The International Bible Contest

Every year, on Yom Ha'atzmaut, the International Bible Contest (חִידוֹן הַתָּנָ"ךְ הָעוֹלָמִי) is held in Jerusalem. This is an Israeli staple that attracts millions of people around the world. Did you know it all started on this day, 62 years ago?

The year was 1958. Israel was in a state of euphoria, as it was celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its historical declaration of independence. That year was a big year of celebrations, in fact, it was declared the "Year of the Decade", and a whole committee was put together to run the year's celebrations. The country was in a quiet state of security, the German payments after the war began coming in, the economy was getting stronger, and things were just starting to look and feel great.

As a part of the celebrations, there were parades, army marches, festivals, special music album releases, a reenactment of the Declaration of Independence Ceremony, and of course - the first Bible Contest.


The contest took place in Jerusalem, at the International Convention Center (Binyanei HaUma), on August 4th, 1958. After thousands of people signed up, only several made it to the finals stage, including a few famous writers and poets of the time.


All the country's leaders were present, from President Ben Tzvi to the Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. Though, the main character that brought life to the party was without a doubt Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who was known for his love of the Tanah.

The first winner

The winner of the contest was a young, unknown gentleman named Amos Haham (Haham in Hebrew translates to smart. should that have been a hint?) Haham, the only child of a poor academic doctor and a pharmacist mother, was dropped as a baby, and as a result, he suffered from a severe speech impediment. Clearly, that didn't affect his will of learning. He had lost his mother at the age of 15, and his father by the age of 22. Besides working during the days for measly pay, Haham spent the time reading the Tanah.

After his friends urged him to sign up for the contest, Haham easily made it through to the finals and was crowned the first winner of the Israeli Tanah Contest. From there, Haham was sent to the International Bible Contest, where he, of course, won first place and was crowned as the first International Tanah Contest winner. He had become a symbol of Knowledge, without even trying.

Stack of books on a table
It takes a lot of studying to participate in the Bible Contest

After the contest in 1958, Haham quickly became a celebrity in Israel. All the papers wanted to interview him, he was offered jobs as a Tanah teacher, Ben Gurion invited him to join tours as an IDF guest, and one paper even named him the Person of the Year. When he married his wife, Ben Gurion, who seemed to have an uncanny connection to Haham, participated in the event. Later on, Haham received an academic degree and became an official Biblical Scholar, and wrote many books on the Tanah.

Amos Haham passed away in 2012, at the age of 91.

As a result of the contest's success, Tanah contests began taking place everywhere, at schools, workplaces, and even in the IDF. In 1963, the first International Tanah Contest for Jewish Youth took place on Yom Ha'atzmaut, and thus the prestigious annual contest began. So, if you were ever forced to participate in a Tanah contest, you now know who you can blame for it.

We hope you enjoyed this remarkable story of a true Israeli hero. It goes to show you, that no matter who you are or where you come from if you are persistent and really put your mind into something you believe is important, you are bound to eventually rise to greatness.

Just ask the thousands of men, women, and kids that participate in the Tanah Contest every year thanks to Amos Haham.