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Secular Israeli student wins international Bible contest

A 15-year old Israeli boy from a secular public school won the prestigious International Bible Contest (IBC) this year — the first non-religious participant to win the contest in 30 years.

Sagiv Lugasi, a student at a science and technology school in the northern Israeli town of Maalot, won the contest held in Jerusalem on May 2.

Founded by David Ben Gurion, the contest is held for middle and high school students around the world. The competition tests knowledge of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, and takes place in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day. The winner is awarded a four-year scholarship to the renowned Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.

Over 70 contestants from 39 countries took part this year, with the main contest being broadcast live on television and radio. As the competition is sponsored by the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennet were in attendance.

“There is no statute of limitations on the Bible, just the opposite: what characterizes the Bible above all is constant revitalization,” Prime Minister said while awarding the prize. “Each generation finds answers to the challenges of its time in the Bible.”

The contestants must study some 400 chapters and answer in-depth questions. One question format involves being given the first half of a Bible verse and being asked to complete it.

“I prepared for two years. In the past year, for 12 hours a day. I didn’t go to school for two months,” Lugasi told Israeli media.

That this year’s winner comes from a non-religious background has generated an excitement in Israel that the Bible is for everyone and is not only the domain of Orthodox Jews and other religious segments of society.

Moreover, the contest displayed intricate knowledge of the whole Bible, not only the Torah.

As one lady who watched the contest on television told KNI: “People often say Jewish people only know Torah because it is read in the synagogues each week, but we have seen that Jews know the prophets as well!”

Karen Faulkner
Karen Faulkner is a British Israeli citizen. She has a Master's degree in Human Rights & Transitional Justice from Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

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