One book which is very popular is the “Guinness Book of Records” and updated editions of it are published each year. This subject of records fascinates many people and I am one of them. But why limit this sort of book to non-Jewish subjects. Let’s also make such a book on Torah subjects!
Thus in 1976, whilst I was in Liverpool, I decided to write a “Quiz on Torah records (for under-14s)”. The quiz comprised ten questions. Examples of the questions were: “Name one Beracha which is said only once a year? What is the latest time for the termination of Shabbat on Merseyside in 5736? Which single Sidra has the most verses? This quiz appeared in the “Liverpool Jewish Gazette” in March of that year.
Also whilst in Liverpool, I began to compile further questions on Torah records on the basis of subjects. An example was on “Amidot” – the longest, the shortest, the longest weekday, the shortest weekday, the longest Mussaf, the shortest Mussaf, the least Berachot and the most Berachot. After each question, I wrote the answer. I cannot recollect these ever being published. I also starting compiling statistics to enable me to determine records, such as how many verses there are in each Sidra and facts connected with the Jewish calendar. However, it seems that I did nothing further on this subject for more than twenty years – it just remained as my handwritten notes in an envelope in my cupboard!
About the year 2000 I returned to this subject and compiled about a dozen questions and answers on Torah riddles and records, and, for some of the questions, a very minimal explanation and references. About that time, I saw on the Internet under the title “Yiddle Riddle” a collection of riddles submitted by different people to Ohr Someyach Institutions in Jerusalem.
I decided at about that period that there was indeed an interest in this subject and I thus went on compiling such riddles and records. Fresh ones would suddenly come into my mind at all times of the day and night, and I soon realised that if I did not write them down immediately, I would forget them. When this occurred on Shabbat, I had to hope that I would not forget them before Havdalah!
Almost all the questions, were on Halachah, connected in some way with the Orach Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch. Initially I put all these questions on my computer in groups of about a dozen, in the form of Q. (question) and A. (answer) and, in some cases, a minimal explanation, but in others, none. I reached about 250 such questions and decided that I would make a book of them I could have gone on almost indefinitely, but as I wrote at the end of the book, “One can go on and on composing questions such as these – but as with all things, one has to stop somewhere!”
In a subject such as this, where the questions have been thought out over a considerable period of time, one can easily have duplication of the same question. I therefore went over all the questions several times and indeed discovered that there had been a few cases of duplication, which I then eliminated. I also tried to phrase each question in such a way for there to be only one answer, but I could not exclude the possibility of alternative answers. To help avoid this possibility, I would sometimes include a few words in smaller print in brackets. An example would be: “When (not including Friday or Shabbat) does one not say “Avinu Malkeinu” at Minchah on Rosh Hashanah?”
To give the questions a “personal touch,” I would, when appropriate, try and phrase them incorporating the first name of a person, such as, “When did Yankel shave 2 days before Lag b’Omer?”
The questions consisted of “riddles” such as “When did Malachi make a point of not sleeping during the Rav’s derashah or shiur in the Shul?” and “records” such as “What is the shortest leining read during the year?” There were also a few “catch questions” such as “How many ‘Avinu Malkeinu’s are there?” Answer: One - Judaism is a monotheistic religion. The questions were not arranged by subjects but given in a completely random order.
I felt that an improvement could definitely be made if I were after each answer, add an explanation of more than just a few words and also always give the references in the Rabbinical literature for the information. I tried to keep the explanations to an average of about five lines, although in some cases it was necessary for it to be much longer.
I strived to give the references for the information from books which would readily be found in many Jewish households, such as a Chumash or a Mishnah Berurah. In some cases the source was perfectly obvious, such as “Siddur – Shacharit”, but I still put it in, so as to keep a uniform style throughout the book. There were a few cases where the answer was to be found in a less readily available book, such as the commentary to the Siddur of the Vilna Gaon, or additions to the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and anyone who wanted to study the source would very likely have to go to a Torah library; answers found in these books would be to questions such as why some people do not sing “Tzur Mishelo” at the Shabbat meals, or to the wearing of a Tallit at the Ma’ariv service after Yom Kippur.
As I have already said, I decided that there would be a random order to the questions. To ensure this, I went through the questions to ensure that there were no consecutive questions on the same subject, such as two questions on Shabbat or on Tefillah which followed one after the other.
I had a problem with the layout. I wanted that a particular question, together with its answer, explanation and source would be on the same page and not overlap on to the next page. Since different questions did not have the same length, I had to do a further juggling with the order of the questions to achieve this. There are between two to four questions on each page.
In the course of this book, I utilized well over 200 Hebrew expressions, such as “Eruv” or “Masechet” or Anglicised Yiddish expressions such as “Toiveling” or “Leining”. I had stated at the beginning of the book under the heading “Please read this first!” – (this expression is more inviting than “Introduction”!) - that this book was “intended for people of diverse ages, of diverse interests and of diverse background knowledge.” Thus I envisaged that some of the readers would easily understand these expressions, whilst others would be lost. In order not to be cumbersome and explain these expressions on the spot, I added a “glossary” at the end of the book and wrote at the bottom of each page of the book “Glossary of Hebrew terms at end of book.”
Naturally I intended that this book be used and not just stored in a bookcase gathering dust! I therefore made suggestions how one could use this book – namely, either as a quiz book to groups of pupils or adults, or as a self-testing book and to ensure that one does not “cheat”, by first covering up the answers!
I sent copies of this book to, in addition to a number of libraries, to English speaking Ba’alei Teshuvah Yeshivot and to “Torah Tidbits” of the OU. A copy can also be found on my website.