May 23, 2024
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Frisch Senior Beni Romm Wins Chidon USA

Frisch student Beni Romm ‘21 achieved first place in the Dr. Shimshon Isseroff Chidon HaTanach USA high school division this past Sunday, August 23, and will move on to the international competition in Israel this year.

Romm got a perfect score on the exam, which covered over 200 chapters of Tanach. While he says he usually prefers a conceptual approach to Tanach study, the Chidon requires an approach that favors memorization and identification of even the smallest details. “I have found it most effective to study for the test itself,” he said in an interview following the Chidon. “I do this by taking each verse and turning it into a practice question.” He studied 5,000 such questions in preparation for this exam. “There are limits, however, to human memory, and therefore the conceptual understanding is still important,” he noted.

Romm says his favorite book of Tanach is Chronicles, Divrei Hayamim. “Chronicles was written after the Babylonian exile when the Judean community was trying to create a Torah-based Jewish province in the Persian Empire,” Romm explained. “It is a fascinating book because in many ways it is an example of early Midrash. It presents Kings David and Solomon as infallible heroes of the commonwealth instead of flawed protagonists, allowing Judeans to take pride in their heritage. It also allowed the wicked King Manasseh to do teshuva, removing the blight of “the sins of Manasseh.” Previous generations had blamed these ancestral sins for the destruction of Jerusalem. By allowing Manasseh to atone for his sins, Chronicles gave Persian Jews the hopeful message that their fate and success were in their own hands.

“Finally, Chronicles exegetically compares earlier biblical stories,” continued Romm. “Noting the thematic similarities between Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah and David’s purchase of the Threshing Floor of Araunah, Chronicles rewrites David’s story in 1 Chron. 21 to create a literary parallel between the two. Chronicles shows that even 2,500 years ago, Jews were not just reading Tanach, but actively analyzing it.”

Romm expressed gratitude to Hashem for giving him the skills necessary to pursue the study of Tanach, and as well as to individuals who have helped him on his journey, including his fourth-grade teacher, Miriam Lewitin, who initially encouraged him to study for the Chidon; his friend and previous National Chidon HaTanach Champion Uriel Simpson for motivating him to win; and Yair Shahak, the Hebrew department chair at Frisch and a previous International Adult Chidon HaTanach champion who coached Romm for the finalists’ exam.

Romm said he owes much of his passion for studying Tanach to his teachers at Frisch. “When teaching us Sefer Bereishit in ninth grade, Mrs. Yael Goldficher [Chumash department chair] introduced me to Ancient Near Eastern studies and its utility in the study of Tanach,” he recounted. “This was so interesting to me that I began reading about ANE and Biblical Studies on my own. These studies enriched my understanding of Tanach and the Jewish people. My 10th grade Nach teacher, Mrs. Rachel Besser, was also very influential in reminding me not to lose sight of the moral element of Tanach study when pursuing points of academic interest.”

Success in the Chidon is made possible through a tremendous commitment to studying, but Romm emphasized that true talmud Torah is about constant growth: “In the words of the prophet Ezekiel (20:11), the words of the Torah are supposed to be lived, not merely studied intellectually,” said Romm. “In this regard I still have much room to grow before I can be considered a champion of Tanach.”

“We are so incredibly proud of Beni,” said Frisch principal Rabbi Eli Ciner. “We are inspired by his profound love of learning and dedication to religious growth.”

During Sunday’s Zoom Chidon event, coordinator Rabbi Dovi Nadel noted that the Chidon is not just a contest, but is also about learning Torah lishma. In May, the Chidon started the new tradition of having a siyum for the participants’ learning, and in August learned the first three pesukim of the Book of Devarim together. “We are all learning this together as Am Israel, and it is really beautiful to see everybody from every walk of life learning the same material, the same Torah,” said Nadel.

A total of 10 finalists competed in high school, middle school and English divisions. Elana Rosenblatt of Bruriah High School came second place in the high school division, and will also have the opportunity to go to Israel along with the first-place winners of the English and middle school divisions. Adielle Rosenblum of Manhattan High School for Girls and Elimelech Novick of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School placed third and fourth, respectively, in the high school division. Samuel Colchamiro of RKYHS tied for third in the middle school division.

By Yaelle Frohlich

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