Jewish Beverages

Of the many comments the recent post have generated, I wanted to focus on one.  Kollel nick was kind enough to point out that while my current practice is to use only mevushal wine (cooked wine) when I have guests, he asserts that practice is really too stringent.  That is, because under Jewish law when a non-believer pours wine, that wine is prohibited to Orthodox Jews unless the wine is cooked.  Thus, to ensure that my guests don’t violate any of their own beliefs, when I have guests, I generally go with mevushal wine.  [This is also the “prax” element of my orthoprax, for the most part, outwardly I keep the laws.] Kollel nick helpfully pointed out sources that would allow me to go back to the generally better flavor non-mevushal wine. 

The background is that the wine was used in pagan ceremonies and to ensure that Jews don’t drink wine that was actually used in a pagan ceremony, all wine that is poured by non-Jews is prohibited (unless mevushal).

In my path to my current beliefs (or more exact, non-beliefs), the Jewish view of non-Jews was troubling.  Let’s take a look at the flip side.  You are planning a wedding/bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah and you decide to invite a select few of your co-workers.  You have been at “The Company” for 10 years and are friendly with a few co-workers. You have had them over for bbqs or the like maybe gone to their kids’ birthdays.  Now, you are having your own party.  You make sure to personally invite them and also explain how the ceremony will work, maybe point out why the particular event’s symbolism.  The co-worker responds “I would love to come, the event sounds beautiful – so much meaning – but it is going to be in the synagogue and, please don’t take offense, but my religion believes that Jews are idolators or pagans and your temples are those of pagan deities.  Thus, I cannot attend as the event in question is going to take place in the synagogue as I cannot enter such places, I hope you understand it’s nothing personal.” 

To me, a person who considers themselves “modern,” that sounds offensive, but that is how, for the most part, we view other religions.  Yes, I am a rabbi and a MO one so I know the Meiri and I know that there is some wiggle room but how many orthodox Jews would attend a wedding in a Catholic Church?  Or would walk into a church to look at the building or even say “wow, that is a beautiful church!” My experience has been most, no matter how “modern” will not do so.   

I certainly don’t view my non-Jewish neighbors and friends as pagans or idol worshippers and thus can see no reason not to go into their houses of worship just as they frequent ours.

What I particullary find galling is when one of my very modern liberal congregants asked me if he could attend a wedding in church.  Here is a guy who professes to be a left wing liberal, voted for Obama, in fact he stopped working to help out on the campaign, subscribes to The Nation and was asking me if he could go into a church.  I explained both sides of the issue and the guy wouldn’t let it go, he called me multiple times to discuss and in the end didn’t attend the wedding. He said he isn’t comfortable in a church with all its iconography.

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32 Responses to Jewish Beverages

  1. David says:

    This topic really drives me nuts. Aside from the idea that visiting the Sistine Chapel would somehow be a “sin,” the notion that I should treat my friends and coworkers as if I thought they were idolaters (when, manifestly, I do not) is pretty offensive to me. I would cheerfully walk into a church (and have, on many occasions, particularly in my pre-frum days). Frankly, I’m also a bit confused as to the wine issue (if idols aren’t real, what harm would it do if someone ‘consecrated’ the wine to something that doesn’t exist anyway?). I’d be curious as to how you ultimately resolved this…

  2. cp says:

    Why would it matter if you served them non-mevushal wine? Even if there were no sources to allow you to use non-mevushal wine, since you’re an atheist, you don’t believe in or follow halacha, why would you even care?

    • Orthoprax Rabbi obviously respects the beliefs of Orthodox Jews even though he doesn’t share these beliefs.

      Therefor, he only serves mevushal wine so that Orthodox Jews visiting him doesn’t drink non-mevushal wine handled by a non-believer (i.e. the Orthoprax Rabbi).

      It might not matter to him, but it matters to them

  3. Jacob Stein says:

    The fact that until about 50 years ago, nearly all Christians were Jew haters, and many still are, may have some influence on a Jew’s reluctance to enter a church.

    Until 50 years ago, I don’t believe a devout Christian would have entered a synagogue. I’m sure many still would not.

  4. Jacob Stein says:

    Just by the way, as an atheist, can you please provide reasonably convincing evidence either that the Biblical God does not exist or that evolution created us?

  5. moom says:

    Your post is insulting to pagans 🙂 I don’t see any difference between Catholics and Hindus say…

  6. moom says:

    So you’d tell your congregants not to go to a Hindu temple?

  7. zach says:

    Oh no, Jacob “The Philosopher” Stein has found your blog. He will contribute nothing but insults and make sexual innuendos. He is quite disturbed and has even harassed bloggers by phone.

