The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Kiddush Clubs: The Liquor is the Ikkur

Velvel had an interesting post the other day about a top ten list he had seen on BangItOut called top ten signs you are a closet alcoholic on Shabbos. The last two reasons were pretty funny:

2. You have no clue what a haftorah is.
1. It is the real reason you don't drive to synagogue.

Velvel said that this post hit pretty close to home:

"I have never been a shul person. I like to sleep late. I daven fast and get distracted easily while waiting for the chazan. I like to talk to my neighbors. A lot of services leave me uninspired. It has to do with me, the chazan, the congregation and the Rabbi. I've been inspired by services many times before--a couple times, at my current shul. That is my own thing, and I'm trying to figure out what to do to make shul more meaningful to me.

The one thing I have been able to give back, is ruach (spirit) at Kiddush (ceremonial snack and drink buffet after services). Within the last few years, I have always tried to imbue whatever table I ate at on Shabbos with z'mirot (songs). There was one time, a couple months ago, that my wife and I had no plans for lunch, because we knew there would be the right kind of food there to make it our official meal. There were enough of my friends there that had the proper spirit, so we sang. Now we've stretched that ruach so we can sing at kiddush, every week. My point is, if (when) I drink on Shabbos, I like to keep it in the spirit of Shabbos. I know that my z'mirot are appreciated at the shul kiddush, even though my kiddush club activities might not be.

A lot of people (especially squares) like to talk about the bad things about alcohol. It's very dangerous, and many people have difficulty controlling themselves. That is all true. It obviously needs to be controlled. It is also fun. And whether people want to admit it, or not, alcohol also lends itself to singing and dancing. And a lot of times, that's good."

Wow. Velvel raises many issues that are close to my heart.

Let's take it one issue at a time.

Tefilah. Velvel seems to fall into the category of MO Jews that simply can't relate to tefilah. Like so many others, he comes late to shul and proceeds to socialize when he gets there. He davens quickly and gets nervous waiting for the chazan to finish. He has no use for the Rabbi's 'sermon'. (see my threads below entitled, "Mailbox", "Administrator in Residence" and "What about Shalosh Seudos" for more on that). I'm sure Velvel would never oversleep a gig (he is a musician) but it bothers him not at all to get up late for shul.

There are many reasons for this. The davening in many MO shuls is cold and uninspiring. Too many 'kalyicals' who are only interested in hearing themselves daven for the amud. (A friend of mine once observed that in most places money talks; in Orthodox shuls money sings). Too many Rabbanim are boring speakers and even when they are not they virtually never talk about tefilah. The MO schools have no tefilah curriculum. You can get through most yeshiva high schools without knowing the literal meaning of Ashrei or Shemonah Esrei; forget about the deeper meaning.

What can be done? Nothing much will happen until the Rabbanim and the schools are willing to address this problem head on. In the meantime, generations of MO Jews are being raised thinking that this is the norm.

(Paradoxically, there are more beautiful seforim on tefilah in both Hebrew and English than have ever existed. Rav Schwab (zt'l)'s book on Prayer is one of the most remarkable books around. It explains the davening tefilah by tefilah. Two seforim by Shimshon Dovid Pinkus, Nefesh Shimshon on Sidur hatefilah and Shaarim b'tefilah are extraordinary (they are in very basic Hebrew). There are many others. In addition there are scores of tapes in English on tefilah.)

There are also many minyanim that are devoted to inspired davening. Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York is one. A new shul, the Yeshivah Netzach Dovid Minyan in Kew gardens is another. Of course, there are many Carlebach minyanim all over the place, many of which meet at least once a month.

I feel bad for Velvel that the only way he seems to be able to talk (or sing) to the Master of the Universe is through single malt scotch.

Now to Kiddush Clubs.

There is a huge difference between kiddush clubs that meet during davening (usually during the haftorah) and kiddushes that meet after davening. The former are a really terrible phenomenon that has infested shuls (of all kinds) in America, while the latter a Jewish tradition going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years but has recently been abused with many people drinking way too much.

Not only are Kiddush clubs held in the middle of davening halachikly wrong (you are not permitted to daven musaf while under the influence of alcohol), they are a bizayon (humiliation) of the services (and usually the Rabbi). Moreover, they set a horrible example for our children about the relative importance of drinking and davening. I have seen literally scores of men walk out of well known MO shuls as soon as layning was over, stumbling back for the Rabbi's speech or musaf. It felt like halftime at a Knick game.

Kiddushes after shul make no such statement. Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, it seems that the amount of alcohol consumed has gotten way out of control in many cases. Again, this sets a terrible example for our kids and has led a number of shuls to ban hard liquor from kiddushes. (I used to keep a very fancy selection of single malt scotch in my house. Even though I would only have one or two shots at lunch on Shabbos (and none any other time), there came a point as my kids got older that I stopped drinking scotch completely. They were picking up on the chashivus (importance) that I attributed to the stuff and I (and especially my wife) didn't like the direction it was going).

I think mid-davening Kiddush clubs should be absolutely banned. Rabbanim need to put all of their stature behind this because it is so destructive of the values we are trying to pass along to our kids. I am not so makpid (strict) on post-shul kiddushes although there should be very strict rules regarding serving alcohol to kids. Finally, parents need to take responsibility and understand that their kids are watching them closely. If you drink too much at kiddush don't be surprised when the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The more I think about Velvel the more I feel that it is so gevalt that he wants to connect to the Ribbono Shel Olam and inspire others in the way he knows best, i.e., through drinking and zemiros. Wouldn't it be great if this was just a complement to geshmak, inspired davening?