Author Archives: kaiserscience

About kaiserscience

Teaching physics, biology, evolution, chemistry and earth science.

Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History

Excerpts from the foreword of “Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History”
Ismar Elbogen, Translated by Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Jewish Publication Society and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1993

Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History (Amazon, USA)

Jewish Liturgy Elbogen
Foreward by Raymond P. Scheindlin

Seventy years after its first appearance Ismar Elbogen’s “Der Judische Gottesdienst in seizer geschichtlichen Enrwicklung” remains the only academic study of the Jewish public liturgy in its entirety. It is a monument to the historical and philological approach that characterized Jewish studies — and humanistic studies generally — in the last half of the nineteenth century. It is an ambitious work, covering the areas traditionally treated by liturgical scholars and going far beyond them to deal also with synagogue organization, architecture, and music. Though Elbogen’s reconstruction of liturgical history and the book’s intellectual matrix are somewhat outdated, his work remains the most exhaustive compendium of factual information about the Jewish liturgy, and it is likely to remain so for some time.

Elbogen’s book can be read in two ways: as a scientific history and description of the Jewish liturgy; or as a monument to the outlook of a religious Jewish intellectual in nineteenth – and early twentieth—century Germany.

Elbogen’s book is very much a product of turn-of-the-century German Jewish scholarship. Like many works of the period, it impresses the contemporary reader with its sheer erudition, its delight in facts, and its bravura citation of sources. It breathes confidence that, given patience, common sense, objectivity, and exhaustive knowledge of the sources, the truth can be found. Yet, for all its objectivity and despite its marshaling of evidence for every claim, it is also an engaged book — engaged sometimes to the point of lyricism, and sometimes to the point of crankiness.

Liturgy was a living issue for Elbogen, for he saw the challenge facing the liturgy as a miniature version of the challenge facing Judaism in general. For Elbogen, the question of whether the liturgy could adjust to modernity while retaining its authentic character was a test case for the ability of Judaism as a whole to survive in a manner that would do justice to its past.

Writing soon after a period of radical experimentation with all forms of Jewish life, Elbogen was sympathetic to the need for reform. He saw the orthodox refusal to diagnose accurately the dangers faced by Judaism as a symptom of atrophy. He denounced the orthodox rabbis of Germany for refusing to participate with other rabbis who attempted to confront these dangers more actively. He was convinced that the fossilized orthodoxy of his age would strangle Jewish religiosity unless the spirit of life could be salvaged from its ritualism. He knew that the true spirit of Judaism did not lie in blind traditionalism; yet he had faith that beneath the petrified religious institutions a real religious spirit was still alive, waiting to be blown to life. In our age of fundamentalist revival, Elbogen needs to be heard again, for he reminds us that the path of uncompromising traditionalism leads nowhere.

But Elbogen was not complacent about the Reform movement, for he did not believe in radical upheaval. He believed that the ancient liturgy gave voice to simple, eternal truths, and that these truths could be recovered not by radical change but by careful, scientific restoration. He held that an awareness of the history of the liturgy could provide the discipline that would prevent reform from turning into anarchic experimentation. He sought legitimate rather than indiscriminate change; restoration and refurbishing rather than revolution.

Thus, Elbogen’s history of the Jewish liturgy is a work of pure scholarship, yet at the same time it is a contribution to the urgent debate on the future of Jewish religious life. In treating matters of fact, Elbogen is rigorously objective, marshaling sources and weighing evidence down to the finest minutiae. But the objective data are in service of a larger religious vision, and in matters of opinion bearing on this vision Elbogen is passionate. Precious traces of the man behind the book and of the intellectual climate of his times are scattered throughout these pages: the author’s polemics against what he saw as superstition, rigidity, and illogic; his lyrical effusions on the synagogue poetry of the Golden Age; and his pride in Judaism’s contribution as the first Western religion to devise a verbal means of communication with God.

Elbogen’s Judaism was traditional, yet rational and anti-mystical. His warm feelings about tradition are couched in language that today may ring too sweet for some; yet in these expressions he is quite as sincere as he is in his harsh condemnations of both radical reform and blind traditionalism. His anger at liturgical changes made out of ignorance is as vehement as is his anger at hidebound orthodoxy.

His opposition to mysticism reflects a nineteenth-century perspective that some of today’s religious liberals might find odd. Insofar as mysticism represents a religion of the heart and a rebellion against rigidity, Elbogen is inclined to describe it favorably; accordingly, his tone grows agreeably warm at the beginning of his chapter on the influence of mysticism on the liturgy. But when mysticism crosses a certain intellectual line he sees it as superstition not only because of its inherently irrational character, but also because of its association with socially reactionary forces. Here Elbogen provides us with a badly needed corrective. For in our desperate late twentieth-century quest for spirituality we tend to forgive mysticism its ties to intellectual reaction and superstition, which Elbogen could still observe in full bloom.

Thus, Elbogen’s peculiarly objective yet engaged work has wisdom for our own time.

History of Publications

Elbogen’s magisterial work first appeared in German in 1913; second and third editions appeared in 1924 and 1931, respectively, each edition being revised and supplemented with additional notes. An abridged Hebrew translation of Part 1 by B. Krupnick appeared in 1924. In the course of the fifty years following the original publication of the book, Judaic scholarship made considerable progress in several fields related to the liturgy. Materials discovered in the Cairo geniza contributed to knowledge of the ancient Palestinian rite and of medieval liturgical poetry. Developments in archaeology enhanced the knowledge of the ancient synagogue. The study of Jewish mysticism became a full-fledged academic discipline. By the time the work began on a new, complete Hebrew translation, it was felt that ir was necessary not merely to translate but to update Elbogen’s work.

Accordingly, a team of scholars was formed under the general supervision of Professor Hayim Schirmann to provide supplementary material for the new Hebrew translation of Elbogen’s book. Professor Joseph Heinemann served as coordinator and editor for this new Hebrew edition, which appeared in 1972. Professor Heinernann also added the supplementary material for the sections dealing with the wording and history of the statutory prayers, the reading of the Torah, and the liturgical customs of the synagogue — that is, §§6-30, §§34—38, and perhaps §§43~44. Professor Schirmann edited the chapters of the book bearing on Hebrew sacred poetry, its development, genres, and forms (§§3l—33, 39—42). Professor Jakob Petuchowski wrote the supplementary remarks to the chapters on the history of the Reform movement and its prayer books (§§45~47); Dr. Abraham Negev brought up to date the treatment of ancient synagogue buildings (§§48—49); and Dr. Israel Adler summarized the consensus of scholarship on the history of synagogue music (§54).

Introduction: The Historical Development of the Liturgy

Jewish liturgy has unparalleled importance in the history of religions, for it was the first to free itself completely from the sacrificial cult, thus deserving to be called “The Service of the Heart.” Likewise, it freed itself of all external paraphernalia, such as worship sites endowed with special sanctity, priests, and other incidentals, and became a completely spiritual service of God. Because its performance required no more than the will of a relatively small community, it was able to spread easily throughout the world. It was also the first public liturgy to occur with great regularity, being held not only on Sabbaths and festivals, but on every day of the year, thus bestowing some of its sanctity upon all of life. This effect was all the more enduring in that the daily morning and evening services, originally the practice of the community, soon became the customary practice of individuals, even when they were not with the community.

