Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drinking and Purim

I know I have readers who dislike the annual post on the theme of Drinking on Purim. Sorry.


On Purim we celebrate the ultimate joy of a sudden national rescue, and our sages have taught that we should imbibe alcohol at the Purim Seudah as part of this celebration. Just as we abstain from various foods and from drink at certain times of the year to induce sadness, so we indulge in various foods and in drink at other times of the year, to induce joy. The gemara’s standard for imbibing is to drink until we cannot tell the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).

Authorities differ on how much to drink, but the following is clear: An adult who is medically, psychologically and emotionally able to drink, and who has a designated driver, should drink some amount of alcohol - preferably enough that he will feel lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Purim meal relatively early in the afternoon, drink a little, and then sleep off the effects of the alcohol.

Many people, and I include myself in this number, have embraced the practice of drinking minimally at the Purim Seudah and then fulfilling the state of intoxication by taking a nap after the meal. This approach is sanctioned by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2). One might consider doing the eating/drinking/nap before participating in a communal seudah.

I know the following is obvious, and I apologize for taking your time with it, but if my blog has any reach at all then I feel an obligation to state this obvious point. Please:

1) There is no reason to give alcohol to minors who are pre-bar mitzvah to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any mitzvah. The practice might be secularly legal as sacramental wine - consult an attorney - but it is a foolish and dangerous ritual and therefore prohibited as endangering our children as well as violating our obligation of chinuch for our children.

I do believe there is a difference between giving children under the age of obligation in mitzvot a taste of wine from the formal Shabbat Kiddush (not the one in shul; I mean the one at dinner/lunch!) and engaging them in Purim drinking. The former is a formal setting, and no one (I hope) is drinking to get a buzz. On Purim, though, because the general drinking is more loose and more geared toward celebration, I believe that the rule should be that children drink no alcohol at all.

2) If your own child is a minor, but older than bar mitzvah, and able to handle a small amount of wine, then it makes sense to help your child fulfill the mitzvah with a small amount, in a supervised setting, assuming this is legal in your jurisdiction.

3) I beleve adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children, beyond what would normally be consumed at a meal on Shabbat. Immature children cannot tell when we are in control and when we are not, cannot comprehend the dangers associated with alcohol, cannot accept the idea that adults can do what children are not permitted to do, and cannot understand the difference between Purim and the rest of the year.

The finest joy is a celebration which centers around a Mitzvah, and this is the essence of Purim – the four mitzvot (Megilah, Sending Gifts of Food, Giving to the Poor and having a Feast) which are about experiencing joy and spreading joy and thanking HaShem for saving us from destruction.

I apologize for wasting anyone’s time by stating the obvious, but as I said above, I feel the responsibility of stating this in any forum I have available.

And not to be a party-pooper at all, but those who want to know more about this theme should see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot (printed with a standard Mishneh Berurah), in his final comment on Orach Chaim:

ויותר יש לזרז עצמו בד"ת במקום שיש שם איזה שמחה אף אם היא שמחה של מצוה ועיין בסוף סוכה בענין שמחת בית השואבה וכן מבואר לעיל סימן תקכ"ט אדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל ולא ימשוך בבשר ויין ובשחוק וקלות ראש לפי שאין השחוק וקלות ראש שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות ולא נצטוינו על הוללות וסכלות אלא על שמחה שיש בה עבודת היוצר עכ"ל והוא לשון רבינו הרמב"ם ז"ל והמפרשים ז"ל פירשו לשחוק אמרתי מהולל ר"ל שיהיה באיזה ענין שיהיה השחוק הוא הוללות עבט"ז לעיל
אך לשמחה מה זו עושה ר"ל שלענין שמחה אין להחליט שאינה יפה שבאמ' יש שמחה של מצוה ולכן יש ליתן לב לדעת מה זו עושה ר"ל מה טובה אם הוא שמחה של מצוה או לא אך הואיל ואפשר כי מתוך אכילה ושתיה והוללת יתמשך לשחוק וקלות ראש לכן יקח תבלין לבסם השמחה בד"ת וחדוות ה' יהיה מעוזו ויטב לבו בד"ת וז"ש וטוב לב משתה תמיד
It is even more necessary to energize one’s self with words of Torah in a place where there is joy, even if it is joy associated with a mitzvah. See the end of Succah regarding simchas beis hashoevah. And so is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 529, “One should eat, drink and be happy on the holiday, but not draw himself after meat and wine and laughter and lightheadedness, for laughter and lightheadedness are not joy, but empty celebration and foolishness. We are not instructed in empty celebration and foolishness, but in joy which includes service of the Creator.” This is a citation from the Rambam.
The sages explained the verse (Kohelet 2:2), “I have called laughter ‘empty celebration’” to mean that in any form, laughter is empty celebration. See the Taz earlier. [I don’t know which comment from the Taz he means.]
But “What does joy accomplish (Kohelet 2:2)” means that regarding joy, one should not conclude that it is not good. In truth, there is joy associated with mitzvot! Therefore, one should set his heart to know what joy can accomplish, meaning, what is its nature – is it joy associated with a mitzvah, or not. But since it is possible that one will be drawn to laughter and lightheadedness as a result of eating, drinking and empty celebration, therefor, one should take spices to sweeten the joy with words of Torah, and his strength will be in the joy of Gd, and his heart will be good with words of Torah. This is the meaning of ‘One of good heart is always at a feast.’

