Weekly Quiz

Spanish Armada

President Trump recently said that “We’re sending an armada” towards the Korean peninsula as a warning to the North Korean government following their recent missile testing. In fact, the so-called armada of American warships was heading in the opposite direction. The word “armada” is most often associated with the Spanish Armada that sailed against England in the late 16th century, with a goal of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I. The attack was a failure, with the loss of more than 8000 men and more than half the Spanish fleet destroyed. What was the Jewish connection to the failed attack by the Spanish Armada against England in 1588?


A. Spain launched the Armada against England in response to England’s interference in the Spanish Netherlands, an area now comprising much of Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as parts of France and Germany. Recognizing that Spain was likely to attempt a military intervention, England began a program of military expansion which was largely financed by the Rothschild banking interests in London, led by Nathan Mayer von Rothschild, the third son of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the banking empire. It was because of this ship building program that England was able to defeat the Spanish fleet.

B. Hector Nuñez was a crypto-Jew, a Jew who publicly professed to follow the Christian faith to avoid persecution from the Portuguese Inquisition.  He eventually fled Portugal, arriving in England in 1546, where he went on to become a successful merchant, trading in wine, raisins, and other goods. Through his business and family contacts he was able to learn information about the Spanish Armada preparations to launch their assault, which he passed on to the English, giving them forewarning of the Armada’s position and plan of attack. This spying effort was instrumental in enabling England to successfully ward off the invasion.

CIt is commonly known that the journeys of Christopher Columbus to the New World were largely funded as a result of the seizure of jewels and other properties from the Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In fact, the wealth stolen from the Jews was also used to pay for the building of the fleet which became the Spanish Armada.

D. The early maps used by sailors in the Middle Ages were known as Portolan charts, which were based on compass points and distance estimates provided by ship captains. The first Portolan charts were created in the 13th century in Italy, with later maps created in Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries. The charts used by the Spanish Armada when they sailed from Spain into the English Channel were created by Juan Oliva and hand-drawn on vellum. Oliva was a member of a prominent Jewish family of chart-makers in Catalonia.

E. In a situation that was strangely similar to President Trump’s “wrong-way” armada of last week, the Spanish Armada’s attack on England failed based on their “wrong-way” journey. In this case, the navigator for the Spanish Armada was a crypto-Jew named Diego Zevi. The Spanish Armada was approaching the English coast for their surprise assault when Zevi, having just closed his siddur after completing his secret morning davening, inadvertently looked at his map book from right to left instead of left to right. As a result, he gave the Armada commander backwards directions, leading the ships to turn left instead of right, enabling the British fleet to sneak up on them from behind and defeat them.

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Kosher Giraffes

Millions of people worldwide have live-streamed April the Giraffe over the last few months awaiting the birth of her calf, which finally came this past Saturday. While rabbinic tradition says that an animal in the Bible called the “zemer” was a giraffe, this is not believed to be accurate. In fact, giraffes are not native to the Middle East. Which of the following is true regarding giraffes and kashrut?

Baby Giraffe by StormSignal is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AGiraffes are kosher; one way that the rabbis determined this is by confirming that giraffe milk forms curds, as required by Jewish law.

BGiraffes are not kosher, based on the fact they while they have split hooves, they do not chew their cud.

CGiraffes are not kosher, because even though they chew their cud and have split hooves, their extremely long necks render it impossible for Jewish ritual slaughterers to determine the correct spot to cut the trachea and esophagus, as required in Jewish law.

DGiraffes are not kosher, based on the fact that while they chew their cud, and their hooves are separated, there is a spongy layer of tissue in-between the toes that has led the rabbis to decide that the hooves are not truly split.

E. While giraffes would be considered kosher, as they chew their cud and have split hooves, the rabbis have decided that the giraffe is an exception to this rule, based on the story of the golden calf. In response to the Israelites creating this false idol, in Exodus Chapter 32 Verses 9-10 it says “The Lord further said to Moses, ‘I see that this is a stiffnecked people. Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them’.” Given God’s anger at the stiffnecked Israelites, the rabbis decided that eating a stiffnecked animal would further anger God and should therefore be forbidden.

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Passover Customs

Passover is a holiday filled with customs, from the dipping of greens in salt water to the chanting of the Four Questions by the youngest child. Some customs are unique to specific Jewish communities around the world. Which of the following is a real Passover seder tradition?

Seder Plate by Rebecca Siegel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. The Dardasht Jewish community from Iran has a custom wherein the cup of Elijah is passed around and shared by all guests at the end of the seder, just before chanting “Next Year in Jerusalem.” The custom developed following a great drought which affected the community in the 1600’s, leaving many families starving. The rabbis determined that it would be wasteful to leave over any wine, so they decided the wine could be shared, with the assembled reciting the Shechecheyanu prayer at that moment, thanking God for sustaining them and allowing them to live to celebrate together.

