Kiddush Club

A Kiddush club is an informal group of Jewish adults who congregate during or after Shabbat (שַׁבָּת, Sabbath) prayer services to make kiddush over wine or liquor, and socialize. Traditionally it has been a male-bonding experience, especially in the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities.

Whisky Jewbilee 2012
Image: Whisky Jewbilee, 2012

What’s the role of drinking in Judaism? From the The International Kiddush Club, a project of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

There have been kiddush clubs in shuls for as long as there have been shuls. Making a לְחַיִּים “l’chaim” after davening is one of the unique aspects of Judaism; our belief that the mundane parts of life can be elevated to a higher status through prayer is one of the central parts of our faith.

We eat, sleep, drink, etc. with a blessing. The blessing makes the action holy, not just through making it, but also through the reflection one gets from pausing before the act to stop and make the blessing. We think about what we are going to do and we have the intention to perform the act after a religious moment. We bring holiness to these acts through the blessing, through the thought and through our commitment.

Judaism has no prohibition on alcoholic beverages, in fact, one of our most important and sacred acts is to consecrate shabbat and holidays with the kiddush (blessing) over wine. If proper wine is not available, any kosher alcohol or juice may be substituted. It’s not about the drink, it’s about the kiddush.

Kiddush clubs meet any time after the Shacarit service…A quick l’chaim, a little shmaltz herring on a TamTam, maybe some smoked fish or more. Then back to the service and Musaf, refreshed, well fed and ready.

This is the traditional bracha (blessing) said before any kind of whiskey.
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו, מלך העולם, שהכל נהיה בדברו.
Praised are you, Adonai our God, who rules the universe, through whose word all things exist.

Bulleit Siddur Sim Shalom Or Hadash

Should we still have Kiddush Clubs?

– Robert Kaiser

When I was a child my synagogue had a Kiddush club: Some men would drink wine or Scotch during or after Shabbat services. Nowadays I drink some wine, and the occasional whisky.  This is part of the social bonding that once brought men to synagogue. Now Kiddush clubs are much rarer

When I was young the Jewish community was in denial about the possibility of a Jewish person being an alcoholic. However, studies now show that there is an alcoholism rate of 10% or more – although it is not clear if this is among Jews in general, or among men who go to certain Jewish synagogues. It is increasingly felt that Kiddush Club culture enabled substance abuse issues for men.

I’m glad that there is an awareness of a problem. Such groups have masked – or enabled – more alcoholism than any of us were comfortable with. The OU (Union of Orthodox Congregations – Modern Orthodox) passed a resolution saying that synagogues must end kiddush clubs. Yet I wonder about a complete ban. Alcoholism is widespread outside the Jewish community as well. No one needs to become an observant Jew to drink alcohol – an absolute ban may simply cause people to drink alone, which hides, rather than addresses the issue.

May I suggest an analogy? Over the past 60 years the American diet had a huge increase in total calories, fat and sugar consumed/per day. The incidence of obesity, and morbid obesity has skyrocketed. The percent of Americans dying from related cancers, diabetes, and arteriosclerosis, and other related diseases, has also sky rocketed.

But no one is suggesting a ban on meals after a synagogue service, or banning most foods at most restaurants.

Acknowledging alcoholism is mandatory, not only according to medical ethics, practices, but also according to halakhah. But banning alcohol seems as useful as banning buffets. Such a Puritanical response won’t end food-or-drink related medical issues. Rather, a solution involves awareness and outreach. A solution includes role modeling of a healthy diet in our homes, and of food choices when eating out.

So I suggest that we need comprehensive solutions that allow us to gather for food and drink, because there should be no shame in this in healthy adults sharing a good meal and a Le’Chayim.

Discussions being held here: Coffeehouse Torah Talk: a halakhic egalitarian Jewish community doing Torah Lishma

Suggested reading

“Why Kiddush Clubs Must Go”Jewish Action (magazine) Spring 5765/2005

Orthodox Union Sets Ban on Clubs For Scotch Tipplers. By Gabriel Sanders, January 28, 2005, The Forward

Kiddush Clubs: A Destructive Force? 08/12/10 Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Special to the Jewish Week

Cheers And Fears: The Debate Over Kiddush Clubs. 06/29/2009, The Jewish Week

“In Defense of Kiddush Clubs” Rabbi Eliyahu Fink ,

Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS)


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