I would also add here a helpful link to an article by Rav Moshe Tzuriel; my thanks to Joseph for his comment on last year's post.

May we have wonderful and safe Purim - ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר!
Chag Purim Sameiach,


  1. Thanks for the post. Nu, do you have something similar to encourage quiet during Megillah reading? I can't hear nor concentrate with the usual action/noise here.

  2. I've also seen drunkenness during Simchat Torah in recent years. Whatever caused that, and who is going to end it totally?

    1. It's not a recent phenomenon (I remember it during the 1980s, and I'm sure it was going on earlier), but people are much more open about it nowadays. There are really bad effects of this, like drunks davening musaf for the amud.

  3. And thanks for posting the article! I hope it helps. Have a freilichin Purim!

  4. Here's what I don't get... Rishonim and acharonim take the statement "chayav inish livsumei" as the gemara's conclusion. I, reading naively, saw the gemara as rejecting this idea with the subsequent story about Rabah (temporarily) killing Rav Zeira.

    1. Indeed, that is how Taz (695:2) understands things.

    2. Not 100%. He says the yeish omerim allow you to get not all /that/ drunk and that makes sense because it seems the gemara's conclusion is against drinking. The Taz doesn't actually come out against drinking altogether, nor is it clear he is one of the yeish omerim. If he really believed the gemara definitely concluded that drinking was a bad idea, his position would have been firmer and more absolute.

    3. R' Micha-
      Are you sure of your read? Here is the Taz's text:
      והא דאמר רבא בגמ' עד שלא ידע בין ארור המן וכו' נדח' מימרא זו כיון שבגמ' מביא ע"ז דרבה שחטיה לר' זירא ש"מ מסקנת הגמ' שאין לעשו' כן כ"כ ב"י בשם הר"ן בשם ר' אפרי'

      My translation:
      Rava's statement in the gemara of "until one doesn't know the difference between Cursed is Haman etc" is rejected, because the gemara brings regarding this that Rabbah slaughtered R' Zeira. We see from here that the gemara's conclusion is that one should not do this. So wrote Beis Yosef from Ran from Rabbeinu Efraim.

    4. But, the Taz is justifying the Rama's yeish omerim, and doesn't say "vekhein hadin" or "nir'eh lei'nai" or any other statement that says that therefore the yeish omerim are right. It would be odd for the Taz to actually be choleiq on the majority opinion and not say so.

      Which to me means he was saying that they are reading the gemara as saying ... rather than a blanket statement that that's what the gemara means.

      (Hopefully this restatement is clearer than my prior comment.)

  5. Many years ago, I attended a yeshiva in Israel after spending four years as a secular American college student (and 18 years before that as a secular young American Jew). There were people of various backgrounds in the yeshiva, and I found that the ones who had never tasted the high school and college partying that I had been through tended to act immaturely and irresponsibly with alcohol. THose who, like me, had tasted this forbidden fruit and rejected it didn't have the same problem. I felt that this took away something from Purim from those of us who wanted to do what the gemara and shulchan aruch say to do without any downside.

    I still feel that a significant percentage of the orthodox population (certainly not everyone) acts in an immature and irresponsible manner regarding drinking on Purim, and that is why I recognize the need for community leaders such as TRH to make these kinds of statements. But I still feel as though the irresponsible people (and the responsible leaders who are reacting correctly to those who are irresponsible) are taking something away from the experience of Purim from those of us who aren't particularly excited about drinking (I barely drink at all the rest of the year) who want to embrace this once-a-year unique type of avodat hashem. I am not advocating being irresponsible --I try to emphasize the chayei adam's statement quoted in the biur halacha on this topic-- but I wish the situation were different.

  6. Batya-
    Sorry, nope. No surgeon general's warning to cover that one.

    I saw that as a kid. No idea why that day in particular became the day, except that people were having kiddush during davening because the day ran so long...

    R' Micha-
    Anonymous beat me to it.

    This is a very good point, although I do think one could still have this type of avodah, carefully, perhaps in a place of like-minded people.

  7. You are far too mild on this issue. There is a serious and growing problem in the O, esp the MO community, with alcohol, fuelled by the 'single malt' cult. And don't get me started on kiddush clubs.

    1. Agreed - but as you said, it's not really about Purim. For example, see my post here.