The format of Jewish prayer was not always the one that is familiar to us today; at first it was neither as long nor as complex. Both the order of prayer as a whole and the individual prayers have changed in the course of time, so that “the liturgy of today is the fruit of a thousand years’ development.” (Zunz, Haderashot, 180).

At first there was no fixed liturgy, for the prayers were not set down in writing; only the gist of their content was fixed, while their formulation was provided by the presenter in his own words. Public prayer was brief, and when it came to an end, the individual worshiper laid out his own petition in silence. But the prayer of the individual was displaced little by little until it vanished completely from public worship. The ancient prayers could not be lengthy, and their content had to be clear and simple; there was no room for convoluted language or structure. But once these prayers had become entrenched, they were subject to continual unconscious expansion, resulting from the need for innovation, changes in taste, outside influences, and the practice of individual holy men.

These expansions consisted of wordier development of the existing themes, the insertion of biblical verses and verse-fragments into the text, and poetic embellishment of the established text. They were small in scale, simple in form, and clear in their manner of expression. Thus, there crystallized little by little a stock of prayers that was in use every day of the year, though with minor changes on particular days; and since these prayers were closely attached to the old nucleus of the prayers, we call them “statutory prayers” (Stammgebete).

Beginning in the fourth, fifth, or sixth century, soon after the recording of prayers in writing was permitted, there arose another type of expansion—free poetic compositions based on religious teachings, particularly on the themes of the festivals. These were called piyyutim [singular, piyyut — Engl. trans.] a term derived from Greek. The piyyut brought into the liturgy a dynamic element that lent it variety. Its character was formed and its content fixed by artistic taste and religious outlook, which varied considerably by country and period. The piyyut was entirely optional; its content and form were not subject to regulation or limitation. Because of it, public worship became long and involved, resulting in the great variations between countries and communities that we designate by the term ‘rites’ (minhag).

No sooner had the wanderings of the Jews and the invention of printing begun to reduce these differences somewhat when along came mysticism, which introduced a new influence into the service, one that was deep and not always beneficial. It brought new outlooks, additions, and expansions; it occasioned a shift in the conception of prayer, emphasizing the secondary and obscuring the essential. From this point on, the quantity of prayers was taken more seriously than the correctness of their wording. Late additions and petty usages were cultivated industriously, while the statutory prayers were treated casually, and the behavior of the worshipers became undisciplined.

Only the critique of Mendelssohn’s circle and the Reform movement one hundred years ago brought about an effort to elevate and refine worship in the synagogue. The newly revived taste for simplicity, sublimity, and solemnity found in the realm of prayer a rich and rewarding field. Since then all movements have worked to improve and simplify public worship. And while the early attacks had to do with the external form of prayer, the transformation of the Jewish people’s civil status and advances in theological study soon gave rise to other demands. Ample room was demanded for the vernacular, both in the prayers and in sermons. Like the tradition as a whole, the statutory prayers become subject to critical judgement; to the extent that their content or style did not suit the spirit of the times, they were altered or eliminated. The prayer books of the Reform congregations adopted a fundamentally different form from the one that had preceded them. Since these books were first composed, prayer has been the subject of intense struggles that are waged passionately to this very day.

Whiskey reviews page 6

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review (homepage)
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Prohibition and the American Jewish community

The Prohibition, in the United States, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, from 1920 to 1933. But there were a variety of legal loopholes that allowed religious communities to use wine.  See Jews and whiskey during prohibition

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Chemistry of Whiskey

Whisky is one of the world’s most popular spirits, and comes in many different classes and types. The character and flavour of these differing types vary widely; this, of course, comes down to their varying chemical composition. Here,  chemistry teacher Andy Brunning looks at where these compounds come from, and what they contribute: Phenols, the whisky lactones, aldehydes, esters, and other organic compounds.

chemistry-of-whisky

The Chemistry of Whisky: Compound Interest

Many people notice that adding some water improves the taste; adding water is said to “open up” the whiskey. But what is the science behind this? When one mixes alcohol and water, a minor exothermic reaction occurs, releasing a tiny amount of heat. This could allow more volatile aromatic compounds to escape. Adam Whisnant writes:

What other heat sources besides enthalpy of mixture are at play in the mixture, given the following: solutions of equal temperature to the environment, minimal transfer of heat from your hand to the glass in the seconds after pouring, and relatively small concentrations of other compounds including aromatics and methanol (as is required to be potable)?

The heat release is actually quite significant when diluting alcohol with water. Assuming an 80 proof whisky, 40% ethanol in water would be a molar fraction of roughly 0.21. Diluting the just surface with a splash of water, or the entire dram with a lot of water to say 20% ethanol, would give a molar fraction of roughly 0.077 (remember pure room-temperature water is roughly 55.6M). Ignoring -which I admit is improper- the changes in entropy, the enthalpy change alone is on the scale of kJ/mol.

Raoult’s law refers to vapor pressures of a mixture equaling the molar fractions of the solution, but of course ethanol/water solutions are known to not be ideal mixtures due to the nature of inter-molecular interactions. Henry’s law is much more relevant given the small concentrations of compounds we actually sense – but both laws follow the same principles. In regards to the relevant volatile organic compounds that are more hydrophobic, reducing the ethanol concentration would indeed make them less soluble, but forcing compounds from liquid to gaseous states in the short timescale after dilution cannot be explained without an input of heat minimally equal to the respective enthalpies of vaporization. Otherwise they would precipitate or form another liquid phase separated by density.

As water has a considerable heat capacity, the overall temperature increase isn’t going to seem large to your 37°C hands without a calorimeter. However, our olfactory and gustatory neurons can detect some compounds at just a few parts per billion. I welcome correction or clarification.

Enthalpies of mixture of ethanol and water, by Boyne and Williamson

Endothermicity or exothermicity of water/alcohol mixtures, By Peeters and Huyskens

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Bruichladdich

At an amazing Scotch Whisky tasting event from the Bruichladdich Distillery, from the isle of Islay in Scotland. Hosted by Darren & George of the North Shore Whisky Club, with Thomas Carrara from SoHo Experiential.

bruichladdich-north-shore-whisky-club

We all had an amazing array set up for us:

Bruichladdich – Islay Barley – Rockside Farm 2007 – Heavy, peaty, salty. Notes of leather, some at the tasting called it medicinal – and to my surprise, the Scotch drinkers in attendance considered it desirable for whiskey to be leathery, medicinal and smoky.  I’ve been trying Scotches for a couple of years now, and to be honest, I don’t get it. I think that Scotch drinkers are convincing themselves that whiskey is better when the grain mash is dried over burning peat – but history shows us that the Scots didn’t do this in order to make better whiskey. They did it because peat was simply the cheapest thing to burn, and over centuries they got used to that flavor.

