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Bible by the buzzer

'Rockin' Rabbis' compete on cable television

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Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham, on right, of CSI Nyack, with his Bible Challenge teammates, Eve Eichenholz and Rabbi Philip Weintraub. photo courtesy of GSN

They may not know the Sermon on the Mount by heart, or even how to turn the other cheek, but the “Rockin’ Rabbis,” will hold their own on this season of “The American Bible Challenge.”

“I’m not allowed to reveal the questions,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham of the Conservative Sons of Israel in Nyack, as he danced lightly around the specifics of the show. “But it was a fair split between” the Hebrew Bible (the Tanach) and its Christian counterpart.

The show’s second season debuts on Thursday, March 21, at 9 p.m. on the Game Show Network. The rabbis are the first Jewish team to tackle Bible thumping study groups from the south and Midwest on the program. This episode will air on Thursday, March 28 at 9 p.m.

But Abraham and his teammates, Rabbi Philip Weintraub of Agudas Israel in Newburgh, and Eve Eichenholz, a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, came ready.

“We tried to cram,” said Abraham, who sussed that the “Rockin Rabbis” probably knew better how Avram became Avraham than they did how Saul turned into Paul. “We had our Cliff Notes version of the New Testament to study, but there was no way, no matter how much we crammed that we could match nuns or missionaries.” During the taping, the rabbis competed against 18 teams, including the colorful Anointed Ink, Christian Wrestling Federation, and the Cowboy Crusaders. Hosted by platinum album-sellling comedian Jeff Foxworthy, “The American Bible Challenge” allows contenders to showcase their Bible knowledge by raising funds for a variety of charities.

“Rockin’ Rabbis” all saw such devastation from Hurricane Sandy only days before their actual debut that they designated their winnings to go to UJA-Federation of New York’s Hurricane Sandy Relief fund.

While the show’s executive are mum about how the rabbis actually performed, David Schiff, GSN senior vice president for programming and development said they “did well, and came on the show with a lot of spirit, though admittedly, they studied for one half the test.”

Schiff, who is Jewish, said that while a Jewish team was new to this season’s lineup, that all it takes to compete is to be “passionate [about the Bible]. To be on the show you have to have knowledge, but you don’t have to be a Christian.

“The Bible is a very inclusive book.”

The rabbis were the only East Coast rivals in a sea of Bible Belt competitors. But this had more to do with the “boots on the ground” tryout locations, according to Schiff, who laughed at the suggestion that perhaps the rabbis had been typecast as East Coast Jews.

“There is that stereotype,” he said. “But that is not why we cast the group. They had a great charity they wanted to play for, and that’s a big part of the show. Playing for Hurricane Sandy victims was an important part of why we cast them.”

GSN was launched in 1994, and the “Bible Challenge,” which premiered last year, was a huge hit for it with 13 million viewers. Foxworthy – whom Abraham describes as “a total mensch” interested in all the teams ““- lends the show a certain down-home appeal with his Southern Baptist roots and Southern boy humor.

As for Abraham, the star turn was a lot of fun for a worthy cause.

“We were playing for a charity that really mattered to us,” he said. “We are all from parts of New York and all were in some way or another affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“It was a great tikkun olam, social action project to play on a game show to help others.”

Editor’s note: For Jews, there is only one “testament,” the Tanach, a Hebrew acronym for the texts encompassing the Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Sacred Writings). “New Testament is frowned upon for use in the newspaper because it suggests that the Tanach has been supplanted.

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