Beer Garden Yom Kippur Rabbi causes storm on Facebook

Social media has without doubt changed the way we interact and discuss issues and this case involving a rabbinical graduate from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, was a perfect example.

Given the comments made on Facebook and the private messages I have received, I seem to have hit a real nerve with regards to the post I wrote yesterday on my IsraelB online community, about Rabbi Aaron Potek, and his plans for Yom Kippur to run an alternative ‘prayer service’ in a beer garden.

Click here to read my post which includes Rav Yoni Rosensweig’s response and a link to the article about the beer garden Yom Kippur service, Aaron Potek is planning.

In response, I wanted to make these 5 points:

  1. There seems to be confusion as to the official position of Chovevei. The article stated,’That doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the rabbinical school, which is standing behind its graduate. “For the record, no beer or food will be served at that service. It is a way of providing an environment that is less intimidating for many Jews then a synagogue is, especially on the High Holidays,” says Asher Lopatin, a rabbi and president of Chovevei.
    However, I have been informed, that in fact many Chovevei Rabbis oppose what Potek is doing and that in their words, ‘ this is over the line’. May I suggest, that Chovevei make it clear what their position is.
  2. As Rav Yoni wrote, comparing Yom Kippur to Purim and borrowing from Purim’s ‘topsy-turvy spirit’ to the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar is wrong. On a conceptual level, the parallel that Potek draws between Purim and Yom Kippur is fundamentally flawed.
  3. It’s not just a question of, ‘Pasach Nisht’ – Holding this type of alternative Yom Kippur prayer service in a beer garden as the article describes, is Halachikally problematic. To name a few Halachik problems – Firstly, the poskim say, that prayer services, including explanatory or experiential ones, should take place on the Synagogue premise.  After the destruction of the Temples, the Synagogue has taken the place of the Temple and the focus of the Jewish religious experience is the Synagogue. Secondly, the article describes musical interludes – This is certainly a problem. Thirdly, the most important aspect of the day, of fasting, is underplayed to say the least… The fact that participants can ‘eat inconspicuously’ and that in Potek’s words, ‘ fasting and prayers have been overemphasized on Yom Kippur’ and ‘fasting and praying can distract from the spirit of the day’. With all due respect to Potek and his intentions, who is he to say this? For thousands of years, Jews spent Yom Kippur in prayer and fasting sometimes in terrible times of Holocaust and pogroms, but apparently this is no longer the case?… Click here to read Gedalyah Reback blog he wrote emphasizing  this point. Finally, Jews are bound by tradition and custom – both methodologically and practicality. Is there a mesorah for having a beer garden type alternative prayer service on Yom Kippur ? Has Potek consulted serious poskim to get their advice, insights and approval? – Again, as far as I was aware, in Orthodoxy you should consult poskim, when dealing with these types of questions and decisions.
  4. I worked in Jewish education both formally and informally for years before making Aliyah and am fully aware of the need to take Judaism out to the street and the difficulties and challenges of doing this and succeeding. However, in doing so, you need to preserve the kernel, the essence and the core of what you are trying to teach and share and not just capitulate to the masses. If you can’t give an interesting and inspiring explanatory service in a Synagogue on Yom Kippur to attract the non-affiliated and ‘turned off’ and instead need to use the gimmick of going to a beer garden, then maybe you shouldn’t be a community worker or teacher?.. I myself have given many explanatory type services to the totally disinterested on Yom Kippur and on other such days, and they have worked very well. Why go down to the lowest common denominator? Why not aim higher? Why not expect more from your flock? Why not set the bar higher?
  5. On a more philosophical level, unlike Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is a day when Am Yisrael celebrate their unique relationship with Hashem, that only we have. We celebrate that uniqueness in our, unique ‘House of G-d’ which was the Temple and now is the Synagogue and certainly not a beer garden. The Gemarah in Yumah on daf 85 says that on Yom Kippur we purify ourselves like dipping in a mikveh. We go to a mikveh, we make an effort, the mikveh  doesn’t conveniently come to us to fit in with what we want to make things easier and more comfortable. On Yom Kippur we spend the day doing things that are different, to reflect how we are different- So, certainly if we usually go to places like beer gardens during the year, then on Yom Kippur we shouldn’t. Therefore, when Potek said, ‘If you’ve been to a bar more than you’ve been to a synagogue this past year, then it might not be a bad place to start’ , this goes against the whole nature of how we should approach Yom Kippur.
About the Author
Benjy Singer works in social media, content writing and editing. He runs a popular online community,, which is a very useful resource, especially for Olim. A graduate of the LSE, UCL and Yeshivat Har Etzion, Benjy enjoys writing, teaching and connecting people.
Related Topics
Related Posts