The Custom of Drinking Beer on Shavuot

Years ago, a predecessor of mine composed an essay, “Why I Drink Beer On Shavuot” in the Jewish Journal (subsequently re-posted on HuffPost), in which he writes:

While conducting some research on Shavuot a few years back, I came across an important footnote in the Netei Gavriel, a encyclopedic series of books on Jewish laws and customs. The Netei Gavriel, amid discussions of customs and practices around Shavuot — eating dairy food, decorating the shul with plants, flowers and grass — mentions the custom of having a keg of beer at synagogue for Shavuot. Yes, a keg of beer.

Later in the essay, he writes:

In the middle ages a tradition arose in Eastern Europe, based on this Rashi, to have a barrel of beer in the synagogue, when Jews stay up all night and study until dawn to remember the giving of the Torah.

Someone recently asked on WhatsApp about these sources, so I looked into it, yielding that Rabbi Gavriel Zinner wrote “ש נוהגין לשתות שכר בליל שבועות There are some who are accustomed to drink beer on the night of Shavuot” (נטעי גבריאל יג:ו). In his footnote to that line, he writes:

בשו”ת מרקחות בשמים (גרינבערגער) סימן ט”ו כתב ודכירנא בעת יצקי מים על ידי מורי הגה”ק בעל לבושי מרדכי זכרונו יגן עלינו שדקדק על כל מנהג ישן שלא יתבטל חש ושלום פעם אחת לא הכין הגבאי בבית הכנסת שכר על ליל שבעות כנהוג של משנים קדמניות ציוה על תלמידיו שילכו בעצמם להביאו ואמר מנהג ישראל תורה כי רש”י פירש במסכת שבת דף פ”ח עמוד א’ כפה עליהם ההר כגיגית – כגיגית קוב”א שמטילין בו שכר עד כאן דבריו

The author of Responsa Fragrant Blends wrote in that book (§15): “It was mentioned at the time of water-pouring through Rabbi Mordechai Yehudah Leib Winkler (1844-1932), may his memory protect us, author of Mordechai’s Garments, that he was particular about preserving old customs so that they would not be lost, heaven forbid. One time, the manager of a synagogue had not prepared beer for the night of Shavuot as they had practiced in years past. He then commanded his students that they should bring back beer for themselves, as he said that Jewish customs are Torah, referencing Rashi’s commentary on Shabbat 88a that God cupped the children of Israel within Mt. Sinai – that it’s a reference to a beer barrel.”

So now we know a little further on this custom of beer-drinking on the night of Shavuot🍻

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