B. There has been a Jewish community in Gibraltar since the late 1300’s, when Gibraltar was under Muslim rule. After Gibraltar fell under the rule of the Christian kings of Spain, the Jews were expelled as part of the Inquisition. In the 1700s, Gibraltar became part of the British empire, and over time a Jewish community returned, in particular from Morocco. Jews in Gibraltar have a custom wherein they prepare charoset, the symbol of the mortar used in the building of pyramids, in the Sephardic style with dates, nuts, apples and cinnamon, but also with the additional ingredient of real brick dust.

CIn the 1920s, a large number of Eastern European Ashkenazic Jews moved to Mexico following the restrictive immigration laws that were enacted in the United States at that time. The community concentrated in the Mexico City neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma, and over time the Jews interacted with and adopted aspects of the culture of the dominant community. One aspect of this is the charoset served at seders by these Mexican Jews. Rather than an apple and nut based charoset like Ashkenazic Jews make, or the Sephardic style with dried dates, apricots and other fruits, the Mexican Jews make charoset that is a variation on guacamole, to which they add pecans, a nut which is native to Mexico.

DMany Sephardic communities have a custom wherein they whip each other with scallions during the singing of Dayenu, mimicking the lashes of the Egyptian slave masters. In Turkey, it is traditional for seder attendees to eat strong maror, causing them to cry, and then to wipe their tears on the scallions before eating them, rather than dipping in salt water.

E. There are a number of unusual traditions at the seders in Mar A Lago. Most notably, in a reenactment of the exodus from Egypt, any seder attendees who are not American citizens are gathered together while the American attendees yell “Lock them up.” Then the non-citizens are sent out to the golf course, where they must first walk through a water trap, symbolizing the crossing of the Red Sea, after which they run through sand traps, symbolizing the Jews in the desert. The evening ends as the citizens place notes in a symbolic Western Wall, with the non-citizens huddled on the other side of the wall unable to return to the seder.

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Trump Passover

Despite Donald Trump often mentioning that he has a Jewish daughter, there is no indication that the tradition of a White House seder will continue under Trump. Trump has made the news in the past over a Passover controversy tied to the Trump brand. Which of the following is true?

#TheBigOrangeHead in profile by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. “Success by Trump” is a Trump-branded collection including eau de toilette, after shave and deodorant. The eau de toilette is described thusly on the product’s website: “The scent is an inspiring blend of fresh juniper and iced red currant, brushed with hints of coriander. As it evolves, the mix of frozen ginger, fresh bamboo leaves and geranium emerge taking center stage, while a masculine combination of rich vetiver, tonka bean, birchwood and musk create a powerful presence throughout wear.” Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot appeared in a television ad for this product just before Passover in 2015. An outcry arose from the Orthodox community, as vetiver, one of the ingredients, is an essential oil derived from corn, which is not kosher for Passover. Gadot apologized and donated her fee for the ad shoot to a charity providing Passover meals to needy families.

B. Michael Sophocles was a candidate on the British edition of Donald Trump’s television show, The Apprentice. In 2008, the series’ fourth season, Sophocles, who is Jewish, played up his religious background, including stories about his first business endeavor in high school when he bought large boxes of Shabbat candles and resold them in pairs of two to Jewish girls at his school. He also told the producers of the show that he could not appear on one episode as it fell on the first night of Passover. However, pictures were posted of him on Facebook showing him drinking with friends at a bar on seder night, leading him to be told by the British host, Lord Alan Sugar (who is himself Jewish), “You’re fired, and you’re a shanda for the goyim.”

C. Trump Vodka ceased production in 2011, with one exception–it continued to be sold in Israel, though a saleswoman in one Israeli liquor store said, “I don’t recommend it. It has a pungent flavor.” In fact, it is popular in Israel, but only for a couple of weeks each year, as the vodka is made from potatoes rather than grain, making it kosher for Passover. However, in 2016, Badatz Igud Rabbonim, a kosher certification organization, issued a warning about the 2013 batch of Trump Vodka (many bottles of which are still on the shelves of Israeli liquor stores), as they were apparently produced with products that were not kosher for Passover even though they have a Passover certification label.

DIn 2016, the Trump Organization offered Passover golf packages at all of its golf courses in America and around the world. Participants received passes for golf daily throughout the holiday, and on the first two days of Passover, a seder was offered at the clubhouse. However, representatives from the United Arab Emirates government contacted the Trump Organization and demanded the cancellation of the seders at the two clubs in Dubai– Trump International Golf Club Dubai and Trump World Golf Club Dubai. The Emirates, which walks a fine line between its financial and cultural ties to the West and its position as a Middle Eastern Muslim country, felt that these seders would endanger their relations with more conservative Arab countries. The Trump Organization canceled the seders at these two locations, which led to criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, among others.

E. In recent years, a new tradition has developed at some seders, wherein an orange is placed on the seder plate as a symbol of inclusiveness for those who may have felt marginalized at the Passover seder (women, the LGBT community, and others). In 2016, Donald Trump went with daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared to a seder at their friends’ home where an orange was placed on the table. When the host made reference to this orange as a symbol for excluded minorities, Trump took offense, left the seder, and later tweeted, “Seder host losers! Wrong to embarrass guest with orange on table. I am tan, not orange. Shame on you, fake Jews. #makesedersgreatagain.”

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