London Girl Wins J'lem Math Quiz

Laura Bergman, a post-high student from London, England, currently studying in Jerusalem, has won the 5th annual Math Ulpaniada in Jerusalem.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 20:05

Laura Bergman, First Place
Laura Bergman, First Place
Israel news A7 photo

Laura Bergman, a post-high student from London, England, currently studying in the Diaspora program at the Michlalah – Jerusalem College for Women, has won the fifth annual Mathematics Ulpaniada in Jerusalem. She beat out 1,884 other participants from 85 schools in Israel and abroad.

The final round was held at the Michlalah in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, an event that featured Jewish-themed math problems and video addresses.

Finishing in a tie for second place were Yifat Aharon, of Ohr Torah Stone, Jerusalem, and Atarah Gutman of the Tzviyah Ulpanah in Herzliya. Students from Ida Crown in Chicago, Tiferes Beis Yaakov in Toronto, Ulpanat Lehavah in Kedumim and elsewhere finished in the top ten.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Tel Aviv's Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann, addressed the audience via video. Netanyahu, whose son Avner finished third last month in the International Bible Quiz, compared that competition with today's Math Contest in importance.

The contest was sponsored by the Religious Education Administration, the Teachers Training Department in the Ministry of Education, and the Michlalah. The objective is to strengthen math and science teaching among religious girls. The hope is that such contests will encourage more female students to take up these disciplines in the future.

The contest, now in its fifth year, was organized by veteran math teacher Akiva Kadari of Beit El and Dr. Ziva Deutsch.

The final round featured 67 participants, from Australia, England, France, South Africa, and many from Israel and the United States.  Among the Diaspora school represented were Bruriah in Elizabeth, NJ; Yeshiva of Flatbush, NY; Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, NY; Hasmonean Girls School, London; Hirsch Lyons, Johannesburg; Beth Rivka Ladies College, Melbourne; Otzar HaTorah, Tolouse, France; and Keser Torah Academy, Sydney. Contestants from Horev, Ulpanat Beit El, Ulpanat Ofrah, Yeshurun in Petach Tikvah, Tzviya Maaleh Adumim, Ulpanat Bnei Akiva in Eilat, and Modiin, as well as some volunteering for a year of national service, also took part.

Choose a Door, Any Door
A highlight of the competition was a discussion of a famous "Let's Make a Deal" brain teaser, made famous by the host of that TV contest, Monty Hall – who was remembered at the contest by his given name, Maurice (Moshe) Halperin. The problem features three large doors, behind which are two goats and a new car, respectively. The contestant is asked to pick a door, and his prize will be whatever lies behind it. After the choice is made, the host, who knows what is behind each door, opens one of the other two doors, showing a goat. He then asks the contestant, "Do you want to change your choice of door?" The problem is: Is it to the contestant's advantage to switch his or her choice?

Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herskovitz, the Minister of Science and a mathematician at the Technion, was given five minutes to attempt to answer. He said that from a religious believer's point of view, there are two choices: Either trust in G-d that He led you the right way originally, or trust that He is now sending you a better opportunity. From a political point of view, he continued in good humor, the choices are parallel. He then concluded with a little-known quote from Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, in which he wrote that one who studies mathematics can rule the world – and proceeded to give the floor to Prof. of Mathematics Eli Mertzbach.

Prof. Mertzbach, who has written many articles on Torah and math, explained that most people feel intuitively that the chances of winning the car by changing the door-choice are 50%, as the car is either behind the chosen door or the other one that has not yet been opened. However, he said, mathematicians have proven that the chances of winning increase significantly if the choice is changed.

The professor provided three explanations as to why this is true, which can be roughly summed up as follows: After the first door was chosen, the chosen door has a 1/3 choice of being correct, while the other two have a 2/3 chance. The fact that one of the latter two doors has been opened does not change this probability – and the 2/3 chance remains between those two doors. It is therefore recommended to choose one of the second two doors – namely, the one that has not yet been opened.