Bible Quiz winner protests own victory

High school student Yishai Gispan insists he answered a question incorrectly and didn't deserve prize, despite judges' reassurances.

torah scroll 88 (photo credit: )
torah scroll 88
(photo credit: )
TV viewers of this Independence Day's 44th annual Bible Quiz could not help wondering what was bothering the winner, 11th-grader Yishai Gispan. Television cameras showed Gispan's sourpuss countenance and incessant muttering during the last minutes of the quiz, as it became clear he would be declared victor. Gispan's reaction was blatantly incongruous with the honor about to be bestowed upon the young Jerusalem resident, a student at the Yeshivat Merkaz Harav high school. The judges noticed, too. "We saw that the boy was restless and uneasy," said Neriya Pinchas, quiz judge and author of the questions posed to the 16 finalists. "His discomfort was so noticeable that we decided to call him to the judges' table," recounted Pinchas, who won the 1980 Bible Quiz and has been writing the quiz questions since 1987. Before tens of thousands of viewers, Gispan approached one of the judges - Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon. It turned out that Gispan was convinced he had answered one of the questions in the second round of the quiz incorrectly. Therefore, Gispan felt, he should share first place with Tamar Kronman of Beersheba, who trailed Gispan by one point. Gispan had been asked a question about King Hizkiyah: To whom had the king bestowed the doors of God's sanctuary? Gispan answered that it was the Assyrian King Shalmanassar, who is mentioned in the same passage in the Book of Kings. In truth, however, the king in question was Sanherib. Navon tried to explain that since the king's name had not been requested, it was enough that Gispan had known that the doors were given to the king of Assyria. The teen remained agitated. "I couldn't escape the feeling that I'd cheated, and really didn't deserve the prize," said Gispan in a telephone interview about an hour after the quiz. "I felt I was receiving an honor that I didn't really earn, but now I feel stupid. I behaved badly," he said. While, as in previous years, the quiz was dominated by religious contestants, one of the four Israeli finalists, Shiran Halabi, is a student at the secular Bleich High School in Ramat Gan. Amos Hermon, head of the Jewish Agency's education department, which held dozens of preliminary Bible Quizzes in over 30 Jewish communities in the Diaspora, hopes to incorporate more secular Israelis in next year's Bible Quiz. "I hope to change the types of questions so that more emphasis is placed on the universal messages behind the Bible verses and less emphasis is placed on rote learning," he said.