One of the small but significant innovations of the Reconstructionist haggadahLit. "Telling.” The haggadah is the book used at the seder table on Passover to tell the story of the Exodus, the central commandment of the holiday. It is rich in song, prayer, and legend. There are many different version of the Haggadah produced throughout Jewish history., “A Night of Questions,” was the rubric “wine or grape juice” that appears before each of the traditional four cups of the seder as well as in the Introduction of how to prepare for PesachPassover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc).. While for many or even most people that simple supplement—”or grape juice”—may go unnoticed, for people for whom alcohol is an issue, the acknowledgment by our haggadah of the option is very visible indeed.
By acknowledging that someone attending a sederLit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees. may, for example, be in a 12-step program for alcoholics, or in recovery, our Haggadah sends a clear message that we recognize and support people in our communities who struggle with alcohol and with the omnipresent assumption of Jewish tradition that a celebration without wine is somehow deficient.
This same principle can and ought to extend to congregational and other communal gatherings. Where small cups of wine for a KiddushThe prayer recited over wine on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions. or Oneg ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. are routinely put out, cups of juice ought to be there as well, with each clearly marked. (And while we’re at it, for those communities that still observe the practice, let’s getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. rid of the hard liquor that too often sits unsupervised at Bar and Bat MitzvahLit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." and wedding receptions, serving as a temptation to teenagers as well as adults.)
When guests come for a Shabbat or holiday dinner, hosts should be prepared and ask “who would like juice and who would like wine for Kiddush?” A host who takes the extra step and says “I am having juice, who else wants juice, and who wants wine?” avoids isolating someone else as “the juice person.” When Kiddush is chanted in the synagogue, the leader might make a point of saying something like “We will now offer the Kiddush together over this cup of grape juice, so all are included.” While some may not “get it,” those for whom alcohol is an issue will hear the message loud and clear.
But, some may ask, why should the burden be on the community? Anyone can decline wine with a simple “no thank you” or just ask for juice if they want juice. The reason a community or host family should take the initiative is because by offering alternatives a community quietly names the issues associated with alcohol and acknowledges the responsibility of the community to welcome and support all who wish to participate. In so doing, a community avoids the transgressions of halbanat panim, “causing embarrassment” and mikhshol lifnei iver, which literally means “placing a stumbling block before the blind” and functionally is understood to be any act that invites someone to harm herself or himself.
The Bible teaches that “wine gladdens the human heart” (Psalm 104:15), and Jewish tradition tempers this with its emphasis on moderation. But wine and other alcohol also can break a human heart.
Assuring that anytime we offer wine we also offer juice can help create more inclusive and sensitized Jewish communities.