Chidon 2017, Crown Heights
Photo: Tzivos Hashem

What better way to engage a child in learning than to turn that learning into a competition?

The strategy has proven successful for the more than 1,000 eager chayol (young Jewish soldiers) who participated in the International Sefer Hamitzvos Chidon, a “Torah Jeopardy” for Jewish youth that wrapped up last weekend at the Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Crown Heights.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“There is no need to elaborate on how much it means to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that every man, woman and child study the daily portion of Rambam”[/perfectpullquote]

For more than 30 years, the Grand Chidon has had one goal: for every chayol to have a clear understanding of all 613 mitzvos (God’s commandments) and commit them to memory as codified by the RaMBaM– an acronym for Rabbi Moshe, son of Maimon (RaMBaM), also known as Maimonides, a twelfth-century philosopher and physician and a towering figure in the eyes of the Jewish people.

“There is no need to elaborate on how much it means to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that every man, woman and child study the daily portion of Rambam,” says Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, executive director of Tzivos Hashem and founder of the Chidon.

Jewish youth set a goal of completing all 613 mitzvos over a five-year period, from fourth through eighth grade, learning approximately 125 mitzvos each year. And almost all of this learning is done outside the classroom. “I’ve been studying on my own consistently for the past six months,” said Sarah Chitrik, a contestant from Instanbul, Turkey. “There’s no other way to know so much information so well.”

Photo: Tzivos Hashem

Some the questions in the competition might include:

  • Name all the mitzvas asei that can only be fulfilled through speech
  • Name 4 mitzvos connected to hair
  • In what scenario would a person do nothing and still transgress 3 mitzvos?

This year, 2,082 students from more 60 schools took the three qualifying tests needed to become eligible for the Chidon competition. Of that number, 1,043 children traveled from as far as Holland, Sweden, Chile and Latvia to Crown Heights to compete as finalists.

Photo: Tzivos Hashem

In two separate weekends– beginning Sunday, March 19 for the girls and continuing Sunday, March 26 for the boys– Chidon participants were treated to a game show experience of intensive quizzing, which included a 20-foot, 3-panel LED screen and colored lighting. The competition sold out to more than 1,200 audience participants, followed by an awards banquet, ice-skating, bowling and tour excursions around New York City for the competitors.

Photo: Tzivos Hashem

Now, “… for the rest of their lives, when they study the daily shiur of Rambam, they will be able to understand it properly,” adds Rabbi Shimmy Weinbaum, program director of Tzivos Hashem, an educational organization founded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

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