Columns - 2007

    Aquaholics Anonymous

    What are Jews addicted to? This question has confounded scholars, pundits, and anti-Semites for generations. Suggested answers have included food, guilt, Chinese food on Erev Christmas, oppression, comedy, and guilt about food.

    But now extensive study has distilled our culture down to the one true Jewish addiction: Water.

    "What are you talking about," I hear you ask. Well, water plays a recurring role in many events throughout Jewish history. Not merely because most people drink it, but because of its other, greater impacts.

    The flood of water events began with a flood. Noah's forty day deluge broke the ice with the greatest show of aquatic force since bottled water hit Babylon.

    Where was the matchmaking of one of our matriarchs made? Rebecca was found for Isaac at a well. (Now you know what motivates JDate to schedule so many getaways by the ocean.)

    After those pivotal events, a wave of water-related incidents ensued. Consider all the pining and whining by Israelites through the years about our rightful two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.

    Upon reaching the Red Sea, the Israelites complained to Moses about bringing them out of slavery just to be trapped by all that water.

    Later in the desert, the Israelites complained so much about not having enough water that Moses had to hit a rock and make water come out of it just to give them something to do with their mouths besides complain. (This is the true motivation of most Jewish events revolving around food, but that's for another column.)

    Later still, the events from Deuteronomy to Joshua revolve around traversing a river into the Promised Land, as depicted on the primetime television hit, "Crossing Jordan."

    And in modern times, when's the last time you saw a Jewish Community Center that didn't have a swimming pool as a feature attraction?

    Not convinced? There's more than just water-related incidents to tell. In fact, there's many manifestations both in modern and ancient times of the consequences of this liquid lunacy. One might believe that the obsession with water led to water itself being used for pain and strife many times over.

    Forget that the great flood took out everyone except Noah's menagerie; that marrying Isaac, however well intended, doomed Rebecca to eternal pursuit by matriarchal scholars, the mamarazzi; that many Egyptians were drowned in the unparting of the Red Sea; or that several Israelites got sand in their teeth after drinking from the rock's water.

    The first plague in Egypt was turning the water in the Nile River into blood. This crimson tide is commonly interpreted as an initial sign to the Egyptians of what's to come. But was it also a sign to Israel?

    Indeed, today on the Passover seder table, we must consume salt water. They say it represents the tears of the slaves in Egypt, but more simply it embitters the precious water we have craved for thousands of years, as much a reminder of guarding ourselves from this, and any, obsession.

    Understandable, since we have water everywhere. Lots of kosher wine, flavored as cough syrup as it is, is only consumable by any discriminating palate when watered down. Perhaps that's the intention?

    But the most significant modern water impact is, appropriately enough, on the most significant holy days of the year.

    Before Rosh Hashanah, several Jews remember to go to a nearby stream and cast pocket lint into the water. Not only a way of casting off sins, as most rabbis will tell you, it serves as well to remind that even the best intended people can still damage the environment.

    Once we arrive at Yom Kippur, just as on all other fast days, we must forego not only food, but water. No other religion forbids water when fasting. Why would Jews, unless it was a particularly poignant deprivation given past addiction?

    To make matters more difficult, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, after nearly twenty hours of fasting, and almost as many testing the pliance of sanctuary pews, we must endure the longest haftarah reading of the year as it retells a story about a storm at sea and then being swallowed by a big fish. This water-based hat trick in the only afternoon haftarah of the year is the cruelest of reminders about the water we're deprived of.

    And for the final assault, after Yom Kippur ends and we can finally drink again for the first time in over twenty-six hours, what is served by synagogues everywhere to the few and proud who actually stayed through the bitter end? Not water, but apple juice.

    Awash in tradition, it is understandable that scholars throughout the world have missed such an obvious common theme that was right under our noses. Of course, skeptics high and low will no doubt say this is all washed up.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who could use a drink. Not water. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.