Drink Down! No Love for Lapid’s new Liqueur Law. Word 36

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Did you hear the one about the former media star turned politician who walks into a bar?
And gets thrown out?
It’s about to happen.
Mid summer heatwave, a new financial decree was announced in Israel this week by Yair Lapid, following up on the most recent 1% hike in income tax: the liqueur law. In an attempt to curb teen drinking and equalize the price of spirits, cheaper alcohol like vodka and Arak goes up 50% while the more top shelf whiskeys are reduced by almost 30%. This law, debated for its reason, reasonability and results, was not Lapid’s idea – it was planned long before he took over finances, but he chose to go ahead with it, earlier than planned, with a clear message to the working/lower middle class: You count less and will pay more.
People are pissed. This isn’t a basic human right violation we are talking about it, and we got bigger problems to deal with, but it is a big deal, if only on symbolic levels. Arak is more than a drink.
Dubbed  the national drink of Israel, Arak has crossed over to the general population since the 70’s. A Middle Eastern favorite for centuries, made of grapes and Anise, affordable and perfect for this climate, it has migrated here from Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq and has become quite popular in many social settings but is still in many ways a low-brow brew. I, too, who grew up knowing nothing of it, have became an avid fan. Especially with an ice cube, mint leave, and a bit of grapefruit juice. A big part of its popularity is its reasonable price. The cheaper Arak bottles go for 35 NIS – about $7.  Not anymore.
The new law goes into effect July 1. Liquor stores are already pretty much empty of Arak. Everybody’s stocking up and the distributors are not releasing new stock. Yesterday, at a random liquor store, while waiting for my car to get some work done in a nearby garage, I interviewed the owner about the news. “it isn’t just the Arak or the cheaper Vodka or the income tax’ he tells me, ‘Lapid just doesn’t really care about your average working person. He and Bibi care about the ones who make as much money as they do, and we are all too weak and tired to scream.’
Arak isn’t bread (that’s getting more expensive also, btw) and it really is too hot to protest, but there is a rumble in the air. Lapid’s party is doing some good things in the Knesset – such as the new bill that was just passed this week incorporating women, for the first time, in the committee that nominates religious judges. But on the whole – there is a thirst for more, for change, for more sensitive wisdom that was promised pre elections but does not seem to be delivered.
I don’t think the Israeli public will hit the streets over the price of Arak. But thirst – of all types, for all reasons, legitimate or not, can topple leaders and create chaos and sometimes create real change.  And sometimes it ends badly, with everybody losing tempers and nobody winning at all.
That’s sort of what happens in this week’s Torah text, Chukat, in which the thirst for water ( if not for harder drinking) dominates the day. Miriam dies, and with her dries up the well that fed the people. It’s a gorgeous metaphor that hints at the loss of matriarchal leadership – quenching the soul thirst of the people, not just the needs for security and jobs.
The thirsty people protest and Moses, helpless, hits a rock instead of talking, as instructed. The place is renamed ‘the waters of strife’.
I think about that thirst of Biblical proportions. Theirs is a thirst of days- not the post workout or bike ride or long day in the heat thirst, with a bottle moments away – but the parched, many long days in heat thirst that dulls the senses: that kind of thirst.  It is not unlike the deeper thirst for love, for meaning, for being part of something bigger and for being truly taken care of.
That ancient frustrated meets today’s as bleak reminder but also as a hopeful hint.
It takes 12 men to replace one woman – shortly after Miriam dies the leaders of the tribes create a ritual in which they stand in a circle, sing a song to the well, and raise the water. This circle of leadership, the popular people’s circle is the response to the thirst, to the leadership that’s gone too far.
The Hebrew words for well, באר, is oddly linked to the English word for watering hole – the bar – exact same letters, and very similar needs. Water, or Arak, and all other options, I hope that we find – and create ways in which to come together, circles of care, to sing, and protest, and care of each other, and clamour for changes, and drink, responsibly, together.
I’ll drink to that! With the last of my cheap Arak.
L’chyaim. Shabbat Shalom.


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

That Big But:Builds or Burns Bridges? Word 34.

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.





In the heat of the argument, raw emotions, everybody trying to be very polite and professional,  N. muttered one simple ‘but’  that totally negated the other opinion – and all but crashed the conversation. It took a lot of shooshing to get us back on track.