Port Charlotte – Scottish Barley – Open up with a few drops of water. Right off the bat, we’re not in Kansas anymore – this is nothing like bourbon. A bit of dark caramel, slight fruit sensation – pear? – and a ton of spiciness when it hit my back palate. Non-chill filtered. All the barley comes from mainland Scotland. This is a multi-vintage blend. Contains a blend of 8-12 year old malts.

Port Charlotte – Islay Barley – Very peaty, 40 ppm. Non-chill filtered.  There is a gentle, alluring nose – not warning me of what’s to come. Tasting it, and me not used to non-peated whiskies, all I am getting is the peat. I’m reminded why Americans create whiskey our way instead of buy burning old peat moss.  Eventually I detected a subtle sweet background, but the smoke overpowers it.

2009 Islay Barley – Islay Barley – 2009 – The barley comes from 4 farms Quite a fruity nose. A hint of heather, birch. A bit earthy.

Octomore 07.1 Cask strength. The smoke and peat are overwhelming. A brush fire must have gone through the distillery while they were making this batch? The only way to taste any whiskey flavor was to add enough water to bring the proof down by 20%.

Octomore 07.3 Islay Barley Peated single malt. Finally – a hint of butterscotch. Less peated than the previous Octomore.  More floral. Their website notes that “25% of it was aged entirely in virgin oak casks, while 75% of it spent 3 years in first fill bourbon casks, followed by 2 years in virgin oak casks and then 2 more years in first fill bourbon casks.” Yup – and that’s why it was good.  I would have been willing to buy a bottle, but not at $160!

Octomore 7.4 Virgin Oak. Not much is available here, most is sold to Germany. It’s a bit more like a cognac. The nose is fruity yet also medicinal. Very sweet on the front palate.

Bruichladdich – The Botanist Gin – Made from a mix of 22 botanicals. Not aged, this is the only gin made on Islay. Limited production, as the still for this is only run twice a year.  Gin isn’t my thing – at all – and since I find gin repulsive, I’m not going to review it. But perhaps gin lovers would give it a go.

bruichladdich-tasting

Quite a display of Bruichladdich – heritage on display!

bruichladdich-bottles

From our friends at the North Shore Whisky Club

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Working on my first infinity bottle!

It currently has 2 parts Larceny 92 proof
1 part Baker’s Aged 7 Years, 107 proof and 1 part Old Forester Signature 100 proof.

I haven’t let it mix for long, just a few minutes – and am trying it out now.
Surprisingly not bad – and better than the Larceny on it’s own!

My family owns a couple of beautiful crystal decanters from the 1970’s, but I don’t trust that they are lead-free. Tests show that older decanters leach significant amounts of lead into their contents if stored for more than a month, so using those older decanters is a no go. Instead, I’m using the Larceny bottle itself.

Given the ingredients, it is a bit strong for my tastes (wine is just 12-14% alcohol, while whiskey is generally 80% – but this mix is higher proof!) so I added an ice cube and a splash of water.

Update: I added another ounce from a different whiskey…let it set for a week, but I hated the result. That’s Ok. So I then added yet another ounce from yet another different whiskey, but a week later it was still pretty bad. Continued this for 2 more attempts, but nothing really great developed. At best the result was tolerable, but nothing was as good as a straight bottle of whiskey. I ended up giving up on this.

Aaron Goldfarb writes about Infinity Bottles:

“…Whenever I had a few ounces left in a bottle and wanted to clear shelf space, I’d pour it into the decanter. I was, it turns out, inadvertently creating my very own “infinity bottle”—a personal history blend that’s become all the rage among whiskey nerds. The infinity bottle seems to have first entered prominence courtesy of a 2012 video by popular whiskey YouTuber Ralfy Mitchell. He asks “How can you create something which is 100 percent uniquely yours? That is part of your whiskey or spirit drinking history? That becomes, in fact, a family heirloom in time?” His answer is what he calls a “solera bottle,” likening his experiment to the world of sherry, in which casks are fractionally blended over time via the solera system in order to create consistency. Using an empty bottle from WhiskyBlender, Mitchell affixed a label to the back in order to keep a running tally of each new whiskey he added, and when. An infinity bottle, he says, can create “a taste that you just can’t buy,” one worth far more than what he paid for the component whiskeys.”

How the Infinity Bottle Became a Whiskey Nerd Obsession

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Old Grand Dad, Bottled-in-bond

old-grand-dad-bonded

It’s no secret that the bottom shelf Old Grand-Dad 80 proof has become one of my favorite bourbons. It just goes to show that there’s little relationship between price and one’s favorite flavor profile. I also enjoy Basil Hayden’s, which is simply an extra aged version of Old Grand-Dad. What we have here to compare it with is Old Grand-Dad bonded, a 100 Proof, bottled in bond version of Old Grand-dad. It’s aged for at least two more years than the standard version, but perhaps somewhat less than the Basil Hayden’s. Also the bonded version is 100 Proof, which packs a much more powerful punch.

People studying the distillery report that both Basil Hayden, Old Grand Dad, and Old Grand Dad Bonded, all share the same yeast, same mash bill, same barrels, and the same warehouse.

I’m enjoying both, and I find the bonded version to be deeper and richer in flavor. Unlike a lot of other serious whiskey drinkers however, I haven’t acquired a taste for the extremely high proof alcohol. So I find a better comparison is to add a splash of water, to compare the whiskies at equal proof. When the ice cube in the bonded melted, I could detect more of the flavors, and I do find it a bit more flavorful. This is definitely a winner. And much more affordable per liter than Basil Hayden’s. Highly recommended.

There’s a great history of Basil Hayden’s and Old Grand Dad here, discussing the difference between Hayden’s and OGD.  Old Grand Dad 80 proof vs. Basil Hayden’s: From The Whisk(e)y Room

Cheers from New England! (Blizzard of February ’17)

whiskey-during-blizzard

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Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve
15 yr, 107 proof, $99.99 msrp

107 proof. Distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace Distillery, in Frankfort, Kentucky

pappy-van-winkle-1

Went into Boston, and enjoyed my first taste of one of the most sought after bourbons in the world, Pappy Van Winkle. And did so in the elegant and historical The Last Hurrah, a bar in the historic Omni Parker House, Boston.

My understanding is that the contents of Pappy were originally the same as the contents of Weller 12, made in huge amounts and stored in a vast warehouse. Only those particular barrels which developed in a certain way we’re set aside to become Pappy. The rest had a slightly different flavor, and became perfectly good in other Weller products.

Van Winkle has a mash bill of corn, wheat, and malted barley, aged in charred new oak barrels. As such, this is a “wheater.”

Normally I disregard the distiller’s own remarks (found on their website and advertisements), but in this rare case I’d have to actually agree:

“See a hazy, copper color. Taste a rich, supple entry, leading to a decadent, huge, full-bodied palate with intense caramel, toffee and peppery brown spice flavors. Then, enjoy a finish with an extreme, long, complex, evolving fade of spice and wood notes. Experts deem it a seductive, exotic and virtually flawless bourbon.”