    My advice is to ignore him.

  8. S. Benson says:

    You appear to be drawing a number of different topics together and blurring some distinctions. The issue of stam yenam is not the same as the broader issue of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles, and neither is quite the same as going into a church.
    Rabbinical enactments to prevent the use of wine used for libations and then extended to, among other things, prevent intermarriage touches on broad subject areas that you fail to address.
    What is the role of the Rabbis vis-a-vis the halachic process in the absence of a Sanhedrin? How do you deal with enactments from a different time and society? Do you take the Conservative approach and “vote” to change halacha? Of do you find a leniency (courtesy of Kollel nick) that fits into your hashkafa? Or does any of it matter?
    How much of the Jewish response to the Gentile world is shaped by Torah versus millenia of oppression? Frankly, there are Jews I wouldn’t turn my back on and Gentiles that I would trust with my life (and have in a literal sense). How quickly should we change our stance? I’m not that old and remember having kids screaming at me in the street that I had “killed Christ.” Mr. Stein, above, makes a good point.

    You are galled that a liberal congregant had a problem going into a church. Galled?
    He was probably brought up that way, has never gone to a church (despite being a liberal), and feels uncomfortable doing something that is both new and discouraged. Decades of behavioral conditioning you find galling? Athiest or not, maybe a little compassion and understanding here is called for.

    Rabbi, some aspects of Judaism don’t sit well with you. Here’s the challenge for us all: so what? I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t struggle. Correction, I don’t know anyone with the ability for self-reflection who doesn’t struggle. But it is our responsibility to keep searching for the truth.

  9. Genius says:

    I grew up entering churches all the time. My boy scout troop met weekly in a Lutheran church. But now I would not enter a church (outside Israel). I do believe Christianity is idolatry, though I don’t have that deep gut feeling of revulsion toward idolatry because I wasn’t raised to feel it. I feel mostly neutral toward Christianity (some streams of it much better than others). I don’t think we should be at a point where we still have a problem saying that a church looks beautiful, even if we’ll not enter it. Many churches look beautiful, though the Lutheran church of my youth was quite dour.

    • David says:

      How is Christianity idolatry? The Rambam says it’s not. And what is idolatry, anyhow? Is it the stuff described in Tractate Avoda Zara? That’s not Christianity, is it? Is it just praying to statues? Christians don’t do that. Is it treating particular objects with some kind of veneration? Like kissing Torahs or siddurim, or putting on tefillin? Please explain your view.

      • Genius says:

        Christians worship a man as a god. That’s idolatry. I don’t mean it as an insult, and it doesn’t mean I think their religion is trash or anything like that. But it is idolatry.

      • RK says:

        Actually, the Rambam says it is multiple times, though those bits were generally censored from the standard versions.

      • Genius says:

        Frankly, I think we can figure this one out for ourselves without relying on the Rambam, unless he had both access to more information about Christianity than we have, and a more thorough understanding of what the word “idolatry” means.

  10. Jacob Stein says:

    Frankly, I think this blog is being written by a Reform rabbi.

  11. joel rich says:

    And the kashrus of an atheist isn’t a greater issue?

  12. YC says:

    re To me, a person who considers themselves “modern,” that sounds offensive

    God gave the Torah to man that He made in His image

    you reject the Torah of a “god” you made in your image

  13. Paul says:

    A few years ago I stopped having raw wine after reading on a website that raw wine handled by a non-believer isn’t kosher. Apparently even someone who realizes the Zohar wasn’t written by R’ Shimon Bar Yochai is menasech yayin.

    But when travelling I would squeeze grape juice just before shabbat for kiddush. I asked a she’ela a couple of years ago whether I should make kiddush on this grape juice or – since I’m an atheist – on bread instead. But I never got an answer (though I was informed that I couldn’t be counted in a minyan any more).

    I recently put this question to a talmid chacham who was an orthodox rabbi of several shuls and is now a kofer. He told me I should use the grape juice. But it’s too late as I’ve given up on Jewish observance.

  14. meir says:

    You write,
    “The co-worker responds “I would love to come, the event sounds beautiful – so much meaning – but it is going to be in the synagogue and, please don’t take offense, but my religion believes that Jews are idolators or pagans and your temples are those of pagan deities. Thus, I cannot attend as the event in question is going to take place in the synagogue as I cannot enter such places, I hope you understand it’s nothing personal.” To me, a person who considers themselves “modern,” that sounds offensive, but that is how, for the most part, we view other religions.”

