The Alcohol Libel: an Intercepted Letter to Kiddush Clubs

O would some Power the giftie gie us
to see ourselves as others see us.
— Robert Burns, Scotland (1759-1796)

News item: Certain Scotch distilleries have initiated divestment boycotts of Israel. In reaction to this, many Jewish groups worldwide have protested vigorously. The angriest protests came from Kiddush Clubs across North America.

The following letter from the Scotch distilleries, in response to the Kiddush Clubs, was intercepted by MI6.2, the Elders of Zion branch of England’s MI6 intelligence agency.

TO: Kiddush Clubs of America
FROM: Scotch whiskey distilleries
SUBJECT: Boycotts

We have your letter protesting our contemplated boycott of Israel. You write that synagogue Kiddush Clubs across America purchase thousands of bottles of Scotch during the course of a year, but that henceforth these Clubs will boycott our products.

We are respectfully considering your letter, but being unfamiliar with Kiddush Clubs, we are curious about their role in Jewish worship.

We have discovered that the word kiddush in Hebrew is connected with “sacred.” We have also discovered cognate words like kaddish, kadosh, and kedusha, which have some connection with sanctity. However, the term “Kiddush Club” does not appear in our Biblical lexicons. Even the theologians we consulted are stymied about the connection between these Clubs and synagogue prayers.

We therefore tentatively assume that Kiddush Clubs are involved in some esoteric religious rites which are deliberately concealed. We are particularly intrigued about the role of alcohol – particularly Scotch liquors – in these Clubs. Is this symbolic of the fact that during medieval persecutions, some Jews took refuge in the Scottish highlands? Or perhaps the liquor is a kind of alcohol libation on the synagogue altar, a vestige of wine libations in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Without revealing anything of a secret nature, could you shed some light on this?

Because of our curiosity about this issue , we dispatched a special agent to the USA for further research. He has submitted his report, based on extensive visits to American synagogues, but we find his report puzzling. We recognize that , as strangers to Jewish practice, we might not be processing his information correctly , so we send it along to you herewith, hoping that you will inform us of any inaccuracies:

Kiddush Clubs are a sub-group of many synagogues. Its members pay annual dues, beyond their dues to the synagogue itself. This income purchases the liquor that is apparently an essential component of their program.

Club members are entitled to several glassfuls of Scotch, bourbon and other liquors on Sabbath. What was not clear was how, and precisely when in the prayer service, these liquors are utilized?

For answers, I visited several Kiddush Clubs and found that their connections with holiness and sanctity are very successfully camouflaged. At a certain pre-established point in the Sabbath service, members of Kiddush Clubs arise from their pews and slip out of the main sanctuary. They then enter a smaller room. I expected the room to contain tables of votive candles, open Bibles and ancient books of cabbalistic lore – but I was wrong. Behind the doors of this smaller room are tables containing various bottles of Scotch, bourbon, Canadian whiskey, and assorted liquors from around the world, plus an assortment of wines and cakes. A brief food blessing is recited. I anticipated a mysterious prayer rite, but instead everyone spent the next twenty minutes drinking the alcohol – Scotch is preferred – and munching on the cakes. No prayers were recited. I awaited an arcane Biblical discussion, but what I heard was chit-chat about sports, business, and politics.

During all this time, those remaining in the synagogue — evidently not Club members in good standing — were listening to what they call a “Half-Torah” ( please forgive any misspelling ) which is a reading from one of the Biblical prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. Kiddush Club members, for some unknown reason, deliberately boycott these prophetic readings, for they return to the main services only after these readings are completed, and only after they have imbibed their obligatory drinks.

This is evidently a widespread practice in American Orthodox synagogues. My subsequent attempts to uncover the hidden connections behind the alcohol and the apparent boycott of the Hebrew prophets were met with blank stares.

Thus ends the report of our agent. We find the report very questionable on its face, because It is absurd to claim that synagogue Jews would knowingly walk out on prophetic readings in favor of a drink – even if that drink is Scotch.

Furthermore, if Kiddush Clubs were actually boycotting the Hebrew prophets, you would obviously not be protesting the Scotch boycott of Israel. After all, why would our boycott be more reprehensible than a Jewish boycott of G dly figures like Isaiah and Jeremiah? It would be incongruous for those who are in effect boycotting the prophets of Israel , to protest our boycott of the Land of Israel.

It is obvious, therefore, that this report is untrustworthy, but we share it with you so that you become aware of what is being bruited about. You might want to contact your Anti-Defamation League about this.

As an act of good faith towards our Jewish clients — and unless we hear some different interpretation from you — we are ordering that all copies of this report be destroyed. If it were ever to be leaked, it could create a modern alcohol libel against Jews, almost as scurrilous as the medieval blood libels.

Although we are not privy to the secret esoterica of the Jewish faith, we remain proud that Scotch has for so many years been the preferred beverage for the mysterious Kiddush Club rites during Half-Torah readings.

— Associated Scotch Distillers, Invertipesh-on-the-Lochsechel

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13 comments to The Alcohol Libel: an Intercepted Letter to Kiddush Clubs

  • Dan

    My sources in communities outside Brooklyn and the Five Towns were equally perplexed by this custom.

  • Michoel

    cross-currents.com really needs to get R. Feldman to write more often. It is really a shame. He is funny, insightful, and never divisive.

  • David F.

    Terrific. Very clever and insightful.

