A teenage yeshiva student from Passaic, New Jersey has become the first American to win the annual International Chidon HaTanach, a prestigious competition that tests entrants’ knowledge of one sefer each from the five Chumashim of the Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kesuvim (Scriptures).
Yishai Eisenberg, who attends the ninth grade at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy / Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York City’s Washington Heights, actually tied for first place with Elior Babian, who lives in Beit Shemesh in Israel. This was the first-ever declared tie in the competition’s history. The two contestants were chosen as the winners after successfully fielding the toughest questions during the third round, which were given to them by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Each query was asked in a quick series of twelve questions, with only five seconds maximum allowed to respond, and no allowance for corrections.
“We are all very proud of Yishai’s amazing accomplishment,” said Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school at YUHSB. “We know how much time and effort he put into preparing for this and were all rooting for him. It’s unbelievable just to qualify for the competition, but to actually win is incredible.”
In addition to Eisenberg, New York boasted another high-scoring contest entrant in the International Chidon HaTanach – Shalhevet Schwartz, who studies at SAR High School in Riverdale, ended up tied for fourth place.
This was the fiftieth year for the global “brain-buster,” which was held at the Jerusalem Theater last week. Initiated by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, the contest takes place every Yom Ha’atzmaut to denote the State of Israel’s respect for the Torah. In the Chidon HaTanach’s first stage, students around the world enter regional competitions; in the United States, those who score higher than a designated level move up to the nationals. This stage consists of four divisions: Hebrew Middle School, English Middle School, Hebrew High School and English High School. The winner of each division then moves up to represent the U.S. at the final event the following May in Israel.
Noting that Yishai Eisenberg and his two sisters Yael and Shalva each took part in the Chidon HaTanach, Yishai’s elementary school principal at Yeshiva Beis Hillel of Passaic lauded the family for their thorough dedication to the study of Tanach.
“Mr. Eisenberg comes to school to study with his kids for the Chidon and he always finds a way to work within the framework of the school schedule,” Rabbi Berel Leiner disclosed. “I see them in the boardroom studying and he coaches other students as well. The Eisenberg children are privileged to come from a family where Torah study is primary and they are an inspiration to us all.”
Rabbi Leiner recounted how there was some uncertainty when Yishai achieved a perfect score in a preliminary round last year. “The computer totaled his score and it came to one hundred percent,” the educator said. “They thought that maybe there was something wrong, or maybe they had accidentally scanned the answer key instead of Yishai’s answers. I think he may have been the first kid ever to get a perfect score.”
Yael Eisenberg, who attends Bruriah High School, finished second in the Hebrew High School division in last year’s nationals, while another resident of Passaic, Elisheva Friedman, who studies at Yeshiva Ketana of Passaic, wound up in second place in the Hebrew Middle School division.
The youngster’s impressive outcome in the earlier rounds of last year’s competition had given Rabbi Leiner good reason to hope for something big from Yishai this year. “I was expecting Yishai to do well and I was almost expecting him to win because he kept advancing from one level to the next,” Rabbi Leiner related. “I can’t say I was shocked to see him win, but I will say it was a very pleasant surprise.”