Rabbi’s Message: Mar. 1, 2014

 Liberty to Enjoy With Intelligence

 …v’yiyin y’samach l’vav enosh / ...and wine that gladdens a person’s heart (part of a list of  things praising God for having made)                                                                                  Tehilim (Psalms), 104:15

 Yiyin y’samach chaim / Wine makes life merry (actually a criticism of leaders who focus  on partying and money)                                                                                                              Kohelet, 10:19

 L’mi hayiyin chaim le’enosh, im yishtenu b’matkunto / Wine is life enhancing when  consumed in proper measure.                                                                                                Wisdom of Ben Sira, 31:27

 Ayn simcha eleh b’yiyin / There is no joyousness without wine.                                     Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Pesachim, 109a

  B’rosh kal asvan ana chamar / Booze is the best medicine!                                           Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Bava Batra 58a

  “There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief.                                  “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief                                                Businessmen, they drink my wine,                                                                                    Plowmen dig my earth, None of them along the line                                                            Know what any of it is worth”    “All Along the Watchtower,” Bob Dylan

When I get older, losing my hair                                                                                              Many years from now,                                                                                                                 Will you still be sending me a valentine,                                                                           Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?                                                                                               “When I’m 64,”    Paul McCartney and John Lennon


Wine, people have both enjoyed it and abused it for at least the last 8,000 years, according  to evidence of wine making recovered by archeologists; some researchers believe this date  is perhaps even earlier, likely soon after pottery was developed some 13,000 years ago,  making the intentional storage and fermentation process easier to produce consistently.  It’s more than likely that some sort of wine may have been consumed at an even earlier  time than that, when the first beverage containing natural fruit sugars being stored in  some skin flagon accidentally fermented into alcohol. This accidental brew or wine was  then later consumed by the unsuspecting fellow who possessed the container¾he then  enjoyed the buzz that he experienced after drinking it and set about to intentionally create  the same results. According to the myth in the Torah, the first thing that Noah did upon  the resting of the highly overcrowded teva (ark) on dry land following God’s destruction of  the world, save Noah, his family, and a lot of stinky animals, was plant a vineyard, make  some wine, get plastered, pass out, and have some debauchery performed on him by his  son Ham (Bereishit 9:20-24). And Noah was the righteous man of his generation  (Bereishit 6:9). In the pseudohistorical story set in a fanciful version of ancient Persia  presented in Megilat Esther, read on Purim, almost every scene in the broad comedy  takes place at a mishteh or “drinking party.” Before the conquest of Persia by Muslim  invaders and the subsequent imposition of Islam, the Persians were widely known as  partiers and wine guzzlers. The tasty red wine known as Shiraz is named for the Iranian  where it was developed.

Wine has inspired both foolishness and bravery and served as a muse for the creation of  music and literature. Wine has served as metaphor, honored gift, and impetus for  legislation, both religious and secular.

In Jewish law, our chachamim legislated that we should use a cup of wine and say the  specially composed blessing on it at many important events. Just a few examples of the  recitation of boreh pri hagafen and the drinking of wine are under the chuppah in a  marriage ceremony, brit milah, Shabbat kiddush, the four cups of wine during the Pesach  Seder, and of course the rabbinic mitzvah to slug down enough happy juice on Purim until  one becomes unable to discern orur Haman (cursed is Haman) from baruch Mordechai  (blessed is Mordechai). The rabbis in general frowned upon excess when it came to  imbibing alcohol (with the exception of Purim) but seemed to understand human nature  and never considered banning the enjoyment of intoxicating beverages. In fact, they even  understood the futility of haranguing and hectoring others on the evils of drink. In the  Midrash Tanchuma, there is an amusing story of an extremely pious fellow who is  troubled by his father’s regularly getting smashed. He sees a drunk sleeping it off while  lying on the street with water dripping on him.  He goes home to fetch his father to witness  this disgraceful display in order to shock some sense into him. When his father arrives on  the scene, he rouses the slumbering drunk and asks him, “Hey brother, where did you get  such good strong stuff?”

Unfortunately secular legislators in the past have overreached in their attempts to  legislate morality. In 1920 the 18th Amendment was added to the Constitution,  inaugurating alcohol prohibition, and the Volstead Act was put through Congress to put it  into functional law. In retrospect, we now see the folly of this effort and the damage it  caused. These laws both turned innocent people into criminals and gave birth and  sustenance to organized crime (today the states of Colorado and Washington see the same  phenomena concerning the prohibition of marijuana and have taken appropriate steps to  remedy the problem through legalization and regulation while other states have legalized  marijuana for  medicinal uses).

Prohibition also created the means for what would become a great scandal of the time for  the Jewish people. Special permits were to be given out for the purchase of sacramental  wine to Jewish and Christian religious denominations. For Jews, the permits would be  controlled by rabbis representing the three movements of Judaism. Initially the Orthodox  rabbis had gone to Washington and tried to convince legislators to pass laws that would  allow only the Orthodox rabbis to issue permits. However, Louis Marshall, head of the  American Jewish Congress, intervened and thwarted their efforts. A vicious feud then  brewed among the Orthodox rabbinate about who controlled their permits. After much  politics and influence peddling, it was determined that there would be four agents, two of  them Orthodox, to issue the permits. The Orthodox rabbis had fought so hard over these  permits because both were using them as bootleggers, selling large quantities of “kosher”  wine for huge sums of money in cahoots with criminals (one example was high alcohol  content non-kosher Malaga wine from Spain, which was imported to be diluted after have  been given a very dubious hecsher).

This was a tense time for the Jewish community, as the recent influx of large numbers of  Jews immigrating to the United States had created a pretext for anti-Semitic agitation.  When word of the Orthodox rabbis’ criminal activities became known, anti-Semitic  newspapers, such as Henry Ford’s notorious Dearborn Independent, took the story and  used it to run articles attempting to demonstrate that the Jews were intent on destroying  American values and culture. The liberal movement’s response was to attempt to ban the  giving of these permits, and this group began to stress that Jews should instead use kosher  grape juice for kiddush in place of wine to avoid this embarrassment. The proclamations  on this issue emanating from the Reform movement were not taken very seriously due to  the movement’s abandonment of the observance of halacha. Therefore, Louis Ginsburg,  who was perhaps the greatest Torah scholar at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish  Theological Seminary, set out to make an impact on this issue by offering extensive  halachic research that demonstrated the permissibility of using grape juice instead of wine  for sacramental purposes. Prohibition, though, was soon repealed and all of this became a  moot point. Ironically, the very arguments the Conservative scholar Ginsburg brought  were those used later by Orthodox authorities to justify the use of the kosher grape juice  that today is so ubiquitous at kiddush wherever one goes.

So this Purim be your own legislator. Govern yourself in an intelligent manner and drink  what is appropriate for you. For some of us, we can drink just enough to be merry without  harm. For others, even a little bit of alcohol is too much. We live in such a world today that  most don’t even know who Mordechai and Haman are, so let’s not worry about drinking  enough to confuse them. Let’s just have a great time on Purim.

Purim Samayach, B’Shalom,



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