Sunday, September 18, 2011

A tribute to Daniel Rogov

I wish to give tribute to Israel’s first and foremost wine expert and critic, Daniel Rogov, who sadly passed away this month. Baruch Dayan Emes. Daniel Rogov was actually a pen name, his real name being David Joroff.
Oh how I remember when he used to write Israeli restaurant reviews in the Jerusalem Post back in the 1980s. He regularly incensed me with his reviews of non-kosher restaurants and recommendations of treif food. I remember thinking that there are thousands of treif food and drink reviews all over the world published every week. Was it too much to ask for that Israel’s leading English language newspaper review kosher restaurants and publish recipes with only kosher ingredients? I was not alone in my thinking.
Daniel, like the majority of Russian Jews who emigrated to the West in the 1930s, was a product of 2,000 years of assimilation, pogroms, starvation and general Jewish persecution. Most Jews who escaped the horrors of Europe just wanted to live a comfortable life and leave the Shtetl and “all that Jewish thing” behind. Remaining Torah observant was the exception not the rule. Many so called experts predicted the demise of Orthodox Jewry and Mitzvah observance by no later than the 1960s. How wrong they were but looking back at the state of World Jewry in the 1930s and 40s, how very understandable that feeling must have been.
I have heard Rav Zev Leff say in many of his shiurim that we Shomrei Shabbos Jews living today in the 21st century do not fully appreciate the heroism of those simple Yidden who remained loyal to the Rebeinu Shel Olam, Avinu Malkeinu when Orthodox Judaism was probably as popular as a skin rash. We should look back in awe at those holy champions who sent their children to Torah schools, refused to work on Shabbos and refused to buy treif food when they hardly had any money to feed their own children as it was. Despite all their trials, Shabbos in their homes was so sweet and overflowing with kedusha. How seductive assimilation must have been and understandable it is that the vast majority succumbed and compromised on their Judaism. Who are we to judge Jews like Rogov?  We who did not experience their challenges!
Had Hakodesh Baruch Hu not had rachmanus upon Klal Yisrael and sent the likes of Rav Moshe Feinstein (zt”l) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Aubach (zt”l) as well as many other Torah giants to save Klal Yisrael, who knows what would have happened?
Back in the 1980s, I don’t suppose there weren’t many if any Shomrei  Mitzvos food and wine experts out there with the talent to write professional and objective reviews. Despite taking a lot of (in my opinion) legitimate flak from those who condemned his promotion of treif food and saw him as “the enemy” in the war against assimilation, Daniel doesn’t seem to have become anti-religious in any way. Instead of ridiculing kosher food and wine, Daniel instead took the position that kosher consumers had every right to insist the same quality in food and wine as the gentile world's equivalent. It is no exaggeration to say that Daniel was in a large part, responsible for the tremendous success of the award winning Israeli Wine industry we have today and the abundance of excellent kosher Israeli wineries which spoil us rotten with their varieties and elegance and sophistication, considered as good as, if not the best in the world.
Daniel, at least in the beginning, almost single handedly waged (what was considered at the time) and almost impossible campaign against the world who associated kosher wine with sweet cough syrup like liquid, and he won! Today, people all over the world enjoy “Made in Israel” quality wines which brings much needed exports as well as associating excellence with something made in Israel. Most importantly however, Daniel’s legacy will be that today’s Frum Jews can raise the kedusha of their Shabbos Kiddush like no other previous generation by the hidur mitzvah of using a suburb quality kosher wine grown in in the soil of Eretz Yisrael, thanks to Daniel.
Many Rabbonim teach that it is preferable to use unsweetened wine for Kiddush as well as the mitzvah of the Arbah Kosos on Leil HaSeder. The reason being that sweetened wine was not suitable for use in the Beis HaMikdash service. Daniel Rogov, with his unique Yiddishe insight explains that the Land Of Israel before the destruction and exile of the Jewish people was a major wine producer (as is confirmed by certain Mishniot). The knowledge of making good kosher wine was lost however when we were sent into Golus. All over Europe, the non-Jews issued harsh decrees forbidding Jews from owning land or even being partners with a goy in having a share in a field. Consequently the Jewish community was forced to buy grapes from the local food markets in order to make kosher wine. These grapes were of course of the eating variety and not meant for wine making. To try and compensate for the poor quality grapes that produced bitter wine, the kosher wine maker was forced to add a lot of sugar. This is how, according to Daniel, we came to associate kosher wines with what is in fact “sweet alcoholic syrup”.
Now that we are back in our land after 2,000 years of exile (Baruch Hashem), Israel has quickly relearned all the wine making skills we once had by adopting skills from the French and Californians and even resurrected a few ancient skills of our own from examinations of archaeological digs. It would seem to me that the continued use of sweet sugary so called "Kiddush wine" for the mitzvos actually perpetuates the old anti-Semitic decree!
It is said that the Vilna Gaon put on his Shabbos Clothes to meet the first batch of kosher wine arriving in Vilna from Eretz Yisrael. The legend goes that the first batches were pretty awful stuff yet the Vilna Gaon insisted that wine from Eretz Yisrael took priority over better quality wine made in Chutz LaAeretz when it came to the mitzvah of Kiddush. Like the Vilna Gaon, Daniel’s actions and efforts in promoting quality kosher wine has made sure that wine from Eretz Yisrael today has become the preferred wine for most Shomrei Shabbos Jews all over the world.
May Daniel Rogov's name be remembered for a blessing, zichrono Lebracha.

1 comment:

Reb Mordechai said...

A trubute to Daniel Rogov, Israel's first and foremost Wine critic, who passed away this month.