  • mb

    Whisky is Gaelic for living waters!
    Sounds holy to me.
    (BTW, no Scottish distilleries were boycotting Israel. It was the West Dunbarton Council, led by a communist member, in whose area there are some distilleries, who have all protested the proposed boycott)

  • CJ Srullowitz

    Leave it to Rabbi Feldman! Nobody packs the wallop quite like him. Hard-hitting mussar delivered with hilarity. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

  • David in Jerusalem

    In all fairness, I recall that the Kiddush Clubs that called to participate in the Scotch whiskey boycott were from the Conservative movement. I’m not familiar with their version of the Kiddush Club. Perhaps they’re just making Kiddush for the whole synagogue after services? Therefore, while this article is an excellent tongue-in-cheek reprimand of the chareidi and Modern Orthodox men who sneak out of the Haftorah reading to socialize and schmooze with some booze, it’s not accurate to connect it with the official call of the Kiddush clubs to boycott the Scotch from West Dunbarton.

  • David

    Is Rabbi Feldman saying that there should be no need to boycott Scotch from our shuls for political reasons since all alcohol should be already be banned anyway?
    As far as kiddush clubs not being mentioned in traditional Jewish sources, either are the very popular Motzai Shabbat pizza and learning programs or Friday night cholent and learning.
    Where in the Gemera does it mention talking in Yiddish or yinglish/yeshivsh? Is the Lakewood Kollel lifestyle really one with much pre-WWII precedent?
    Obviously extreme drinking is not to be condoned, but Rabbi Feldman does not strike me as one who holds to the “everything new is assur” philosophy.

  • Hoody JM

    Rabbi Feldman leaves the reader with a serious lot to think about, and a smile that takes a while to fade. Please let’s have more of Rabbi Feldman’s writing.

  • Bob Miller

    To become holy while davening in shul seems too easy to some intrepid congregants. They feel (“think” might be too strong a word) that achieving holiness while alcohol-impaired earns them more points. However, the warning to Cohanim after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu suggests that this is the wrong approach.

  • Neil Harris

    Rabbi Feldman has hit the center of the target! The whole concept, as I understand it, was that those in the kiddush club would leave after leining because they had to get to their jobs on Shabbos (back when you would get fired for not coming in to work on Shabbos).

    Kiddush club after davening…great. Leaving shul and missing word of the ne’veim…not so great.

  • L. Oberstein

    Rabbi Feldman shows how to deal with a serious topic in a rye way.One of his grandsons told me that he also did not smoke cigarettes when he was a yeshiva student.He was an independent thinker, something we need more of.
    On the serious topic of addiction to alcohol, much could be written. I see more young people, including females, finishing a bottle of alcoholic beverage . I am looking at wedding pictures where the younger element (20’s and 30’s) are holding beer bottles in their hands and smiling. They think getting a “buzz” is cool. It wasn’t that way when I was 20 back in Herbert Hooover’s days.
    Secondly, davening is boring and long for most people. If anyone honestly disagrees with me and is honestg enough to admit their name, then they are welcome to disagree. Most baalebatim go to shul late and shmooz or read handouts because they are bored. The solution is not to shorten the service, which doesn’t get to the root cause, it is to deepen the spirituality of the person, which is much harder. Our shuls are full of people going through the motions for social reasons but who don’t really think deeply about the words they are saying. So, given the chance to go out and socialize over some herring and shnaps is enticing. I don’t do it personally because it’s insulting to the rabbi and the haftorah,but I understand how bored these people are. Does anyone disagree that this is the truth.

  • Steve

    I view of this enormous and world shattering revelation that Kiddush-clubs in the USA, are part of the Shabbat service;
    It is now essential that the State of Israel, open a new industry of producing Israeli-made Scotch!
    It will be kosher, made from local Israeli crops, and prepared in olive wood casks.
    A Rabbi will bless-this special “”wiskeyed”‘ juice, before it is exported to the USA.
    Steve

  • Someone in the know

    TO: David
    August 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm
    Is Rabbi Feldman saying that there should be no need to boycott Scotch from our shuls for political reasons since all alcohol should be already be banned anyway?
    As far as kiddush clubs not being mentioned in traditional Jewish sources, either are the very popular Motzai Shabbat pizza and learning programs or Friday night cholent and learning.
    Where in the Gemera does it mention talking in Yiddish or yinglish/yeshivsh? Is the Lakewood Kollel lifestyle really one with much pre-WWII precedent?
    Obviously extreme drinking is not to be condoned, but Rabbi Feldman does not strike me as one who holds to the “everything new is assur” philosophy.

    I seriously doubt that Rav Feldman is referring to banning alcohol at all. Rather, he is exposing “Kiddush Clubs” as having zero connection with Kedusha, or with Shabbos for that matter. He describes the practice as simple indulgence, with the cloak of “Kiddush” used to masquerade its true hedonistic value. The issur against Kiddush Clubs is not novel. The OU, Rav Heshy Weinreb, Dr. Twerski, and many others have publicly shunned the practice. Rav Feldman, in his inimitable and creative manner, echoes those sentiments.

    The learning programs are mentioned in many places. The establishment of times to indulge, whether pizza or cholent, is not. You are correct in drawing the parallel to Kiddush Clubs. These are not mitzvos, but indulgences in the gashmiyus that counter and detract from our ability and progess to achieve the spiritual heights expected from the Torah “anshei kodesh tihiyun li”.