Dancing with cowboys (Daf Yomi Pesachim 107)

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“Beer is the wine of the province.”

I have a confession to make. I hate beer. It is bitter and heavy and when I am persuaded to try a glass, I am left feeling bloated and somewhat unwell, like Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who suffers indigestion after he imbibes. Unlike the great Rabbi, I never find it “especially pleasant” and do not understand his remark that it “pains on one hand and soothes on the other.”

I have been known to sit in cowboy bars in the western US with a glass of wine rather than pint of beer, while getting disturbed looks from the locals around me.  I know I must have appeared like an out-of-touch and out-of-place New Yorker. And I do not understand why anyone would want to consume a pint of beer on a hot day, when there is a tall glass of sweet, iced tea to be had.

Today’s Daf Yomi, which has been digging deep into the details of the kiddush and havdala over the last few days, discusses if the blessings can be said over a glass of beer. They have traditionally been said over wine or grape juice and are very much associated with the vine. We are told today that the proper amount to consume of wine is a “cheekful,” which is a perfect measure that adjusts to a person’s size.

But what if the local drink of one’s province is beer rather than wine, like the cowboys in the bar that I visited many years ago in Arizona? They were dentists and accountants and real estate agents during the day, but at night they became cowboys and donned the hat and belt and spiked boots. And what if the local Rabbi ran a beer business on the side, like it is suggested that Rav Huna did, and the hop became the grain of juice for imbibing? Can recitation of the kiddush and the havdala count if they are recited over beer?

One day the great Sage Ameimar visited the sons of Rav Hisda and was offered beer for the havdala rather than wine. Not only did the great scholar refrain from reciting the havdala he spent the night fasting, as “it is prohibited to eat before havdala.” However, we are told the pair “exerted themselves” and brought Ameimar wine the next day and he recited havdala and ate.

Here is the interesting part of the story. Ameimar returned the next year and once again was offered beer ahead of the recitation of the havdala. It is unclear according to the notes in the Koren Talmud why Rav Hisda’s sons would do this again after what happened the previous year. But Ameimar, being more socially aware this time, reasoned that “if it is so difficult to obtain wine in your place, beer is the wine of the province.” As a result, he recited havdala over beer and shared a meal.

We are told that there are three lessons to be learned from this story: if one recites havdala in the prayer service, he must repeat it again presumably in his home or that of a host over a cup; it is prohibited to eat before one recites havdala; and if one did not recite havdala at the conclusion of Shabbat he may recite it anytime over the first three days of the week.

There is another lesson that can be gleaned from this story. Ameimar may have missed the social cues during his first visit and turned his back on reciting the havdala when he was offered a glass of beer. He may have not realized the extreme efforts his hosts went to the next day when they offered him wine instead. But when he returned the next year, he was able to realize that beer was what was available in the province and he adjusted rather than sending his hosts on a journey to secure wine.

Of course, this is not a lesson I learned when I sat in a cowboy bar all those years ago with my glass of merlot. If I had learned to swallow the bitterness in a glass of beer, my experience might have been different. I can only imagine now how I must have appeared as a New Yorker with my designer handbag sipping red wine. But despite all that, a very tall cowboy in a large hat came over to me and said, “are you going to hug that bag of yours all night or are you going to dance?” And he led me to the dance floor and taught me the two-step. I was awkward and slow to pick up the moves.  He was patient and respectful and seemed to have a heart as large as the western sky above us.

That is the night that I danced with a cowboy in a bar near Tuscan, Arizona. It is night that despite my stubborn refusal to drink beer allowed me to lose myself in the beat of the two-step.

For music accompaniment to today’s Daf Yomi, here is a link to Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’s Old Town Road Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7qovpFAGrQ


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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