Four Teaneck native sons Sam Reinstein, Shaya First, Baruch Goldberg, and Benny Herskovits took top prizes in a scholarly contest sponsored in Jerusalem by Lander College for Men.
The "Pre-Purim Bekius Blitz," now in its second year, was conceived as a way for young men studying at different post-high school yeshiva programs to come together for a good purpose, said Ari Gruen, one of the Queens-based college’s Israel representatives. "Bekius" (also pronounced "bekiut") is a relatively fast-paced study method to gain a general familiarity with the talmudic text.
Sam Reinstein reads from a portion of the tractate he studied for the contest.
"A unified Torah program is, surprisingly, not so common here, and it gives guys a chance to reconnect with friends at other schools," added Gruen.
In addition, the contest was designed to raise awareness of Lander, founded as part of Touro College in ‘000. Offering a variety of bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts and sciences along with advanced talmudic studies, it is a less well-known alternative to Yeshiva University. Like YU, it confers up to 3′ credits for one year of post-high school yeshiva studies, said its dean, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Sokol. Unlike YU, it offers an additional 1’ credits for a student’s second year of study in Israel.
Reinstein, the grand prize winner, said he had heard of Lander before the contest but was already planning to continue his education at YU. Although those plans have not changed, he was impressed with the festive siyyum (end-of-learning gathering) on March 14, to which all participants had been invited.
"It really brought everyone together from different demographics," he said.
Indeed, Gruen had solicited participants at a broad swath of schools, from the Modern Orthodox Shvilei HaTorah to the fervently Orthodox Derech HaTalmud and from many shades in between. The participants’ hometowns range from East to West Coast, and include Canada.
"Last year we had students from 15 yeshivas ’00 signed up, 80 followed through while this year ’80 students from 18 yeshivas signed up and 158 followed through," said Gruen. "There were 140 young men at the siyyum, from a wide variety of backgrounds. You don’t usually have guys from these different schools hanging out together."
The students weren’t just hanging out, but receiving recognition for making an extra commitment to learn Talmud from January to March. They were given a choice of studying the first half, second half, or entire tractate of Megillah or Beitzah. Short-answer exams testing their knowledge were curved to take into account the varying amounts of material.
Reinstein, a student at Yeshivat Sha’arei Mevaseret Zion, was the highest scorer among those tested in Beitzah. "A while ago, we had finished half of Beitzah [in school], so I figured for the test I would learn the second half on my own," he said.
For his efforts, he won a set of Shas, the entire 60-tractate Babylonian Talmud (the most commonly used version). His father, Alvin, took half the books back to Teaneck with him after a recent visit, said Reinstein, a graduate of Torah Academy of Bergen County. "Just one-half weighs 47 pounds. I don’t know how I’m getting the last half home." (Gruen said he is providing prize-winners with the name of a shipper.)
Shaya First, a second-year student at Derech HaTalmud, received a ‘0-volume set of the medieval talmudic commentaries of Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham ("the Ritva") as second prize. "I already had two or three [of the volumes] and it’s very useful," said First, who last year placed third in the contest.
Third-place winners Goldberg (Derech HaTalmud) and Herskovits (Mevaseret Zion) each won a set of Shulchan Aruch, the main codification of Jewish law derived from the Talmud.
"The prizes were chosen by what we thought young men would treasure," said Sokol. "These books are quite expensive and are meaningful to the kids." He said that the costs of the contest were underwritten by the family of Steven Brown, chairman of the Lander Board of Overseers.
Everyone attending the siyyum received a travel set of Mishna Berurah (a commentary on a section of the Shulchan Aruch), and a Mevaseret Zion student won the raffle prize of an iPod loaded with audio lectures on all of the Talmud.