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Any Van Winkle is hard enough to find as it is; this line of bourbons has become one of the most sought after whiskies in the world. One can’t even normally buy it in a store, as stores generally only get a handful of bottles which sell out almost instantly. One needs to win a chance to buy it in a lottery, or otherwise obtain it on the secondary market, where the 15 year sells for over $1000. This year, though, the new release is even harder to find, as explained in their press release:

The long anticipated annual release of the Van Winkle bourbons is nearly here, but unfortunately some of the angels were extra greedy over the past two decades, leaving us less bourbon than in previous years. “When bourbon ages over 15 years, much is lost to the angel’s share. Many of the 53 gallon oak barrels often yield less than 20 gallons,” said Kris Comstock, bourbon marketing director. “Unfortunately this year we experienced poor yields on the older Van Winkle whiskeys. Furthermore, we have strict quality standards here at Buffalo Trace and several of the older Van Winkle barrels did not meet those standards. This makes a drastic difference in volume, considering we have very few barrels as it is. The result is less 15 year-old Pappy Van Winkle than usual, and far less 20 year-old and 23 year-old. Frankly, about half as much as last year.”

Press release: Van Winkle Bourbon Available Soon Barrels yield less 15, 20 and 23 Year Old Bourbon than usual

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Baker’s Bourbon

From Jim Beam (Beam Suntory), Small Batch Bourbon Collection. Beam describes this as a line of “of ultra-premium bourbon whiskies handcrafted in limited quantities from unique recipes, some dating back two centuries. They are carefully matured for exceptional quality.” Ultra-premium is, of course, a salesperson’s purely nonsensical justification for selling a particular line of whiskey at a much higher than average cost.  No true whiskey aficionado would ever allow themselves to be swayed by ad copy. We only care about the product, not the hype. So let’s discover Baker’s Bourbon!

bakers

107 Proof. Aged 7 years. Mash bill: corn, and a high rye content. 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted barley. Gorgeous deep red color. Very gentle nose, not as intense as I would have hoped. But the flavor on the front palate is much more intense.

When taken straight, the alcohol burn is a bit much (80 proof being standard, this 107 proof); I much prefer this with ice and splash of water, which actually helps bring out the flavors.

On the front palate Baker’s is obviously a Jim Beam whiskey, with some of that characteristic taste. Reminds me a bit of Knob Creek. A bit of a toasted nut tone, peppery bite, and on the rear palate one can taste the corn and characteristic yeast tones.

Very silky mouth feel. I see this being sold for $40 to 55, but it’s not better than the $30 whiskies that I would regularly drink, so I wouldn’t spend too much extra for this, unless you find it a favorite.

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Had a great time at a whiskey tasting from Buffalo Trace Distillery. We tried four whiskies and two ryes at Redstone Liquors, in Stoneham, MA.

buffalo-trace-tasting

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

90 proof, No age statement (pegged at between 8 to 10 years.)

Nose: Nothing fun or exciting. Some other reviewer claimed that they smelled “caramel, honey, orange, and vanilla” – really? I honestly got none of that. Sometimes I think that reviewers write reviews to agree with each other, and based on expectations. I’ve developed some skill in this area, and all I can say is that although I have detected those aromas in other whiskeys, I got nothing much enjoyable here.

Palate: Sharp, tangy, but not as enjoyable as some of the others. I’ve seen others claim to taste “brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee” – but although I often find those in other bourbons (hello Woodford Reserve or Michter’s Bourbon!) I again found none of that here. The taste of Buffalo Trace – from 2 different bottles I tried – was dry, peppery, a bit of a flavor I can only call “buzzing”, and perhaps slightly oaky. The Master-of-Malt website claims that it  tastes like”espresso beans, a touch of chocolate-covered raisins and toasty wood,” which I find complete nonsense. That’s the most unrealistic bourbon review I have ever read yet. Overall – Hey, if you like this, that’s great. Everyone has a different palate but this wouldn’t work for me except as a bottom shelf mixer.

Old Weller Antique, 107 proof, Bourbon.

Reviewed here on my blog previously, this is simply my favorite! Always buy a bottle when I can find one. Almost fruity, perhaps a hint of vanilla. You can taste the oak. Smooth & easy to drink, with very little burn. And I am sensing a sweetness that I don’t get with a lot of whiskeys, which I am attributing this to being a wheater.

Eagle Rare

Now this bourbon is quite nice on the front palate, yet I’m not much enjoying the back palate. A bit disappointing, but perhaps this just isn’t for me.

Sazerac Rye

Wow, this has a nice rye flavor. Similar tastes on the front and back palate – THIS is something that I can see myself buying! This is generally six years old, although there is no age statement.

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon

I’ve reviewed this previously, and I stand by my assessment that this is one of the best whiskies out there! Sweet, smooth, delicious. Color: Reddish amber. Palate: Full and smooth, sweet, with tones of caramel and orange. Mash bill: Corn, rye and malted barley. Aged approximately 9 years, no age statement, in American white oak barrels, #4 char.

And now for the Colonel E. H. Taylor Straight Rye, Bottled in Bond. What a terrible disappointment – an overpowering alcohol nose, and very sharp. I much preferred the Sazerac Rye, or from an earlier evening, Knob Creek Rye. Not just my opinion, a few other people at the tasting also didn’t like this at all.

buffalo-trace-tasting-choices

Here is an amazing find – one of the few whiskies legally sold for medicinal purposes during the prohibition. Spiritus frumenti (spirits of grain), commonly known as whiskey. No – we didn’t get to try it, we just got to hand it around 🙂

taylor-old-buffalo-trace-prohibition

A close up of the back of the bottle: from the parent company of Buffalo Trace.

taylor-prohibition-buffalo-trace

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Two Stars Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Available from Total Wine, Clear Springs Distilling Company, 86 proof, $17

I always enjoy Total Wine; they have an amazing array of spirits and any other alcoholic beverages that you can think of, and it’s on my home to see family & friends on Boston’s North Shore.

two-stars-total-wine

The last time I was there I picked up a bottle of Old Weller Antique, and chatted with a few people. One of the things that I like about them is that they have staff on the floor to answer questions: one must appreciate a store that is still properly staffed – such a rarity in this day and age. He led me to a manager who a had a shopping cart full of open spirits available for tastings. Fantastic!

Two Stars is one of the house brands at Total Wine. On their website, it averaged 4/5 stars, with 29 reviews, so on that basis one would imagine that it’s a solid bet. Another reason for confidence is that the Clear Springs Distilling Company is a part of Buffalo Trace, owned by the Sazerac Company!

ttbonline.gov Dept of the Treasury : Document showing ownership Buffalo Trace

Unfortunately, I was disappointed: I wasn’t expecting much for $17, but this not good. Amber hue. Young, harsh, and with a noticeable ethanol taste. No nose to speak of. What really bothered me wasn’t the low quality, but the questionable reviews on the Total Wine website: There were a suspicious number of 4 or 5 star reviews for this terrible whiskey, including a 5 star review which read

“On the nose vanilla and honey, on the tounge apricots and vanilla, and finishes smooth with lasting vanilla and a hint of oak. Lots of mystery, definitely low or no rye. Taste a little young until the finish. Very similar to W.L. Weller.”

