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Conservative Rabbi on Jeopardy

Jews have a reputation for answering a question with another question. Perhaps this suits Jewish contestants well on the television game show “Jeopardy!”.

Joyce Newmark, a rabbi in Teaneck, N.J., will be a contestant on tonight’s episode of “Jeopardy!”. It was recorded on February 2, but Newmark is not allowed to comment publicly on the results until after it is broadcast. However, the 63-year-old Conservative rabbi might have come out victorious if her hosting a viewing party at her Teaneck synagogue, Congregation Beth Sholom, is any indication.

Rabbi Joyce Newmark & Alex Trebek (Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Newmark graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary on May 16, 1991 (coincidentally the same date she’ll be on TV competing on “Jeopardy!”). A member of the first class of Wexner Graduate Fellows, she has served congregations in Lancaster, PA and Leonia, NJ, but currently writes and lectures. Prior to rabbinical school, Newmark spent more than fifteen years in management consulting and banking.

As is her daily custom, Newmark wore a yarmulke during the taping of the show. “The interesting thing is that nobody said a thing about the kippah,” she explained. “Since I was introduced as a rabbi, they may have just thought it was normal.” Newmark never considered removing the yarmulke for the taping since it’s been part of her normal garb since 1987. She previously auditioned for “Jeopardy!” in 2006 before her successful audition in 2010.

While her profession was not a main focus of her appearance on the game show, it didn’t go unnoticed either. “As soon as I sat down in the makeup chair (the worst part of the entire experience) the makeup lady immediately began telling me why she had decided to take her son out of Jewish day school.”

The show’s long-standing host, Alex Trebek, appeared to be very interested in Newmark’s profession. He wanted to know how long female rabbis had been around and if there were any Orthodox women rabbis. Newmark was not the first female rabbi to appear on “Jeopardy!”, as there was a young female Reform rabbi several years ago who didn’t have much luck on the show.

Newmark cannot divulge much from the taping of the show, but she will say that she didn’t get any “softball questions” that were especially applicable for a rabbi. At the audition, she was asked to fill out a form informing the producers if there were specific dates when she would not be available to tape. She simply wrote “Jewish holidays.” When Newmark received the congratulatory call, she expressed her surprise, explaining that she had never expected to be selected. She was then told, “We actually were going to call you two months ago, but it was during Hanukkah so we figured you couldn’t come.”

UPDATE: Rabbi Joyce Newmark went home a “Jeopardy!” Champion with $29,200 of winnings in her first appearance on the game show. While she didn’t ring her buzzer in time to answer which Bible character succeeded Moses in the leadership of the Israelites (Answer: “Who is Joshua”), she did answer more questions correctly than her two opponents including the Final Jeopardy question: From the Latin for “Free”, this 2-word term for a type of College refers to the old belief of what a free man should be taught (Answer: “What is Liberal Arts”). She’ll be back on the show tomorrow night.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |