Growing up in a Jewish household, I became quite familiar with all of the different Jewish customs. One has stuck out to me, especially in the more recent years: the consumption of alcohol in conjunction with bible study. This is not something that is kept hidden; it is quite well known, actually. Take for example, the holiday of Passover. Throughout the Seder—the dinner service for Passover—a participant is told to drink not one, not two, but FOUR glasses of wine. If you’re still a bit skeptical, take the holiday Purim, where we celebrate the story of Queen Esther. On this holiday, one is supposed to drink until they cannot tell the difference between Mordechai, the hero, and Haman, the villain. From the many Purim services I’ve been to, I know this to be quite true.
Now to get back to my point. When our class visited the West London Synagogue recently, I noticed a flyer on the temple’s bulletin board for something called “Torah on Tap.” Curious to see what this was, I read on to see that it was a discussion of the Torah with a rabbi over drinks at a pub. I knew that I just had to see what it was all about.
Not surprisingly, I had a blast. The rabbi, who was excited to see someone who was not a member of the synagogue, warmly welcomed me and handed me a beer. This week’s Torah portion was “Pinchas,” from the book of Numbers, so our conversation was mainly based on that. Something very prominent in this portion is the idea of offerings: daily, monthly, Sabbath, and holiday offerings. The Israelites were told to offer many animals to slaughter to God, along with other things, so the rabbi asked us how we thought this would translate into today’s life.
His question hung in the air for a few moments, as none of us that were there could think of how sacrificing animals could be related to our lives today. Obviously this is not something that is practical, as most of the world does not own farms with animals to willingly give up on special occasions. I sat back as some of the others answered the question, while thinking about my answer to myself, as I did not really have a voice to share my thoughts in a crowded pub (unfortunately I’ve been sick all week).
If I had answered the question though, I would’ve said that instead of offering animal sacrifices, we should offer personal sacrifices. Some of these are already a part of the commandments that God has given to the Jewish people. On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, we sacrifice the use of electricity and do not work in order to focus on God. On Passover, we sacrifice leavened bread to remember the affliction of our ancestors. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we sacrifice food and water to repent our sins from the past year. And these are just a few examples; there are many more that I just didn’t think of at that moment.
Torah on Tap was such a great learning experience and I’m so glad that I was able to attend, as I have never done anything remotely close to it back at home in Los Angeles or in San Luis Obispo. I do think it’s a great idea, and will tell my father, who is a cantor, that this is a brilliant way to get the college-aged kids involved in the community and excited to learn about Judaism. Hopefully he will implement a similar program that I can attend back home!