Really? This is the most unbelievable review that I’ve come across. It’s almost like someone was trying to drum up business for one of their house brands. As such, I might caution people to take the reviews there with a grain of salt.

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Larcency

Larceny is basically the next level up from Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald. From Heaven Hill, Kentucky (they acquired the classic Old Fitzgerald franchise in 1999.)  Mash Bill: Details unknown, but it’s more than 51% Corn, and the next most common grain is wheat, then perhaps rye. 46% ABV/92 Proof. No age statement: Other reviewers who have spoken to people at Heaven Hill hold that it is between 6 to 12 years old.

How was it? When I first tried Larceny, I wasn’t overly impressed, but that may be because I tried it soon after two of my favorites: Blanton’s, and Old Weller Antique. So I have been trying Larceny a couple more times over the last two weeks.  Now my opinion of it has increased.

Color: Deep caramel. Nose – perhaps a hint of brown sugar, cherry and oak. Very pleasant, just the right strength. Palate: Just a hint of oak, corn and citrus.  This is really quite good for an inexpensive whiskey!

I did want to try an experiment. On rare occasion I’ve had a bourbon with cocoa notes, but that’s rather rare to find. So I wanted to see if I could recreate the experience. I took 50 ml of Larceny, and added just a drop of Creme de Cacao (Arrow), then let it sit for a couple of days.  I certainly didn’t add much – I’m not a fan of flavored/sweetened whiskies. Just wanted to see if a hint of cocoa would develop. Upon trying I discovered that the infused bourbon lost Larceny’s crisp, clean palate. It didn’t, at all, deliver the cocoa notes that I had been hoping for. Rather, the infusion simply muddled the original flavors, without adding much worthy of note.

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

Essays by Raḥmiel Ezra Travitz

About the author: I love studying and the pursuit of knowledge. I have wide-ranging interests in many fields, including philosophy (especially epistemology and legal philosophy) and specifically Jewish philosophy; Jewish law, western law and comparative law, politics, general semantics and languages (including ancient languages and comparative language), psychology, economic theory, anthropology, and much more.

Rabbinical College of Australia, Talmud and Jewish Studies, Alumnus
Deakin University, Faculty of Arts and Education, Faculty of Business and Law, Undergraduate

Calligraphic Art by Rahmiel Ezra Travitz

 

The Original Source and Halakhic Status of the Custom of wearing Costumes on Purim

The Custom (Minhag) of Eating Dairy on Shavuot

Practical Guide to the Laws of Ḥanukka according to the Geonic/Maimonidean Tradition

Responsum on the Applicability of Decrees and Laws in Changing Circumstances in Jewish Law: the legal principles ‘Shema’ and ‘BeMiltha deLo Shekhe’ha Lo Gazru Rabbanan’ in Jewish Law

The Arabic Poem “I am the Iraqi, I am” by Emile Cohen, with a Historical and Explanatory Commentary

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Decree Against Drunkenness (Booklet titled “To Drink Like a Chossid”)

Pages of Talmud

 

How to learn about Judaism

We have had many people join, coming from non-Jewish backgrounds. As adults, it is hard to even understand Judaism, when everything one reads is first viewed through a lifetime of Christian theological assumptions. So the only way to learn about Judaism is to put Jesus aside, and study Jewish sources.

What do Jews believe about the Bible? Read “Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible” Joseph Telushkin.

What do Jews believe about God? Read “Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion” Abraham Joshua Heschel. A profound work that reflects on how man can apprehend God and have an encounter with the ineffable, and the radical amazement that man experiences when experiencing the presence of the Divine.

What is Jewish theology – what are the ways in which we believe? Check out “Great Jewish Thinkers: Their Lives and Work”, Naomi E. Pasachoff
This short (200 page) introduction to Jewish thinking. Presents the lives and work of classical Jewish philosophers such as Saadia Gaon, Yehudah Halevi, Maimonides (Rambam), Mystics such as Moses de Leon (author of the Zohar), Isaac Luria and Israel Ben Eliezer – The Baal Shem Tov (founder of Hasidic Judaism.) Modern Jewish thinkers such as Moses Mendelssohn, Theodore Herzl (founder of modern Zionism), Ahad Haam, and also 20th century Jewish philosophers

How has halakhah developed over time? “A Tree of Life: Diversity, Creativity, and Flexibility in Jewish Law” Louis Jacobs. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

What does it mean for a Jew to believe in God? How can we use words to describe God? Is God “one”? The Unity of God

What is God?

What are the many different ways that religious Jews have traditionally understood God?

Major ways of understanding God

Revelation: Judaism affirms that the Bible is, in some way, the product of divine revelation. But what does that even mean? How can God “speak” to people? Here is an overview of several Jewish responses.

Revelation

What about Bible prophecies? Most non-Jews were raised in a culture where they were assured that the Bible made specific prophecies about the future, and they all came true. But outside of the most strictly Orthodox communities, most religious Jews have never read the Bible in this way: The Bible is a not a sci-fi manual already laying out the future.

Supposed Bible prophecies about the future

Why study Judaism’s oral law? Isn’t the Bible alone, enough? Not at all, and here is why:

Mishnah: the beginning of Judaism’s oral law

Judaism is NOT identical with the religion of the Bible. Judaism is based upon the way in which the Rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash interpreted the Bible, and for good reasons. Here is why and how Judaism differs from more fundamentalist faiths.

Tradition and change in rabbinic literature

These online introductory essays are unlike most other websites: They don’t push the view of one specific theology. Instead, they include a range of traditional Jewish views, and note differences in interpretation by those in the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform communities.

Gambling

A Statement on Gambling
Rabbi Henry A. Sosland, 1981

CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) of the Rabbinical Assembly

The recent widespread experience of synagogues with the problem of gambling has led to a reappraisal of the subject by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. Central to the present concern about games of chance are the long-range consequences for the sanctity and tenor of the synagogue, along with its negative “educational” effect on the membership of the congregation.

Rabbis Ben Zion Bokser, Sanford D. Shanblatt and David Novak wrote responsa on the subject in 1978.1 All of them pointed out the harm of regular gambling within the synagogue as undermining the role of the congregation as the “custodian of moral and spiritual values (with the) mission … to summon man to a higher level of life”(Bokser). All of them are unalterably opposed to such games of chance in the synagogue as a “form of hillul Hashem.” (Novak).

Shanblatt counters many of the rationalizations for bingo. He challenges the claim that the real motive for attendance is amusement rather than making money, noting that there are innumerable other pleasant activities which synagogues might “wisely sponsor,” and that when such games are held for fiscal reasons, “the time spent in soliciting volunteers could be better used in seeking other methods of fundraising.”

