of Elijah the Prophet. In a further effort to create a positive association between Yale and the Jewish community, the university purchased the Yale Lock Company and renamed it Yale Lox.

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Green Book

The Academy Award for Best Movie went to Green Book, a film about black musician Don Shirley, who toured through the Jim Crow South in the 1940’s, and his relationship with his bodyguard/driver, a white Italian from New York named Tony Vallelonga. The movie title refers to an annual series of guidebooks called The Negro Motorist Green-Book, published from 1936-1966, providing information to black travelers as to where they could safely find meals, lodging, and other support during an era when there was much legal and de facto segregation and discrimination. What is the Jewish connection to the actual Green Book?

Cover of The Negro Motorist Green-Book, 1940 edition

The_Negro_Motorist_Green_Book Wikipedia article on The Negro Motorist Green-Book, 1936-1966 by jalexartis Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AWhile the Green Book was eventually supported by ad sales from many of the businesses listed in the book, initially the Green Book was funded largely by the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropy established by Julius Rosenwald, one of the owners of Sears-Roebuck, and a supporter of many black causes, including thousands of Rosenwald schools which he created to provide education to poor and rural black children.

BThe Green Book was created by Pastor Victor Hugo Green from the Upper Harlem AME Zion Church. He was inspired by his reading of the Old Testament. “I learned that as the Israelites fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they found themselves wandering through the desert for 40 years. They were surrounded by enemies–Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Jebusites, and so many others. And how did they know which way to turn to avoid destruction and find the Promised Land? Because God told them where they could travel safely across the desert. In effect, he gave them The Jewish Desert Wanderers Blue and White Book, and that inspired me to create The Negro Motorist Green Book to help keep my people safe in their travels.”

CThe Green Book was created by a New York mailman named Victor Hugo Green, who contacted other black mailmen around the country for input. He was inspired to create the guidebook after learning from a Jewish friend about guidebooks geared to Jews travelling in the Catskills. These books helped Jewish travelers locate kosher meals or find other businesses that were friendly to Jews at a time when there was much anti-Semitic discrimination.

DThe Green Book was started by Victor Hugo Green, a black man in Harlem who worked at a local Orthodox synagogue as the Shabbos goy, turning on lights and the heating system on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. He mentioned his idea to the rabbi, who connected him to other synagogues where he corresponded with their Shabbos Goys, sharing information about “black-friendly” businesses in their area that would be included in the guide.

EThe Green Book was written by Victor Hugo Green, a black man who worked as a dish washer at Ratner’s, the famous kosher dairy restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side. Green learned from Jewish waiters of a book called the Levine Book, written by a local matchmaker named Yente Levine. The Levine Book was described as a guide for Jewish parents who were looking to find nice Jewish boys for their daughters. The book guaranteed to help Jewish parents know where to go in New York City to find a Chasan (a groom), without fear of coming upon goyim who might not be welcoming. Said Green in an interview years later, “Our people didn’t need help finding spouses, but we did need helping knowing where to shop, dine and travel, without fear of being unwelcomed. That’s how I got the idea for my Green Book.”

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Netanyahu and Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received much negative press in the last few weeks. First, he made a deal with the Otzma Yehudit party, the successor to Rabbi Meir Kahane’s racist Kach party, leading to criticism from many in Israel, as well as American organizations including AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee. Then, Israeli Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit announced that Netanyahu will be indicted for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. This comes at the same time that President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified before Congress, calling Trump a racist, a conman, and a cheat, and noting that the Southern District of New York is investigating Trump for unnamed illegal acts. It is also expected that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report will be issued soon, possibly presenting other charges against Trump. Last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of President Trump and his support of Israel, referencing what famous king?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump

A. When President Trump announced that he would be moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he said, “Today we finally acknowledge the obvious–that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The President is a wise man, a modern-day King Solomon. You know, King Solomon is famous for suggesting that a baby be split in half, so that each of the two women claiming to be the mother could receive half of what they claimed belonged to them. President Trump understands as King Solomon did, that just like that baby, Jerusalem must not be divided, and can only really belong to one people, and that is the Jewish people.”

