Beth Tfiloh: Home of the Tanach Whiz Kids

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Ryan Joseph studies at the Agron Hostel in Jerusalem in between
the written test and the Diaspora Competition. (Provided by Sharon Joseph)

For the second time in as many years, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School sent one of its middle school students to Israel to compete in the international Chidon HaTanach (Bible competition).

Following in the footsteps of Beth Tfiloh student Caleb Gitlitz, who competed in the international contest last year, Ryan Joseph (class of 2021) matched wits with some of the brightest Tanach whiz kids from around the globe. Ryan is no stranger to Chidon HaTanach, and even came in first place in last year’s English Division  national competition.


Ryan, who has attended Beth Tfiloh since he was 2-and-a-half years old, was introduced  to the contest through Rabbi Mordechai Abrahams, who is known in the community for using his spare time to prepare Beth Tfiloh students for the  regional contest.

Ryan also worked closely with coach Ezra Frazer to refine his knowledge about Tanach. Ryan said he created  lists of identifiable elements from stories — details like animals, clothing and food — but also had to “just read through everything multiple times.”

“I went through all the main stories in the Tanach that I hadn’t read and re-read the ones I had,” he said. “I actually had it kind of easy considering  I’d done the national Chidon for a few years.”

Ryan arrived to Israel just before Pesach, but had to wait several days in order for the remainder of the contestants to arrive before taking a preliminary test comprised of 40 multiple-choice and 20 open-answer questions. Each student’s score determined at which place they would enter into the competition.

The contest was broken into two groups, the Olami and the Diaspora. Ryan scored high enough to make it into the second round of the  Diaspora competition, before receiving an obscure question to which he did not know the answer. According to Ryan and his mother Shari, most of the other contestants were  similarly stumped.

Despite Ryan’s tough luck of the draw both in and out of the competition, Shari feels he did pretty well.

“He was sick almost the  entire time we were in Israel. He was running fevers, had a headache,” she said. “Considering  everything, he did very well.”

For Ryan, the real takeaway from the trip was the friends he met along the way. Chidon HaTanach is not the kind of competition that fosters rivalries, and Ryan said each contestant rooted the others along.

“I have friends from all over the world now,” said Ryan. “They taught the value of different Jewish cultures not only from around the country but from around the world.”

In addition to sending students to Israel two years in a row, Beth Tfiloh can now boast that for the third consecutive  year, one of their middle school students has won the Chidon HaTanach national competition. 2018’s winner for the 6th and 7th grade division is Aidan Gitlitz, brother to 2016 winner Caleb. Along with Aidan, another Beth Tfiloh student, Andrew Schindel, placed in the top three.

“My brother helped me a ton,” said Aidan. “I studied chapters with him, he gave me tips on how to study and he asked me questions.”

Like Ryan, Aidan said the bulk of his studying was simply reading as many as 80 chapters over and over again.

After winning their respective national competitions in 2016 and 2017, both Caleb and Ryan went on to compete  in the International competition the next year. Aidan hopes to continue the tradition, but knows he has a lot of preparation in store. Aidan said he plans to begin reading a half an hour per day starting in the summer.

When asked if he would like to coach middle school students participating in Chidon HaTanach in the future, Aidan humbly answered, “If they ask, of course.”

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