It is well to remember that the Committee overwhelmingly approved a teshuvah by Rabbi Phillip Sigal in 1957, which concluded that although no halakhic basis could be given to bar games of chance used for fundraising in the synagogue, “the spirit of the age and of our land may be such as to dictate an evolving halakhic position, or what we call ‘spiritual standards,’ which is part of the approach of this Committee.”2 Basing the prohibition on the need to establish such standards, the Committee clearly opposed any
“games of chance or skill involving stakes.”

While in 1967 the majority of the Committee concurred with Rabbi Fink’s responsum on games of chance that “it is incumbent upon the leadership of our movement to concern itself with the needs of less affluent congregations,”3 a minority sided with Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal’s demurral “that full permission to sponsor bingo can be disastrous to proper fiscal policies and to the moral integrity of the synagogue.”4

Rabbi Novak is quite helpful in his analysis of Jewish law on the subject. The rabbis of talmudic times were obviously men of unusual insight and ethical sensitivity. They went far beyond the simple legality of the problem of gambling. Rav Sheshet’s statement that gamblers are not engaged in socially useful activity (yishuvo shel olam) goes beyond the matter of whether the professional gambler is qualified to become a witness (Sanhedrin 24b). Novak draws attention to the implication “that the gambler makes a negative contribution to society” and that the “overall social consequences” are the real issue here.

The responsa submitted to the Committee in 1978 tended to focus on the view of Rav Sheshet as it specifically applies to what we might call the sphere of influence of the synagogue, as if the synagogue itself, and everything that is done there, or that is affected by what is done there, needs to be considered separately from the secular world. If we then deal with what we might call yishuvo shel alamo shel beit hakenesset, the problem becomes more circumscribed. When the hours spent by synagogue members in supeiVising or playing at regular gambling activities become the major pursuit of those congregants within the congregation, we must be very concerned at how socially useful such hours may be or may not be for the synagogue community and for those affected by-the presence of the synagogue in the area. The proceeds alone from these fundraising activities can hardly be used to justify the results of such long periods of time concentrated on games of chance (diverting so much potentially constructive energy)!

According to Rashi 5 and Maimonides, 6 it is the moral atmosphere that our rabbis must have had in mind when they included the results of gambling as some of the rabbinically prohibited forms of robbery (gezelah derabbanan and gezel medivreihem). Further, Maimonides defined undignified behavior in the synagogue (se}Jok vehitul) with the very same words he used to decry gambling, as Novak notes. 7

The “proliferating increase of gambling in our society” (Bokser) and in the synagogue makes it obvious today that bingo, for example, is not limited to urban areas or to synagogues with serious budgetary problems (which was the main thrust of Fink’s teshuvah). Suburban congregations have often come to adopt games of chance as a solution for their financial situations because they have wearied of exploring more imaginative programs. Further, bingo is no longer primarily of interest to senior citizens, or even to the members of our congregations. Depending on the community, gambling may bring in mostly outsiders of various ages, 124 whose contact with the synagogue may be limited to this one activity each week. That such forms of gambling may occur in other religious institutions is irrelevant. In our secular society, we Jews cannot afford any rationalization which would permit us to ignore the sanctity of the synagogue.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards urges all members of the Rabbinical Assembly to be alert to the evils of gambling in general, and to oppose not only the more obvious problems of involvement with individuals or groups making a profession of gambling within the synagogue, but even more so the subtle and decidedly unwholesome consequences of gambling as a mainstay of synagogue fiscal management.

NOTES

1. Ben Zion Bokser, “Regarding Gambling,” RALA III, pp. 663-665; Sanford D. Shanblatt, “Bingo: Degradation in Our Midst,” RALA #090678; David Novak, “Gambling in the Synagogue,” RALA III, pp. 651-662 (July 1978) (all unpublished responsa).
2. Phillip Sigal, “Games of Chance on Synagogue Premises,” RALA W, pp. 286-290 (and III, pp. 666-670), 1958, an unpublished responsum.
3. Leon B. Fink, “Games of Chance,” Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly XXXI (1967), pp. 209-218.
4. Aaron H. Blumenthal, “Bingo in Conservative Congregations,” Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly XXXI ( 1967), pp. 219-221.
5. See Shabbat 149b, s.v. “mishum”; Rosh Hashanah 22a, s.v. “bekubya”; Shevuot 47a, s.v. “mesahek”.
6. See Gezelah 6:10 andEdut 10:4.
7. Tefillah 11:6
Editor’s Note: While the portion of Rabbi Fink’s paper (See Note 3 above) which is cited above implies that he sanctions games of chance, the conclusion of his paper reads as follows: “… although bingo is halakhically permissible, we reaffirm that it is not an ideal or even desirable form of fundraising. However, for the above-stated reasons, we view with extreme disapproval the singling out of bingo as grounds for expulsion of a synagogue from the fellowship of our movement. The United Synagogue should now begin to develop a comprehensive set of synagogue standards which affect all congregations equally, regardless of their financial status.

Idolatry: The boundaries of Judaism

Like other faiths, Judaism has no one, precisely defined theology: rather, there are a diversity of views on the nature of God, how God interacts with the world, and what the essential principles of Jewish faith should be. There are many rationalist interpretations of Judaism, viewed through the lens of philosophy, and many mystical interpretations, viewed through the lens of kabbalah and mysticism.

However, there are also theological boundaries, beyond which a person’s belief would be deemed heresy.

What are the boundaries of Jewish theology?

Judaism forbids avodah zarah/עבודה זרה, idolatry.
The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) has many statements against avodah zarah, written in different historical eras, in response to different issues. Idolatry includes any of these:

the worship of idols/images
the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols (or images)
the worship of animals or people
the use of idols even in the worship of God

The Hebrew Bible makes clear that God has no shape or form, and is utterly incomparable; thus no idol or image could ever capture God’s essence. For example, when the Israelites are visited by God in Deut. 4:15, they see no shape or form.

It is true the Bible uses anthropomorphisms to describe God, (e.g. God’s mighty hand, God’s finger, etc.) but these are poetic, not literal descriptions. This is reflected in Hosea 12:10 which says, “And I have spoken unto the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the hand of the prophets I use similes.”

The Bible records a struggle between the prophet’s attempt to spread pure monotheism, and the tendency of some people, especially rulers such as Ahab to accept or to encourage others into polytheistic or idolatrous beliefs. The patriarch Abraham was called to spread the true knowledge of God, but the prophetic books still reflect a continuing struggle against idolatry. For example, the Biblical prophet Jeremiah complains: “According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah” (2:28).

The Bible has many terms for avodah zarah/idolatry, and their usage represents the horror with which they filled the writers of the Bible. Thus idols are stigmatized “non-God” (Deut. 32:17, 21 ; Jer. 2:11 ), “things of naught” (Lev. 19:4), “vanity” (Deut. 32), “iniquity” (1 Sam. 15:23 ), “wind and confusion” (Isa. 41:29 ), “the dead” (Ps. 106:28 ), “carcasses” (Lev. 26:30; Jer. 16:18), “a lie” (Isa. 44:20 et passim ), and similar epithets.