    I have known and worked with many evangelical Christians who are absolutely convinced that I am going to hell. They believe that even though I clearly love G-d, I do so so incorrectly by ignoring Jesus, that G-d despises my belief and will spit me out into a hellfire of eternal damnation. Many wouldn’t set foot in a shul. They believe far worse about me than I do about them. By and large, they’re not angry at me, they’re sad for me.

    And why on earth should that bother me? They’re entitled to believe what they believe G-d calls on them to believe, especially if they don’t act in ways that make my life difficult, even more so if they can manage to be polite about it. We can still work together, like each other, and respect each other. We just happen to disagree on this very important thing. And it really doesn’t bother me because I believe that they’re wrong.
    I wish you could be as moichel on us believing Jews as I can be on evangelical Christians.
    On a separate note, why on earth should a liberal political stance automatically translate into approaching halacha more permissively?
    Good shabbos.

  15. ToddV says:

    Genius said: Many churches look beautiful, though the Lutheran church of my youth was quite dour.

    LOL. I am a former Lutheran (now Catholic) and I indeed know what you mean. Some Lutheran Churches seemed to have been designed with this in mind – what I call “anti-stained glass windows”. 🙂

    It doesn’t offend me that certain Jews won’t enter Churches – I respect their beliefs. I recall many years ago when some nazi nut shot a number of people in the Chicago area including jews and a gentile Northwestern athelete(because he was black), some orthodox rabbi’s attended the athelete’s funeral by sitting in the Church parking lot. Alot of people were puzzled or mocking of that, but I thought it showed respect.

    Todd V

    Todd V

    • Genius says:

      I think they did have some rather abstract stained glass – nothing too in-your-face. They also had some plain crosses with a shroud across them, and wall tapestries with that design. There were a lot of colors in the sanctuary to offset its construction entirely from light colored wood. The whole place seemed designed to be as neutral as possible. I remember that a lot of kids in my troop were Catholic, so I wonder what their impressions were of the Lutheran church.

      • ToddV says:

        Funny. You could be describing my boyhood Church. We had white oak pews and an overall neutral effect. In its own way, it can be beautiful…at its best sort of like an IKEA church. I don’t know what the Catholic kids would have thought, but if they went to a service, they would have probably said : wow the congregation actually sings pretty loud.


    • Tod,

      you should see some of the Lutheran churches here in Europe. Many of them are indistinguishable from Roman Catholic churches, even ones built after the Reformation.

      See this example: Gustaf Vasa Church, Stockholm

      • ToddV says:

        Isak – A very beautiful church. There actually are some like that in the US if they had large enough congregations and were built before world war 2. There is a large one in Frankenmuth Michigan for example.


      • Genius says:

        I never would have guessed it’s Lutheran. Maybe high Anglican.

  16. ExYid says:

    Is it wise to describe your congregants’ questions in such detail? You definitely don’t want them to figure you out. Despite the compelling issues that you raise, and regardless of how well you perform your rabbinical duties, you probably won’t get your contract back if anyone makes that particular mental connection.

  17. Edward Witten says:

    Where this question of how Orthodox Jews look at other people really matters is in Israel/Palestine. Israel’s approach to its problems with the Palestinians, as well as neighboring Arab states, is a tangled knot with many roots but unfortunately the Orthodox view of non-Jews has come to be an increasingly important element. Indeed, if Israel is trapped today in a no-exit situation in the occupied territories, this is largely because of the role of the Orthodox community in making the problem worse by promoting settlements in occupied territories, and making life harder for any Israeli leader who tried to follow a rational path.

    The Modern Orthodox in Israel were considered moderate in their outlook until 1967, but after 1967 they adopted an increasingly narrow nationalistic outlook.
    The ultra-Orthodox (or “haredim” in Israeli terminology) had a theoretically non-nationalistic outlook, which to some extent they still retain at least nominally, but by today they are really part of the religious-nationalist bloc.

    The narrow view that Orthodox people unfortunately tend to have about the rights of non-Jews has unfortunately become a major factor in making a bad situation worse in Israel/Palestine. To say the least, this isn’t a small problem. The Israelis and Palestinians are in a very bad situation, and many other nations including most obviously their neighbors but also us in the United States are adversely affected by this. There is no end in sight – only deterioration is on the horizon, as extreme Muslim and Jewish religion play an increasingly important role.

    We can hope for a miracle rescue, but there probably won’t be one. It would be interesting to hear what the Orthoprax Rabbi (great name, by the way) has to say about these issues.

    • Genius says:

      Where did you get this insight, a Thomas Friedman column?

      • Edward Witten says:

        Not sure why you’d think I or anyone would need a Tom Friedman column to understand what I wrote. Like many people, I’ve been painfully watching this develop for the last thirty-odd years.

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