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The Shadowy Kiddush Clubs and the Mysterious Half-Torah

The following reply from the distilleries to the Kiddush clubs has been leaked to this magazine



Mishpacha readers might be unaware of the Kiddush clubs existing in many North America synagogues. Every Shabbos during davening, members of these “clubs” leave the main shul immediately after Torah reading, enter another room, recite Kiddush, imbibe some Scotch and refreshments, chat a bit, and then return to the main shul for Mussaf, having missed the Haftarah and the sermon. This is quite popular in many synagogues across North America. When certain Scotch distilleries were reported to have joined boycotts of Israel, Jewish groups protested vigorously, with the angriest protests coming from Kiddush clubs. All the above is factual. However, this cannot be said for the balance of this column. NB: This article is a revision of one that once appeared in a different form in the “Cross-Current” blog.

The following reply from the distilleries to the Kiddush clubs has been leaked to this magazine. We share it, in strict confidence, with our loyal readers:

Dear Kiddush clubs: We have your letter protesting our contemplated boycott of Israel. You write that synagogue Kiddush clubs across America purchase thousands of bottles of Scotch every year, but that henceforth, these clubs will boycott our products.

We respect your letter, but being unfamiliar with Kiddush clubs, we are curious about their role in Jewish worship. We have discovered that the word kiddush is connected with “sacred.” We also discovered cognate words like Kaddish, kadosh, and kedushah, which have some connection with sanctity. However, the term “Kiddush club” does not appear in our Biblical lexicons. We consulted prominent theologians, but even they are stymied about the connection between these clubs and synagogue liturgy.

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 — especially Scotch liquors — in these clubs. Is this a reminder of medieval persecutions, when 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? 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 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. 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 successfully camouflaged. At a certain preestablished point in the Sabbath service, Kiddush club devotees quietly arise from their pews, slip out of the main sanctuary, and furtively enter a smaller room. I expected the room to contain tables of votive candles, open Bibles, and ancient books of kabbalistic lore — but I was wrong. Behind the doors of this room are tables containing 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 then mumbled. I anticipated a mysterious prayer rite, but instead everyone spent the next half-hour drinking the alcohol — Scotch is preferred — and munching the cakes. No prayers were recited. I awaited an arcane Biblical discussion, but what I heard was chit-chat about sports, business, and politics — thus effectively concealing the sacred components of their meeting.

During all this time, those remaining in the synagogue — evidently not qualified for club membership — were listening to what they call a “Half-Torah,” which is a reading from one of the Biblical prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. Kiddush club members, for some hidden reason, deliberately boycott these prophetic readings, for they slip back to the main services only after these readings are completed, and only after all the faithful have imbibed their obligatory beverages.

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, because it is absurd to claim that synagogue Jews would knowingly walk out on prophetic readings in favor of a mere 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 is obvious, therefore, that this report is untrustworthy, so as an act of good faith toward our Jewish clients, all copies of this report will 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.

We are not privy to the occult esoterica of the Jewish faith, and we await your clarifications. Meanwhile, we remain proud that Scotch is the preferred beverage for the mysterious Kiddush club rituals during Half-Torah readings.

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


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 884)

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