Interview: The Rockin’ Rabbis from “The American Bible Challenge”

Posted on March 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

The American Bible Challenge returns for a second season on GSN, featuring host Jeff Foxworthy and musical co-host Kirk Franklin.  It airs Thursdays at 9 (8 central)

I had a chance to speak with one of this season’s teams, the Rockin’ Rabbis, Philip Weintraub (rabbi); Jeffrey Abraham (rabbi); and Eve Eichenholtz (student rabbi) about studying up on the Christian Bible, how they selected the charity they are playing for, and what they want viewers to learn about rabbis from watching them compete.

Did you practice a lot to prepare for the competition? 

PW: Independently!  We’re all in different places, so we did not have a lot of time to work together but we were doing a lot of reading.  I’ll put it that way.

EE: With the Hebrew Bible, we all had different areas of expertise.  Jeffrey’s teaching a class on Judges at his synagogue, so he took that.  I’ve done a lot of work on the writings of the later books.  With the Hebrew Bible, we all felt we had strengths going in, and the Christian Bible was basically new to all of us.  So, we each dove in and just started reading.  We all used the American Bible Challenge app, which was really fun, to keep studying and get exposure to the questions and get used to the format.  That was definitely part of our strategy.

JA: We reviewed a lot of our Hebrew Bible facts we learned in school and tried to cram as much as we could on the New Testament part.  We literally got the Cliff’s Notes guide.

PW: I was literally on vacation with my family, sitting by the pool reading the New Testament.  I had never read it all the way through before, cover to cover.  But you pick up a lot just from the culture and literature.

Is it harder to answer questions under the pressure of the game?

PW: It was amazing to me — when you’re in the room, it suddenly gets a lot harder.

EE: One of the questions I was like, “I know it!  I just taught it!” But I could not get it.  But that’s part of the excitement also.  In some ways the pressure of the game show was a lot like our real life!  You never know in a synagogue when someone will raise a hand and say, “Rabbi, I just learned this random fact.  What do you think about it?”  We are asked random questions about random parts of the Bible and are expected to be able to speak eloquently on that.  Sometimes you can and sometimes you say, “I’ll get back to you on that, which is not a luxury you have on the show.  That part was a lot of fun to prepare for.

You had an enormous challenge to play against people who spent years studying the Christian Bible.

EE: One of the things we joked about was that our hardest problem was going to be answering questions in English, not Hebrew.  As I watched some of the other episodes, I would say, “I know that answer!  I just don’t know the English word for it.”  Different things are emphasized even in the texts we share and we have not studied the Christian Bible.  I talked with some of my Christian clergy friends and my colleagues and it was great to have my eyes opened to a new set of texts and texts I hold dear but in a different way.  For me, that was one of the highlights of this whole process.  I know this text, and I know it really well, but I don’t know it the way you know it.  To really push myself past the way I know a text doesn’t diminish my love for it or how I know it, or change the way I will use it, but to experience how somebody else sees the text is a powerful moment for me.

PW: I agree with Eve.  I’ve been doing Daf Yomi .  It includes little pieces of the Bible but it is about how we live our lives as Jews.  So much of rabbinical school is not so much focused on the Bible as the Talmud and how you turn the Bible into a practical way to live.  The Bible is wonderful and fabulous and amazing but it gives you all these instructions and leaves you in the dark about what you are supposed to do.  The rabbinic literature, the Responsa, the Mishnah, the Talmud, are, as Jews, our bread and butter.  So for me, the hardest part was just looking at a different perspective.  It’s not just a building block for some people.  That’s it for them.  For us, the Bible is the foundation where everything else comes from, but it’s just the beginning.

Is The American Bible Challenge sort of the Jeopardy version?  More factual questions than interpretation?

EE: The questions are factual.  I commend the writers and Jeff Foxworthy because they are also funny and interesting.  You have to know your Bible but you make fun connections.  It is not just “what are the names of Noah’s sons.”  It’s a second layer of thinking.

Would you ever use a game like this to teach kids about the Bible?

PW: I actually think it would be kind of fun!  I’d like to get the app but modify it just for the Hebrew Bible.

JA: It would be a wonderful way to teach the kids.

What inspired you guys to get on the show?

PW: It was a funny journey in that I didn’t even know about the show when I applied for it.  I was trying to get on “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader” but missed the deadline.  So I saw that Jeff Foxworthy was doing a show about the Bible and said, “I have to do this right this second!”  But the deadline was that day and I needed a team and it was shabbat, so I could not get it together.  I turned it in a day late and missed the deadline for the first show, but they kept it and we got on the second season.

What did you have to do to qualify to compete?

PW: We had a Skype interview and we had to print out a quiz and answer thirty questions.  All three of us, with all of our different levels of preparation, all made it through that quiz, though it was a bit of a nail-biter at times!  The quiz was pretty heavily focused on the New Testament.  Then there was another round of interviews and they sent someone out to tape the montage to show us behind the scenes.

What do you want people to learn about rabbis when they see this show?

JA: The most important thing is just to see that there is more beyond the stereotype.  There are cool, young rabbis out there who are trying to make an impact on a community at large.  And that, in our own way, we do know something about the Bible!

Tell me about the charity you chose for your winnings.

PW: All of us were affected in some way by Hurricane Sandy, family, friends, congregants.  Everybody was touched in some way.  We went through the United Jewish Appeal and their special fund for Hurricane Sandy.  That was our way of supporting our community in a time of need.


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