Pagan idols are described as being made of gold, silver, wood, and stone. They are described as being only the work of men’s hands, unable to speak, see, hear, smell, eat, grasp, or feel, and powerless either to injure or to benefit. (Ps. 135:15-18)

What was the idolatry/paganism described in the Bible?

A classic work is “The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile”, by Yechezkel Kaufmann. It’s Hebrew title is תולדות האמונה הישראלית, (Toledot HaEmunah HaYisraelit.) English readers know this book from its translation by Moshe Greenberg.

Clearly, the Bible condemns the external practices of idolatry – worship of figures/idols. But the Bible’s description of idolatry is overly literal – most pagans didn’t really believe that their idols were gods; historians have shown that pagans believed that their idols were just representations of their deities. So Kaufman asks, why doesn’t the Bible directly attack the theology of paganism itself? Page 20 of The Religion of Israel states

It seems incredible that Israel should have been totally unaware of the nature of pagan beliefs. For Israel was always in contact with its pagan neighbors, and moreover, had believing pagans in its midst. Certainly there were circles who knew about paganism more than is reflected in the Bible. What is shown by the fact that the Bible bases its whole polemic on the argument of fetishism is that the chief influence of foreign beliefs on Israelite religion did not involve mythological materials and that the age-long battle of the Bible with idolatry did not involve mythological polytheism.

This compels us to examine anew the conventional views regarding foreign influences on Israelite religion during biblical times. Moreover, we shall have to re-examine fundamentally the nature of Israelite “idolatry” during this period.

It is clear now that the question as to the origin of Israelite monotheism has been erroneously formulated. We cannot ask whether it was during the preprophetic or prophetic age that the religion of YHWH came to deny the reality of the foreign gods. The Bible nowhere denies the existence of the gods; it ignores them.

In contrast to the philosophic attack on Greek popular religion, and in contrast to the later Jewish and Christian polemics, biblical religion shows no trace of having undertaken deliberately to suppress and repudiate mythology. There is no evidence that the gods and their myths were ever a central issue in the religion of YHWH. And yet this religion is non-mythological. Fossil-remains of ancient myths cannot obscure the basic difference between Israelite religion and paganism. It is precisely this non-mythological aspect that makes it unique in world history; this was the source of its universal appeal.

The Bible’s ignorance of the meaning of paganism is at once the basic problem and the most important clue to the understanding of biblical religion. It underscores as nothing else can the gulf that separates biblical religion from paganism. A recognition of this gulf is crucial to the understanding of the faith of the Bible. Not only does it underlie the peculiar biblical misrepresentation of paganism, it is the essential fact of the history of the Israelite religion.

Kaufman concludes that little relationship existed between the ancient Canaanites and Israelites. In his view, the influence of ancient near-eastern pagan religions existed only prior to the time of Moses.  Monotheism was an original development of the Israelites themselves. After the Israelites became monotheistic, their theology no longer was related to the mythological pagan ideas around them -to the extent that the Scriptures do not even understand paganism.

“Israelite religion was an original creation of the people of Israel. It was absolutely different from anything the pagan world knew; its monotheistic world view has no antecedents in paganism.”

 

Examples of ancient idolatry

Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) attacks those who worship the pagan deities Baal and the Queen of Heaven; the pagans believed that these deities has sexual intercourse; their religious followers taught that humans here on Earth should have sex, even with pagan temple prostitutes, in order to stimulate the deities into heavenly sex.

Ironically, these ideas persisted through history through Gnostic texts, and somehow became embedded within the Zohar – a core text of Jewish mysticism.  On this, Yehudah Ilan writes

The kabbalah, however, reintroduced these mythological concepts to the point where kabbalistically-minded individuals truly believe that blessings, etc. come into the world via the supposed unification of male and female forces in a heavenly realm. So, even though Yermiyahu HaNavi (cf. 7:18; 19:4-5; 23:27; 44:17-22, et al) railed against the worship of Baal and the Queen of Heaven (which featured sexual relations with temple prostitutes in order to encourage the deities to do likewise above), [Hasidic Jewish] husbands and wives are now taught that the mystical purpose of their sexual relations on Friday night is for the supposed unification of the sefirot of Tiferet (also called “Tzadik” and representative in the kabbalah of the male member) and Malkhut (also called “Shekhinah” and representative in the kabbalah of the female genitalia). In effect, we have in many ways returned to our ancient errors through such teachings.

Major Problems with the Kabbalah: Forthodoxy

Jewish view of Christianity

Some places in the Talmud view Christianity as a form of idolatry prohibited not only to Jews, but to gentiles as well. Rabbis with these views did not claim that it was idolatry in the same literal sense as pagan idolaters in Biblical times, but that it relied on idolatrous forms of worship (i.e. to a Trinity of gods and to statues and saints.) (Babylonian Talmud, Hullin, 13b)

Other rabbis held differently, and by the middle ages a new consensus was reached in which Christianity was generally not held to be idolatry.
– “Exclusiveness and Tolerance”, Jacob Katz, Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, Ch.10

Maimonides writes that Jesus was wrong to create Christianity and that Mohammed was wrong to create Islam; he laments the pains Jews had as a result of persecution from followers of these new faiths that attempted to supplant Judaism. However, Maimonides then goes on to say that both faiths help God redeem the world. In his Mishneh Torah, he writes:

Jesus was instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another beside God. But it is beyond the human mind to fathom the designs of our Creator, for our ways are not God’s ways, neither are our thoughts His. All these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth, and the Ishmaelite (Mohammed) who came after him, only served to clear the way for the King [[Messiah]] to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord, as it is written ‘For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent.’ (Zephaniah 3:9). Thus the messianic hope, and the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics of conversation among those even on far isles, and among many people, uncircumcised of flesh and heart.(“Mishneh Torah”, Maimonides, XI.4

This paragraph used to be censored from many printed versions of the Mishneh Torah because it contained verses critical of Jesus.

“Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People” Menachem Kellner, State Univ. of New York Press, 1991

Mikveh Can Solve Conversion Problem

Mikveh Can Solve Conversion Problem

Leading Conservative rabbi suggests novel idea in bid to broaden the definition of who is a Jew.

By Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, April 13, 2017

http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/mikveh-can-solve-conversion-problem/

Mikveh

Mayyim Hayyim, a beautiful new mikveh in Newton, MA.

Much has changed since our greatest generation was liberated from Egypt, but the challenges and opportunities that come with being an emancipated mixed multitude remain ours to address.

