Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bible quiz - "only in Israel"

Oftentimes someone sends me "only in Israel" stories. When I read them, my reaction usually is that they would probably happen in any close-knit community, not just in Israel. One event that really is "only in Israel" is the hidon Tanakh that is broadcast live and on national television every year on Yom haAtzmaut. Kids – most, but not all of them from religious schools in Israel and around the world – vie to answer difficult questions from the Bible. The panel of judges includes scholars and political figures in Israel.

I sat with my children this year and watched the contest. As usual, the finalists were a pair of Israeli students – a boy from Jerusalem and a girl from Be'er Sheva – and they ended up in a tiebreaker, each of them responding to a series of rapid-fire questions. Their knowledge was impressive. As the questions were coming to a conclusion it became clear that the young man was very upset about something.

When he was announced the winner, he voiced his complaint – he believed that one of his answers was wrong, and that his adversary should share the first prize with him. Even after the judges assured him that they had accepted his answer (they were just looking for him to say "the king of Assyria" and he said the name of the wrong king of Assyria), he was insistent. He could not accept first prize, since he did not truly deserve it.

His attempt to rectify the injustice made no impression on the Israeli Prime Minister, who announced him the winner against all of his protests, and did not seem to understand what the young man was all upset about.

You can watch the ceremony here (you will have to click on "TV broadcasts" then on "On Demand" and scroll down to find it), and see his comments, where he admits that perhaps he should have made his arguments more politely here.

This reminded me of an article, "Cheating Pays" that Joel Wolowelsky published in Ten Da'at a while back. He argues that it is important to teach our children that honesty will cost you, but that we should strive for it nonetheless. It's worth reading.

I do not mean to say that the State of Israel is a paradigm of honesty, but I couldn't help thinking that what I saw at the Hidon Tanakh this year was an "only in Israel" story.

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