The finals of a national contest challenging 5th-8th graders knowledge of Judaism’s 613 mitzvahs took place at the Moshe Ganz hall in Los Angeles from March 18-21, 2004. One hundred girls Jewish day school girls from around the world participated in the finals of Tzivos Hashem’s 9th annual Chidon Sefer HaMitzvos (Contest on Maimonides’s Book of Mitzvahs).
More than 3,000 international contestants participated in the contest which is sponsored by Tzivos Hashem, the largest Jewish children’s organization in the world. The boys’ finals took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania March 11-14.
“The children’s grasp of the material was simply astounding,” says Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, executive director of Tzivos Hashem. “Within seconds, they answered questions from memory that many scholars and even rabbis couldn’t answer without consulting a source.”
The Chidon Sefer HaMitzvos finals represent the culmination of a curriculum of study devised in response to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wish that every man, woman, and child learn the Rambam’s (Maimonides) magnum opus Mishneh Torah, or, alternatively, the more abbreviated Sefer HaMitzvos, which explain all of Judaism’s 613 mitzvahs. To make the material accessible to grade-school children, Tzivos Hashem created a series of workbooks for students that explain each mitzvah, its source in the Torah, and the reason behind it. More than 100 schools have incorporated the workbooks into their regular curricula.
The 100 girls who traveled to Los Angeles were the winners of semi-final competitions held at their schools. Upon arrival, they were welcomed by their host families and then spent time getting to know each.
The next morning, after breakfast, the girls took a two-hour written exam. With that behind them, they let off some steam at the local roller rink and then enjoyed an inspiring Shabbaton, which included a communal dinner, singing, stories, games, and featured speakers. As part of the competition, the girls were divided into teams of twelve and given an hour to create and perform a skit that included as many of the mitzvot they had learned as possible.
According to Rabbi Shmaryahu Weinbaum, Tzivos Hashem’s program director, “the skits were utterly hilarious, and it was amazing to see how much these girls had learned. But what was even more wonderful, was seeing how over the course of the weekend these girls went from being strangers to feeling virtually like sisters.”
The highlight of the weekend was the competition’s grand finale on Saturday night. Standing before a crowd of more than 1,000, the girls competed in a fast-paced “game-show style” quiz–a full-scale multimedia production, complete with computer-generated question boards, flashing lights, buzzers, sound effects and music. After the winners were announced, everyone enjoyed a rousing concert by renowned singer Chanale Fellig.
The weekend concluded with a fun-filled day at California’s Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park.
When it was time to go home, the girls bid each other teary farewells with promises to keep in touch. Sixteen winners took prizes home—a library of books, but every contestant felt herself a winner.