In Plain Language: Jewish Literacy

How to increase our Jewish IQs

Jewish Literacy 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish Literacy 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This past Shabbat, thousands of Israelis participated in a special program, whereby on Friday night observant families opened their homes to secular friends and neighbors, allowing many of them to enjoy a full and traditional Shabbat atmosphere – perhaps for the very first time in their lives.
Initiated by the Beit Hillel organization – founded by Ronen Neuwirth, the rabbi of Ra’anana’s Ohel Ari synagogue – this was an opportunity to break down barriers, build bridges and bring together disparate ideologies over wine, song and that eternal cure for all ills, mama’s chicken soup.
By all accounts, it was a resounding success, and an eye-opener for both sides of the spiritual divide. Not only did it allow the uninitiated to experience the joy and “divine disconnect” from the world at large that only Shabbat can bring, it also gave the Orthodox community the chance to forge friendships with non-observant Jews and gain an insight into their worldview – no small or insignificant achievement. In some cases, neighbors who have lived on the same block for years and never knew each others’ names, discovered that some of the greatest people in the world were living right in their own backyards – literally! Having founded the “Just One Shabbos” program when I was rabbi in Dallas, Texas – in which every observant family in the city hosted a secular family for the full 25 hours of Shabbat – I can testify how overcoming the psychological barrier of actually living Judaism, instead of only learning or “observing” it from afar, can change a person’s life in just one day. Many of those who had the courage to give Shabbat a chance and be guests in another’s home would become hosts themselves the following year.
There is no question that actually experiencing Jewish practice – like driving a car or learning to swim – is an exercise that appears daunting, even overwhelming at first, but becomes almost second nature once we actually take the plunge and just do it. Once it becomes demystified, once the fear factor is removed, we find that it’s as natural as, well, lifting a cup of wine and making a “L’haim!” Having said that, I also believe that we must significantly increase our Jewish IQs. We must strive for greater literacy in all things Jewish, if we are ever to appreciate the amazing history of our people, and the inspiration and guidance our tradition can offer us.
In too many families there is a woeful lack of knowledge regarding fundamentals of Jewish life. Ignorance of our past – and our present – is anything but bliss; it is a waste of the greatest reservoir of wisdom and human achievement ever known to man.
And so I offer you a small sampling of some of the basic questions that every Jew should know. Test yourself, and test your children. And then, go out and learn!
Jewish practice: 1. Which one of the seven major Jewish holidays of the year does not include candle-lighting? 2. What, exactly, is written on the parchment inside a mezuza? 3. What is the longest Jewish holiday, both in Israel and the Diaspora? 4. What is the most important of all blessings? 5. There are six fast days in the Hebrew calendar – two major, four minor. Name them.6. How long is a Jewish leap year? 7. Jews love to eat! Which, if any, of the foods (or drinks) we eat are required by Jewish law? 8. Which of the Ten Commandments is neither a “do” nor a “don’t”? 9. What, technically, is the first holiday of the Jewish year? 10. How long is a Jewish month? 11. What are the first two possible religious ceremonies in the life of a Jewish boy? 12. Name three things that are broken as part of Jewish custom.13. What is the first thing that must be built in any Jewish community, and why?
The Bible 1. Adam and Eve had three children; name them.2. The first (Hebrew) letters of the names of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs spell out which name? 3. The patriarchs had seven wives between them; how many of them can you name? 4. Name four people in the first book of the Bible whose name was changed.5. How many children did Jacob have? 6. Who named Moses and what does his name mean? 7. Who among the Twelve Tribes received a double portion inheritance? 8. What was so miraculous about the manna that fell in the desert? 9. Only one mitzva in the entire Torah was given to the Jewish people in Israel proper – which one? 10. What non-human creatures in the Bible speak? 11. Two great people in the Bible give credit to their father-in-law and mother-in-law, respectively. Name all four individuals.12. Who brought down the house? And who brought down the city? 13. What are the two oldest cities – that still exist – mentioned in the Bible?
Jewish history 1. Who was the first king of Israel? 2. Who built the two Temples? 3. After the Ten Tribes were lost, which three tribes still remained? 4. Significant events in Jewish history occurred in 1812 BCE, 1310 BCE, 587 BCE, 70 CE, 1095 CE, 1648 CE. What were they? 5. Did the Hanukka events take place during the First or Second Temple period? 6. What does the name “Maccabee” stand for? Name three of the five Maccabee brothers.7. How many members made up the Sanhedrin? 8. What non-Jewish king was known as the “great builder of Israel”? Name two things he built.9. Who took it upon himself to put the Oral Law into writing? 10. “From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses.” Explain.11. Who was the greatest of all commentators on the Bible? 12. The name of what famous 19thcentury Jewish writer is also a prayer? 13. What was the term for Jews who petitioned to leave Russia in the mid-20th century?
The Holocaust 1. What event is considered the start of the Holocaust? 2. Name three death camps other than Auschwitz.3. At what conference was the Final Solution decided upon? 4. In what city did Anne Frank live? 5. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on what Jewish holiday? 6. The majority of Righteous Gentiles come from what country? 7. Who was the Righteous Gentile credited with saving the most Jews? 8. Which two of these countries saved the majority of their Jewish citizens: Holland, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria? 9. What Hungarian survivor became known as “The voice of the Holocaust”? 10. What Holocaust museum’s name means “A hand and a name”? 11. In which city was the trial held for the most wanted Nazi war criminals? What else is that city known for during the Holocaust? 12. What is the name for the Jewish council appointed by the Nazis to run the ghettos? 13. What happened at Babi Yar? 14. How many people were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau?
Israel and Zionism 1. What does the name “Bilu” stand for? 2. What country was Herzl from? Did he ever visit Israel? 3. What country was originally proposed by England to be the Jewish state? 4. Who revived the modern Hebrew language? 5. Who named Israel “Palestine,” and why? 6. Which of these Israeli leaders are not currently on a banknote: Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, S.Y. Agnon or Yitzhak Ben-Zvi? 7. Name three of the four Israeli prime ministers who preceded Binyamin Netanyahu.8. Three of the top 10 cities in Israel (populationwise) begin with the letter “R.” What are they? 9. What do the St. Louis, the Exodus and the Altalena have in common? 10. Who was the only person ever executed in Israel? 11. What role did Naftali Imber play in the creation of Israel? 12. Operation Magic Carpet brought what community of Jews to Israel? 13. What was the first law passed by the Knesset after the establishment of the state?
The answers to this little quiz can be found elsewhere in this magazine. On second thought, why make it so easy?! Go find the answers yourself – that way you’ll remember them! 
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected],