I once heard that one way to determine if a person were a pagan or Jewish was to see how the person drinks from a water reservoir (river/lake etc). If a person would hold the water with their hands and drink it from the hands then he/she was Jewish. If the water drunk directly from the river for example then it was a pagan.

I don't remember the exact details and where this is from but I heard it from Chabad people. Does anyone know what is the logic behind this method and where it is from? (Talmud or something else).

2 Answers 2


You're thinking of Shoftim 7:5

וַיּ֥וֹרֶד אֶת־הָעָ֖ם אֶל־הַמָּ֑יִם (ס) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־גִּדְע֗וֹן כֹּ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־יָלֹק֩ בִּלְשׁוֹנ֨וֹ מִן־הַמַּ֜יִם כַּאֲשֶׁ֧ר יָלֹ֣ק הַכֶּ֗לֶב תַּצִּ֤יג אוֹתוֹ֙ לְבָ֔ד וְכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־יִכְרַ֥ע עַל־בִּרְכָּ֖יו לִשְׁתּֽוֹת׃

So he took the troops down to the water. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “Set apart all those who lap up the water with their tongues like dogs, and all those who get down on their knees to drink.”

Rashi there says:

כל אשר ילוק בלשונו וגו' וכל אשר יכרע על ברכיו לשתות . תציג אותו לבד חוץ מסיעתך , כי הם לא ילכו עמך , שכך הם למודים לכרוע לפני עבודת גלולים :

All who lap up with their tongue, etc., and all who kneel on their knee to drink- Place him (the kneeler) alone, outside your band, for they will not come with you, for they have been taught to kneel in front of worship of idols.

Someone who bends down to drink shows he is used to idol worship, since his instinct is to bow. It doesn't appear to me that this is an all encompassing rule; rather something indicative at that specific time.

Note the Ralbag there gives a different explanation:

והנה לזאת הסבה גם כן לא רצה השם שישארו עמו זולתי המלקקים בידם אל פיהם כי זה מורה על חריצות וגבורה ואולם אשר כרעו על ברכיהם לשתות הם עצלים ורצה שישובו להם והנה במאמר הא' הגדיל מהם בעלי העבירות ורכי הלבב כי האיש הירא הוא ירא מעבירה שבידו כמו שביארו ז''ל בפרק משוח מלחמה והחרד הוא רך הלבב ובזה הענין השני הבדיל העצלים ולא השאיר כי אם הצדיקים והחרוצים והגבורי' והם היו שלש מאות איש לבד ובהם לבד החזיק כמו שצוה לו הש''י ע''י נביאו או בעצמו במראה הנבואה :

He says those who bent down to drink showed they were lazy and not mighty warriors.

  • its context specific those that bent down to drink let down their guard and clearly not great warriors, compared to those that scooped the water in their hands and kept a constant vigil
    – Rif
    Oct 16, 2017 at 2:46
  • @Rif I feel like that's what the Ralbag is saying, no?
    – robev
    Oct 16, 2017 at 14:24

The accepted answer misses the point a bit. The reason that these men were sent away was not that they were bad warriors or bad people.

Verse 2:

The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many troops with you for Me to deliver Midian into their hands; Israel might claim for themselves the glory due to Me, thinking, ‘Our own hand has brought us victory.’

In verse 3, those that want to leave get to leave. Except there's still too many left: 10.000. Hence another sifting process is proposed in verse 4:

“There are still too many troops,” the LORD said to Gideon. “Take them down to the water and I will sift them for you there. Anyone of whom I tell you, ‘This one is to go with you,’ that one shall go with you; and anyone of whom I tell you, ‘This one is not to go with you,’ that one shall not go.”

This sifting process happens to be lapping vs. kneeling to drink. Only three hundred men lap: these get to go on. There is no reason to accuse the other 9.700 of idol worship: the reason they got sent away is stated in verse 2. Nowhere do they get classified as pagans afterwards. There is also no reason to state that "they must've been bad fighters", because following the reasoning in verse 2, it would make more sense to sent the good fighters away.

So to answer the question: Deciding by drinking if someone is a Jew or a pagan seems to be connected to the history of Gideon, but ultimately, to a rather uncalled-for interpretation of it.

  • you are correct that the motivation to sift out the warriors is stated in verses 2 and 3, but you have failed to show how or why the explicit commentaries of Rashi and Ralbag are wrong. They are explaining why those who were sent away were in the end sent away, either due to a suspicion of idol worship or lack of military prowess. Why there was a need to send any away doesn't need explanation, as you showed, it's explicit.
    – robev
    Oct 16, 2017 at 21:25
  • There is however no need for an additional reason. Claiming that there is and that they know what it is would need textual proof from Scripture. Since they haven't provided any, I can't be expected to "show how or why [their commentaries] are wrong". Please read up on your logical reasoning en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof_(philosophy)
    – user15889
    Oct 18, 2017 at 6:24
  • Of course there's a need for additional explanation. Your approach makes the discernment process arbitrary. Why was this test chosen?
    – robev
    Oct 18, 2017 at 12:23
  • This test was chosen (a) because it's now very easy for Gideon to split up this group of 10.000 people (that's a lot). (b) It's a test that would achieve exactly the right group sizes: 9.700 leave, 300 stay. How many tests fit that criteria? Do you really need another reason?
    – user15889
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:44
  • I don't understand...you're saying if Hashem knew that 300 soldiers could lick their elbow and 9700 couldn't He would have just as likely told Gidon to do that test? Your approach is too arbitrary.
    – robev
    Oct 19, 2017 at 17:46

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