As my children enter the college years and contemplate questions like big vs. small school, urban vs. small town environment, I have been reminded of my own thought process in making such a big decision. I wanted to be in a northeastern city with an intense intellectual environment, so I chose Columbia University. In the years since I never questioned the decision, but as my children display different preferences, I wonder: What did I miss?
A few years before I arrived in New York, Columbia had set the record for the longest losing streak in Division I college football at 44 games, so it is obvious that I did not choose a college for the game day, rah-rah, culture. I did attend some football and basketball games when I was in school, but most of my time was spent in the library. What would it have been like to go to a university with thousands of fans in the stands?
Columbia is more likely to win the College Bowl than the Rose Bowl, and in fact this year they won a revival of the quiz show against USC. I was excited to watch an episode of the program this summer and root for my alma mater. I happen to love trivia. I used to watch Jeopardy! as a kid and in high school I was part of Academic Decathalon, a competition in ten subject areas that culminated in a college bowl-like final round.
One quiz show I have not competed in, however, is Chidon HaTanakh, the Bible Quiz, which is held every two years with contestants from around the world. There are youth and adult competitions, and each country holds its own contest with the international winners heading to Israel for the final round held on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, attended by the Prime Minister. The Bible, of course, was central to the new State of Israel, which is why David Ben-Gurion established the quiz.
Chidon HaTanakh is famous for being incredibly difficult. Recently, a reporter from the Forward attended the American adult competition in New York, moderated by my first-year Bible teacher from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Professor Robert Harris. The reporter notes how obscure the Biblical references are; these are not questions about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The quiz exemplifies the idea of the deep cut, that is a track that is buried on an album. The true fan can not only name their favorite artists’ hits, but also the songs that the casual listener is unaware of. True connoisseurs of the Bible know that it is filled with all kinds of interesting deep cuts – stories and characters that don’t often get the love and respect they deserve.
The Forward also offers a ten-question quiz derived from some real entries from the chidon. You can see how you might stack up against the real contestants, but beware, you might find yourself stumped. I got 6 out of 10 right, which is better than the reporter, but is, nonetheless, a failing grade. Looks like this rabbi might need to go back to Professor Harris’s class for some remediation.