Torah study study can be a real challenge. For Andrea Frazier, it was enough to drive her to drink.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Frazier has come up with a new approach to midrash, or biblical exegesis. In a bid to make Torah study engaging, the amateur mixologist, has started a blog featuring original cocktails for each of the Torah’s weekly portions.
Titled, “Tippling Through The Torah,” the blog offers contemporary, hip scriptural commentary along with recipes for drinks that aim to pair spirits with the spiritual.
For Frazier, it’s not enough to merely read in the BeHa’alotcha portion in the Book of Numbers about the the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire that the Israelites followed as they sojourned in the Sinai. For those who like to drink in as much Torah as they can, she offered “Clouds and Fire” made of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, cinnamon schnapps, and Kahlua.
“Top with a cloud of whipped cream, which we did make ourselves and should have made boozy. Camp out on a barstool and remember, no moving unless you’re following that whipped cream cloud,” she instructed.
A week earlier, the passage about the sotah, a married woman suspected of adultery by her husband forced to drink bitter water in a trial by ordeal in the Naso portion enraged Frazier’s feminist sensibilities. In this case, the text inspired a far less fun and frothy drink. “The Wayward J-w-ess” involves mixing tequila, smokey scotch and bitters in a martini glass. You are supposed to drop in some bruised sage leaves, as well.
“While you let the sage oils infuse, write the curse of your choice on a piece of rice paper; drop in to a glass and burn with shame,” Frazier wrote snidely.
While Frazier, 37, writes and publishes the blog, she is actually assisted in both commenting on the Torah portions and interpreting them alcoholically by a small group of friends, neighbors and fellow members of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago.
“We’re all amateurs,” Frazier told The Times of Israel about the group’s mixology skill level.
Frazier, an analyst for a health system in Chicago, has no bartending experience. Neither do the others in what has been ironically dubbed “The Kiddush Club” (the term is usually reserved for a bunch of old men sneaking out of Shabbat services for a shot of whiskey). But some members have backgrounds that lend themselves to the task.
“Some of us were presidents of our sororities and fraternities in college, which obviously counts for something when it comes to drinking. And some of us are researchers in physics and chemistry, and therefore do lab work,” Frazier offered.
The science know-how came in handy when the Kiddush Club developed a drink for VaYeshev, the Torah portion about Jospeh and his brothers. The colorful concoction called “The Coat of Many Colors” resembles a lava lamp and is made by layering grenadine, Midori, orange or mango juice, blue curacao, and tequila.
“For a slightly less colorful, but infinitely more palatable, drink, try the following: Layer crabapple syrup (from preserving the crabapples you picked around the model boat pond… Or, if you’re not an urban gleaner, we think grenadine or crushed raspberries with a bit of lemon juice, cardamom, and cinnamon would approximate), then elderflower liqueur, then blue curacao, then pisco. Top with whipped egg white (the stiffer, the better, even before you’re tipsy enough to crack jokes about that). If you drop in pomegranate seeds, they will hang out in the blue layer. Share it with your brothers, your neighbors, what have you — just keep it away from Pharaoh, I hear he’s a mean drunk,” Frazier quipped on the blog.
Frazier and her friends started “Tippling Through The Torah” on a dare from Rodfei Zedek’s rabbi, David Minkus, who saw Frazier slipping some whiskey into a bar mitzvah boy’s coffee early last fall. (“It was an inside joke between the kid’s mother and me and he never had a taste,” Frazier said, assuring that no malice was intended or negligence involved.)
The Kiddush Club launched into action in time for Simchat Torah in early October 2015, and its members plan on sticking with the project until the end of the current Torah reading cycle, which will fall this year on October 24.
“We get together two to three nights a week to discuss the Torah portion and to work on coming up with the drinks. It’s really quite serious. We sit down and look at the portion and decide what resonates in it for us,” Frazier explained.
“The table is filled with dictionaries and Torah commentaries… and lots of alcohol,” she added.
To Frazier’s surprise, it has been easier to come up with drinks for the more esoteric or legalistic Torah portions than for the more narrative ones.
“The legalistic ones are more bizarre and evoke a more visceral, emotional reaction. Also, the portions about the Holy Temple sacrifices are in essence about cooking. They evoke tastes and smells, which lead us to possible drink ingredients,” she said.
The blog also includes drinks for each Jewish holiday in the Hebrew calendar. For instance, there was a “Liquid Seder Plate” for Passover, and on Purim there were the risqué “Golden Scepter” (Coconut Bliss or other vegan ice cream substitute, one banana, 1/4 c. coconut milk, and at least 3 shots golden rum with ice) and Vashti’s Tuchis (1 part etrog vodka, 1 part peach schnapps, 2-3 parts pomegranate juice).
Frazier’s personal favorite is “The Fiery Law,” whose name is derived from Deuteronomy 33:2, in which Moses reminds the Israelites that God’s right hand is “a fiery law.” It’s for imbibing on Simchat Torah as the final Torah portion of the year is read.
“Chop a mix of hot peppers (you need some habeneros for the hot floral note, jalapenos are nice for color, finger peppers and Serranos are good). Shake peppers with 2 oz vodka, a squeeze of lime juice, a squirt of honey, and ginger (If your peppers aren’t super hot, add red pepper flakes). Strain into a glass over ice. Offer cayenne, Cajun seasoning, that awesome Trader Joe’s ghost pepper grinder, and other hot toppings for the die-hards, but be warned that a shaker full of these gets spicier by the glass,” she instructed on the blog.
“I like this drink because it’s spicy and not sweet like all the other Jewish New Year season drinks. It’s got a clean flavor. It’s not an obvious choice, but people really liked it,” Frazier said.
Before Jewniverse posted about “Tippling Through The Torah,” in late May, it was getting only about 10 views per week, according to Frazier.
“Until a month or so ago, it was just friends and our moms who were reading it. But now we have more than 1,000 views per week and also some subscriptions,” she said.
Despite the fact that Jews are stereotypically known more for eating than drinking, Frazier is certain that there is a place for her blog.
“There are lots of Jewish food blogs out there. This is more innovative,” she asserted.
Frazier would love to have the opportunity to turn the blog into a book, but her more immediate goal is making sure that the Kiddush Club comes up with drinks for the remaining portions in the current year’s Torah reading cycle.
So, will the upcoming Simchat Torah holiday amount to last call for “Tippling Through The Torah?”
Frazier doesn’t think the blog’s readers need to be cut off just yet. The way she sees it, there’s a good reason to keep the booze flowing.
“There’s also the haftarot [the weekly reading from the Prophets and Writings associated with the Torah portions]. They would be great for inspiring drinks, too,” she said.