Two Israelis teens were the co-winners of this year’s International Bible Contest for Youth after going head to head in the final round and finishing with tie scores of 142 points each in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Dvir Merzbach, 17, from Safed and Hillel Cohen, 16, of Jerusalem beat out 14 other participants from Israel and around the world to win the annual event that celebrates the Bible on Israel’s Independence Day.
It was the first time since 2013 that the contest had two winners. They both won a four-year scholarship to any Israeli University of their choice.
Isaac Spivak from the United States and Jacob Weinstein from South Africa won third and fourth place respectively.
This year, the contest returned to its in-person format after two years of COVID-19 restrictions that forced a virtual version of the event.
The 16 finalists who qualified to take part in the highly anticipated televised program, known in Hebrew as Chidon Ha'Tanach, were chosen via a special Bible camp which precedes the contest. The group included four Israelis, three Americans, two Canadians, two Brits, two Mexicans, two South Africans and one Belgian.
The contestants faced trivia questions about every book of the Hebrew Bible, and were asked about the prophets, judges and kings of Israel, the events of their lives and scripture texts. They were asked to locate or complete fragments of Bible verses, identify to whom the quotes were attributed and name geographical details of the ancient land of Israel.
The competition consists of four rounds each with its own line of questioning. Traditionally, the questions are presented by the Israeli prime minister in the third round.
In 2010, it was then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who read the questions to his son, Avner, who ended up winning the prestigious international competition.
This year, along with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Bible quiz was attended by several other prominent dignitaries such as President Isaac Herzog, Knesset Speaker Miki Levy and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Bitton.
The Bible contest was first held in Israel in 1963, drawing the attention of the world’s Jewish population to the importance of the Bible to Jewish identity and heritage. It was founded by the country’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion who was a dedicated Bible enthusiast. He welcomed the creation of a Bible contest for adults in 1958 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the State of Israel.
During the event, Herzog noted that his mother, Aura, founded the first-ever Bible competition.
“She always told me that she wanted it to be written on her headstone that she was the founder of the Bible contest,” said the president, The Times of Israel reported.
Like Bennett, Herzog also posed several of the quiz questions. Bennett joked during the contest that “there isn’t tension like this in politics.”
“There are always those who enter the arena and act, and there are those who sit in the stands chirping harsh criticism about those who are doing,” Bennett told the contestants.
“I want the youth to know, writing a sharp sentence on TikTok isn’t action. Action is volunteering at charitable organizations, enlisting for military service or national service, helping another person,” he said.
The annual event is organized by Israel’s Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency, which brought some 45 contestants from 20 countries to Jerusalem last week. The process of admission to the quiz begins months ahead, with thousands of young people aged 14 to 18 who have been preparing for several years.
“Being part of the contest is a high honor for many young people and their families, but more than anything else, it helps increase the number of Tanach students among Jewish youth, adds a spiritual dimension to Independence Day, and encourages educational interaction between Israeli and Diaspora youth,” says the Jewish Agency on its website.
Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, told the finalists ahead of the competition that “the Bible is the beating heart of the Jewish people; the same ember that unites us for thousands of years. The Bible is the historical connection point of Jews from around the world.”
“Therefore, encouraging the study of the Bible and the participation in the International Bible Contest for Youth, constitute a cornerstone in our ability to work to preserve the heritage of the Jewish people throughout the chain of generations,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.
To watch the full contest in Hebrew online click here.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.