B. After Trump declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and announced his plans to scrap the Iranian nuclear deal, Netanyahu spoke of Trump’s deeds, noting, “I want to tell you that the Jewish people have a long memory, so we remember the proclamation of the great king, Cyrus the Great, the Persian king 2,500 years ago. He proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon could come back and rebuild our Temple in Jerusalem.” He then said that similarly, “we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people through the ages.”

C. On May 14, 2018, the United States Embassy in Jerusalem was opened. As part of his remarks at the ceremony, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem places him with other great leaders in history who demonstrated that they stood side by side with the Jewish people. Great leaders who understood that history and justice are with us. People like King Christian, of Denmark, who wore a Jewish star to stand with our people during the dark days of the Holocaust.”

D. While President Trump did not attend the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem last May, he did address the event via a videotaped message where he said, “Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government, the home of the Israeli legislature and the Israeli Supreme Court and Israel’s prime minister and president. For many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious ... the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.” Following those remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the President, and addressed Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who was in attendance. “Your father is a great man,” he said. “Around 3000 years ago, David became King of Israel, and he named Jerusalem the capital. Now your father echoes the great deed of David Melech Yisrael, by again recognizing that Jerusalem is our capital, for now and forever.”

E. Speaking at the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “I particularly want to thank President Donald Trump. He and I are so much alike. We both love Israel. We both have Jewish grandchildren. And we both have similar futures ahead of us. In fact, the great King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, could have been speaking about Donald and me when he sang ‘Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock. Everybody in the whole cell block. We’ll be dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock’.”

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Israeli Moon Flight

Israel just became the fourth country to send a spacecraft toward a moon landing, a feat previously accomplished only by the United States, Russia and China. In addition to scientific equipment, the craft, named Beresheet, also contains a digital time capsule that includes drawings of the moon and space by Israeli children, a photo of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon (who tragically died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster), a copy of the Tefilat HaDerech prayer which is traditionally said before a journey, and the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Normally, a journey to the moon takes 3-4 days, but Beresheet’s journey will take weeks. Why?

SPACEIL model as was presented in the 66th IAC in Jerusalem

SPACEIL model as was presented in the 66th IAC in Jerusalem is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

A. The launch of the spacecraft from Cape Canaveral took place on Thursday. Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, ruled that the flight could not continue over Shabbat, and as a result, the Israeli engineers had to program a pause in the flight at the beginning of sundown on Friday. However, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that because the rocket ship was beyond earth’s atmosphere, its flight was covered by the calendar on the moon. A lunar day lasts over 29 earth days, so therefore the craft cannot reengage its engines and complete its mission until the end of March.

BThe length of the journey is connected to the size and weight of the craft. Basically the larger the craft, the faster it will travel through space. Most of the spacecrafts previously sent to the moon were quite large. The Apollo lunar modules, for example, were approximately 23 feet in height and weighed in the range of 10,000 pounds, whereas the Beresheet craft is barely the size of a washing machine and weighs just over 1000 pounds. As a result, it travels slower and will not achieve touchdown on the lunar surface until around April 3.

CThe Beresheet was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with an Indonesian communications satellite and an experimental satellite built by the United States Air Force. Because of this, the Israeli craft must take an indirect route in order that the two other payloads can be placed in their proper orbits. Therefore, instead of a straight path to the moon, Beresheet will circle the earth for weeks in ever-widening paths, until the proper time for it to change directions and head to the moon with a scheduled April 11 landing.

D. The length of a trip to the moon is dependent upon the time when the craft is launched, in relation to the position of the moon. Normally, the optimal launch date is chosen so that the craft will reach the proper rendezvous point with the moon, a difficult confluence to achieve. However, because Israel only built the landing craft, not the launching rocket, they were prevented from launching on the ideal date, which would have been April 3. Therefore, the craft has been programmed to circle the moon for about 6 weeks until the moon and craft are in proper alignment, at which point the Beresheet will launch its rockets and descend to the moon’s surface around April 7.

E. In order for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to get approval from the Knesset for the funding of the Beresheet project, he had to convince all of the coalition partners to go along with this significant outlay of shekels. The head of the government’s Finance Committee is Moshe Gafni, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. To get Gafni to sign on to this funding, Netanyahu had to give in to his demand that the journey take 40 days and 40 nights, mimicking the Exodus from Egypt.

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There are more than 150 confirmed cases of measles within New York’s Orthodox communities. It is believed that these outbreaks began with an unvaccinated child who traveled to Israel and caught the measles there. Most Jewish religious authorities have urged their followers to get vaccinations. The Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) issued a statement urging “all parents to vaccinate their healthy children on the timetable recommended by their pediatrician.” The Chabad website states “Guarding your own health doesn’t only make sense, it’s actually a mitzvah.” Yet there are some ultra-Orthodox rabbis who disagree. Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, dean of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, has stated, “I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk [polio] vaccine is a hoax. It’s just big business.” He also made another argument against vaccinations. What else did he say?


FluShot by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. Rabbi Kamenetzky said that vaccines are not necessary because it is God who decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

B. “I am not against preventing diseases among our beloved children,” said Rabbi Kamenetzky. “But the vaccines were all created from gelatin which is derived from pigs. Pigs are treif, so the vaccines are treif. Even if the vaccines would work, it would be a chillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) to expose our children to this unkosher medicine.”

CRabbi Kamenetzky said that even if vaccinations can prevent measles, they are more likely to cause autism.

DSaid Rabbi Kamenetzky, “I am not saying that no one should get vaccinated. But I am saying that the government should not be telling us what we must do. The government is already telling us we cannot perform a bris by metzitzah b’peh (a practice where oral suction is part of the circumcision procedure). In some countries in Europe they are telling us we cannot wear a yarmulke, and that kosher shechita (ritual slaughtering) is forbidden. We cannot, and must not, allow the government to interfere with our religious beliefs and our Jewish lives.”

ERabbi Kamenetzky said that if the diseases that vaccines purport to prevent were really a problem, children would already be sick because of their exposure to school janitors, who “are mostly Mexican and are unvaccinated.”

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Jeff Bezos and Amazon

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, has charged that the National Enquirer attempted to blackmail him by threatening to release lurid photographs of Bezos. In 2017, Amazon removed a controversial book from their website. The book, A History of the Palestinian People: From Ancient Times to the Modern Era, was written by Israeli author Assaf A. Voll and was available in Hebrew and English. What was the issue that led Amazon to remove the book from their website?

Hebrew book cover of A History of the Palestinian People: From Ancient Times to the Modern Era

A_History_of_the_Palestinian_People_Hebrew_Cover is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

AIt was discovered that the book was actually written by a Palestinian historian, Tarif Sharabi. Knowing that he could not get his book published by an Israeli publishing company, Sharabi partnered with his friend, Israeli writer Assaf Voll, who submitted the book under his name to Geffen Publishing House, where in fact it was accepted for publication.

B. There was an outcry from some Israeli and American Jewish organizations, claiming that the book gave undue legitimacy to the Palestinian argument for statehood, and in particular, the idea of a single Palestinian majority state within the entire region of Israel and the Palestinian territories. They noted that there was not a single mention of the name Israel, only negative references to “the Zionist entity.”

CCharges were made that sections of the book had been plagiarized from the book Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History by Palestinian writers Samih K. Farsoun and Naseer Aruri, pubished in 2006. While Voll denied the claim, a comparison of numerous entries in the two books led many scholars to conclude that Voll had improperly used material from the earlier work.

DThere was an outcry from within the Palestinian and greater Arab communities that the book was an illegitimate appropriation of Palestinian history by an Israeli writer.

E. The book consisted only of more than 100 blank pages, plus a quote from the Seinfeld television show character George Costanza, “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

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