When it comes to arguments  on matters big or small, the culture of respectful conflict is a rare and precious art. Here in the Middle East, let’s say, it it particularly volatile and can go from cool to heatwave in no time at all.  One gesture, one word, can be interpreted in different ways and build a bridge or burn it down.

Like the word ‘but’  which can be so neutral – or a total F YOU put down of what came before.

It happened this week:  I was part of a fascinating, important and heated debate at Machon Shechter, the masorti Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem I am attending this year.


The topic was the Hebrew Matriarchs – should they be mentioned in the daily prayers? The bigger issue here is religious progress and pluralism- how and when is it too slow or too fast?

Jewish liturgy has evolved over the generations, canonized as ‘proper prayer’ about a thousand years ago, printed, proscribed and mandated by various traditions with only somewhat consistent views. Social changes have always entered and altered the reality of the prayer text and in recent decades Feminist reality has been demanding equality not only in the work place but also in the prayer space.

In more liberal Jewish contexts God is no longer just “God of our Fathers’ but also of ‘Our Mothers.’ Not everybody is on board.

The first blessing of the traditional Amida prayer, for instance, chanted three times daily, includes the three patriarchs only. What about our mothers? Can the text be changed?

Many liberal Jewish communities have adopted the feminist approach and added the names of the matriarchs (most often four,  and sometimes all six.)

The  Conservative/Masorti Movement has been debating this issue for years, resulting, in line with consistently complex and honest pluralism, with different customs practiced in different congregations. Some are more comfortable with changing the traditional liturgy, some not so much.

In many ways, this debate reflects the tensions that refine and define the current moment in the movement – and in the Jewish world at large: How does change happen in an ancient religion? How can we agree to disagree – and still co-exist as one?

Some of the major  leaders of the Movement  oppose the change and are willing to accommodate more subtle ways of altering the liturgy and inserting the Matriarchs into the prayer book.

Others, possibly the majority of students and faculty are on board with a sweeping change and a new modes of prayer, honoring men and women, then and now, alike.

Fueled by a petition from the students, the debate was brought to the main floor, heated, emotional, and inconclusive. It’s a healthy if slow process: More time will be needed for the leadership here to decide the next step. Will Sarah and Co. be included officially, as a legitimate option, or continue to be optional – or still personas non grata in public prayer space?

Never mind right now the results of the discussion. Time will tell. What I’m interested in here is the nature of debate. Some of us, self included, have very strong opinions – but can we truly own the ‘but’  in the debate- honor the other side, listen carefully and with respect to the other strong conviction?

(In the car going home from this debate I turn on the radio  -another  debate  – the conscription issue in the Knesset – the Ultra orthodox men will be drafted to the IDF –  will the objectors be fined or jailed? The government almost toppled yesterday over this issue. Very little patience for the ‘but’ – the other side, the valid opposition. )

And in this week’s Torah text, Shlach Lecha, the big but  shows up big time yet again.

12 tourists/spies are sent by Moses to scout the promised land. They come back with conflicting reports of how great it is, not unlike how many  view this place today

2 of them say yay – it is a land of milk and honey. Let’s go.


10 say nay – the land is filled with heavily armed locals, giants and tall walls. Let’s not.

The But here is loud. The Hebrew word is EFES – later used as ‘zero’ – plain negation of what is. Another translation is ‘Never-the-less.’

The ten who refute the two are adamant – the argument is about nothing less than the future, and  about faith itself.

Faith or reality? the facts on the ground are tossed aside for the big vision. The two are favored by Moses and God, the land will be entered, like it or not. The people are weeping, this will not end well.  This is one case where majority opinion is not what settles fate.

How do collective decisions get made? then or now? Can a more sensitive attention to the culture of conflict make for solutions that honor all voices and opinions and prevent further splinters and fights? Could Moses have handled that differently? Can we do better with conflict today?

Or is the ‘but’ essential, a core feature of reality looked upon by different eyes?

One of the main features of Feminist thinking that I’ve been privileged to learn is that the ‘either/or’ can be replaced by ‘and/both’. A more expansive and inclusive mind set serving greater goals.

In this conversation, Matriarchs and spies and religious soldiers and all of us in this together – I hope that we can do a bit less ‘but’ and a lot more better.


Shabbat Shalom.



Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org