Ours is an age where the nature of Jewish identity and boundaries of communal definition are becoming more, not less, complicated. The numbers speak for themselves — some 70-plus percent of non-Orthodox marrying Jews being married to non-Jews. The age-old definition of defining Jewish identity by way of the mother was upended decades ago by the decision of the Reform movement to accept patrilineal descent. Whatever the conventions of Jewish definition may once have been, any study of Jewish demography makes clear that Jewish identity is shifting from an objective top-down religious or inherited definition to a subjective bottom-up matter of cultural, ethnic or other identification.

And in this new world of shifting terrain the one constant that remains is love. Love is a powerful thing, and time and again, young people find themselves, as the song from “Fiddler on the Roof” goes, wanting to build a home with a person not from the home they love. As a rabbi, this conversation is not a matter of theory, but of deep pastoral consequence. More than the statistics and sociology are the real-life stories that walk into my office all the time. What to do when a child of my congregation wants to marry a non-Jew or a patrilineal Jew? Am I to tell a woman descended from a former Soviet Union family that her Jewish journey is less authentic than another’s? When a child born to a non-Jewish mother seeks to enter my congregational school, wishing to celebrate her bat mitzvah, would I dare derail her emerging Jewish identity by suggesting that she isn’t really Jewish?

As a rabbi I have a commitment to uphold Jewish law and, as such, not officiate at interfaith weddings. As a rabbi, I also have an obligation to meet people where they are, and serve the Jewish future by helping build Jewish identity. So what exactly is a rabbi to do?

It is a question that I have been wrestling with for some years and that has becoming increasingly pressing in the Conservative movement and world Jewry as a whole. Given that not doing “anything” strikes me as lacking in a certain courage, I offer a proposal for consideration, for synagogue communities like my own, for the Conservative movement and perhaps other arms of Jewish life to consider.

By my read of the sources, from the Talmudic period onward, there is an established position permitting conversion to Judaism by way of mikveh immersion for a woman, and for a man, circumcision and immersion in a mikveh, coupled with a course of study.

Mikveh immersion is the Jewish act ritualizing a sacred transformation from one state of being to another. For the conversion of newborns or minors the course of study is waived, the act of being called up as a bar or bat mitzvah signaling a willed acceptance of an adolescent’s Jewish identity. The duration and content of the course of study is not specified in rabbinic sources, merely to teach the would-be Jew some of the strict and lenient commandments along with the obligations and misfortunes that can accompany being a Jew. Furthermore, on the question of the degree to which that would-be convert must be observant of the totality of Jewish law, there exist multiple opinions amongst respected authorities ranging from comprehensive observance to a sincere assent to the ideal of living an observant Jewish life.

It is because I am eyes wide open to the demography of American Jewry, it is because my read of the tradition is what it is and, most of all, because everything I do as a rabbi is done on behalf of the Jewish future, that I believe that the same body of Jewish law that mandates that I only officiate at weddings of one Jew to another may also be leveraged towards a maximally embracing approach as to who is or isn’t a Jew according to Jewish law.

The needs of the hour call on us to invoke the rabbinic principle of Kocha Deheteriah Adif — “The power of rendering a lenient ruling is preferable.” In our world where there are no guarantees regarding who our children will fall in love with, it is incumbent upon us to lower, not raise, the barriers to entry to being a Jew. If a non-Jew desires to build a Jewish home with a Jewish partner, a rabbi’s job is to nurture that desire, draw both partners close and make the onramp to Jewish life as inviting and doable as possible.

The length of the process should be up to the discretion of the sponsoring rabbi, not based on some magic number of classes.

As for the argument that only by being fully observant may one convert, we would do well to acknowledge that this is a self-validating criterion imposed by those who would limit the definition of what it means to be a Jew only to those who are fully observant — a definition that devalues the Jewish authenticity of the entire non-Orthodox world.

Jewish identity can be measured by observance, but it can also be measured by way of culture, ancestry, nationality, communal affiliation, philanthropy and otherwise. Like-minded communities must invest in outreach, education and programming towards creating as many pathways to Jewish life and living as possible, all with the aim to bring the maximum number of people into the definition of a Jew as defined by Jewish law. The Conservative movement should be the movement of conversion; that should be our mission. There is a need to be met and a market share to be had were we to have the courage and wherewithal to do so.

As to the question of the weddings of patrilineal Jews, Jews of uncertain descent and Jews of any other shades of Jewish identity, I would suggest the possibility that mikveh immersion become a requirement for rabbinic officiation. As it stands now, I require brides and grooms to get genetic testing, see a couples’ counselor and be a member or child of a member of my synagogue. Under this proposal, another requirement would be added: Regardless of whether one can trace their lineage back to Moses, every bride and groom immerses in the mikveh prior to the chuppah.

I did so before I got married. It was an incredibly transformative ritual that enabled me to reflect on my past and prepare for the exciting chapter to come. Such a requirement or stringency (which is really a leniency) would serve the purpose of leveling the playing field of Jewish identity — much in the same way, incidentally, that Israel should have done when hundreds of thousands of Jews of uncertain Jewish descent emigrated from the former Soviet Union. No vetting, no making someone feel “less than”— rather, the same rule applied to all. An affirmation to create a Jewish home and raise Jewish children, mikveh immersion — everyone equal in the eyes of Jewish law.

And so too, with our children. Due to the legal status of a minor in Jewish law, it is easier to address matters of Jewish identity prior to a child reaching maturity than after. What if we were to explore the possibility that every child who wants to celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah, matrilineal or patrilineal — my kid, or anyone else’s — takes a dip in the mikveh?

For those children whose identity is not in question — mikveh immersion will serve to announce that theirs is a Jewish identity derived not merely by way of an accident of birth, but as a willed choice to be a stakeholder in the Jewish destiny. For those whose Jewish past calls on them to affirm their commitment to the Jewish future — mikveh immersion further serves to dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” of their identity for the remainder of their lives.

It is a policy, which, if adopted by world Jewry would, over time, obviate the question of who is and who isn’t a Jew by the time these b’nai mitzvah kids are ready to get married.

There is much more to say, thousands of details to work out and more questions than answers, but we have to begin somewhere. In broad brushstrokes, what I am suggesting is: A conversion process whose length is left to the discretion of the sponsoring rabbi; mikveh immersion becoming part of the pre-wedding preparation for all couples; and mikveh immersion becoming part of the b’nai mitzvah process.

Such a policy would not meet the needs of every interfaith relationship. But it would indicate we are doing everything we can — in spirit and in deed — to meet people where they are while remaining within the bounds of Jewish law.

I believe that if a large enough swath of the Jewish world, in the diaspora and in Israel, embraced such an inclusive approach to Jewish identity, it may in the long term bear the potential to shift the politics on the age-old question of “Who is a Jew?” and redound to the benefit of the Jewish people as a whole.

At the seder table, we just declared, “All who are hungry come find a seat and be satisfied.” This year, let our focus turn to include those possessed with a spiritual hunger to sit at the table of our people. Passover reminds us that every child has a seat reserved for them. Let us fulfill our obligation to bring as many as we can into the narrative and covenant of our people, and in so doing serve the Jewish past by building a very bright and inclusive Jewish future.

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove is senior rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan.