Jerusalem teen wins International Bible Quiz

Yonatan Weissman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he won the International Bible Contest on May 9, 2019. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Yonatan Weissman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he won the International Bible Contest on May 9, 2019. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

JERUSALEM — While many Israelis celebrate Independence Day with raucous street dancing, fireworks and barbecues, a perennial highlight is the annual International Bible Quiz for youth, called Chidon HaTanach - a worldwide competition on the Hebrew Bible for students ages 14-18. The contest is customarily attended by the country’s prime minister and minister of education, and broadcast live on state television.

This year’s winner was Yonatan Weissman, 18, a student at the Degel Yerushalayim Yeshiva (seminary) living in Jerusalem. Fifteen-year-old New Jersey resident Benjamin Colchamiro, who studies at the Kushner Yeshiva, came in second.

The quiz was held on May 9 at the Jerusalem Theater in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Isaac Herzog.

Questions were asked on every book in the Jewish Bible. A sample multiple-choice question cited Genesis 1:6-7:  “Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters,” asking whether this occurred on the 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th day of creation.

Bennett, the outgoing education minister who was not re-elected in Israel’s April 9 general election, spoke at the opening of the quiz about the challenges facing both Israel and the Diaspora.

“The State of Israel has experienced the most prosperous and successful era it has known, but during these very days, one of the greatest disasters in the history of the Jewish people is taking place – we are losing millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Diaspora,” he said.

“Like an iceberg melting away, so many of our people are slipping away before our eyes,” he continued, and said that “the State of Israel must act, without delay, with all our strength, creativity and determination, in order to save our brothers and sisters, members of the Jewish people around the world, from assimilation and antisemitism.”

Bennett also talked of the danger of division and dispute within Israel and the historic danger this has posed to the Jewish people.

The contestants were from 30 countries: Adar Geller of Israel, Netanel Weiner of the United States, David Abedi of Panama, Margie Trunjan of Mexico, Lilia Spielwitz of Belarus, Yechiel Shulman of the United States, Naomi Paur of Argentina, Emmanuel Kohavi of Australia, Eliyahu Mizrachi from Mexico, Aaron Widman from Canada, Matan Kaplan from South Africa, Yarin Bar from Israel, Rafael Katan from Mexico, and Itay Shtober from Israel.

Inaugurated in 1961 when Israel was still a developing nation, the beloved contest was first held in Jerusalem’s Beit Ha'am, the same hall where Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann stood trial that year in Jerusalem. A decade later, the quiz moved to the newly-built Jerusalem Theatre.   

Thousands of youth spend months, and even years preparing for the prestigious competition. Once a year dozens of contestants meet in Israel for a two-and-a-half week Bible Camp, peaking at the Independence Day quiz.

The contest aims to nurture educational values in the spirit of the prophets, and to add a spiritual dimension to celebrations on Israel’s Day of Independence.