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Beer: A Religious Experience

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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What would you do if you walked into a bar on Shabbat and saw your rabbi sitting at one of the tables?

Members of Rodeph Shalom would most likely offer to buy their rabbi, Eli Freedman, a pint of his favorite West Coast IPA as he discusses the finer points of beer in the Talmud.

Freedman will be holding court at Fergie's Pub in Center City on June 8 at 3 p.m. as part of a free Philly Beer Week event, "A Rabbi, A Priest and a Minister Walk into a Bar …" Alongside him will be Washington, D.C.-based Rev. Bryan Berghoef and Father Kirk Belenbach, rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Roxborough. The three will discuss, as Freedman puts it, "the work we have done around beer and religion."

In Freedman's case, that amounts to quite a bit. In addition to his standard rabbinical duties, he helps preside (along with lay leader Matthew Wander) over the synagogue's Men's Club homebrewing efforts. The group has already created in-house favorites like the RS Trippel, a Belgian-style beer named for Rodeph Shalom's three rabbis, and The Weissen, a German wheat beer named after a member.

Freedman, a 32-year-old Boston native, manages to mix in education with the fermentation.

"When you’re brewing," he explains, "there’s a 45-minute window where you're just sitting there while the pot is boiling. All you can do is just sit and wait; there's not much else you can do. I figured we could use that time, so I created a text sheet with quotes from the Talmud — all about beer. There's almost nothing in the Torah about beer but in the Talmud there is so, so much about beer."

One more nugget of Talmudic wisdom that should make local beer fans happy: According to Freedman, the Talmud states that if you're in a place where people drink beer more than wine, then beer can be used for Kiddush on Friday nights.

One of Rabbi Freedman's Talmudic excerpts tailor-made for Philly Beer Week:
Shabbat 139b: One may brew beer on the [intermediate days of a] Festival when it is required for the Festival, but if not required for the Festival it is forbidden: [this applies to] both barley beer and date beer.

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