Thursday, March 5, 2009

Drinking on Purim - adults, children, and adults in the presence of children

Warning: Soapbox ahead.

On Purim we celebrate the ultimate joy of a sudden national rescue, and our sages 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 feels lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Seudah, 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).

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) Never give alcohol to minors to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any Mitzvah. It might be secularly legal as sacramental wine, but it is a foolish and dangerous practice 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 the barest taste of wine from Kiddush and engaging in Purim drinking in their presence. The former is a formal setting, and no one (I hope) is drinking to get a buzz. On Purim, though, because the drinking is more loose and more geared toward celebration, I believe that the rule should be that children drink no alcohol at all.

2) Adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children. Immature children cannot tell when you are in control and when you 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.

Note: When I say young children, the definition depends upon the child. It may well include teenagers; it's a matter of maturity, per #2 above.

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.

For more on this theme see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot (printed with a standard Mishneh Berurah), in his final comment on Orach Chaim.

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.


  1. Just wanted to let you know that I tagged you here. Feel free to pass it along or not as you wish. Just wanted to show the love. :)

  2. Thank you for this. Far too many people in positions of authority do not take the time to state what should be obvious about drinking on Purim but apparently is not. Alcohol abuse doesn't get any better if you justify it by calling it being joyous for Purim.

  3. Finally some sanity!
    I posted on this as well and was very disappointed to see that some people still just don't "get it"....

  4. I have heard many rabanim strongly encourage the shitah to drink a little and take a nap. And I think it is a good suggestion -- I personally also adopt the yoser mi-limudo approach and not the more literal approach of ad delo yada. (In part a reaction to witnessing people in yeshiva when we were there about 18 years ago -- not you or I but others).

    My problem with this approach, though, is twofold -- one halachic and one practical:

    (1) from the lomdus side of things, if you start your seudah later in the day -- as is common practice and as a practical matter often necessary (even if you start that most of the seudah is before shkiya), you won't be taking the nap from the effects of the wine on Purim but rather on Shushan Purim and query whether you have fulfilled you chiyuv that way.

    (2) from a real practical perspective, even if one drinks somewhat but not too heavily at the seudah, and in a circumstance that re: your concern about children observing is dealt with, the choice to take a nap when one is married with children is not one that is always readily available as a practical matter.

    Still fundamentally, I agree with the post.

  5. I could never understand, till now, this quaint Purim custom of Ad-lo-yada, of drinking to oblivion. How could anyone could possibly blur the distinction between Bless Mordechai and Curse Haman – no matter how drunk! But suddenly, in this modern world, I “got it.”
    ~ Until you can’t recognize evil when it stares you in the face.
    ~ Until you perceive perpetrators as victims and victims as perps.
    ~ Until you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.
    ~ Until “Terrorism is the New Communism” means “I hate the way you fight terror” instead of “I hate terror”.
    ~ Until your response to the “Palestinian-Teddy-Bear-in-the-Rubble” syndrome blinds you from seeing the truth about who is trying to destroy the Middle East.
    ~ Until you don’t care if kids in the playground tell each other “I hate you”.
    In fact, the Islamic terrorists are wrong about tolerance. They don’t “get” it, even without alcohol, haha. Perhaps (some) Jews need (some) alcohol on Purim just to challenge our clarity; to show the difference between a hangover and a hanging; and to warn how easy it is to become that wrong about Good and Evil. So, as soon as we experience a moment’s doubt about our moral clarity, can we say Dayeinu and stop drinking?

  6. Jendeis-
    Thanks! I hope I can overlap with others' lists, though... have to mull this one.

    ProfK, G6-

    I agree that these are challenges, but re: #1 this is what I do, and advise others here: Have a smaller seudah earlier in the day, to be yotzeit drinking, and nap after that. Then enjoy the community seudah with others later, sans alcohol.
    I know that's not a perfect solution, but it's the best I can offer.

    Too true to be funny...

  7. Basically, like everything else in Jewish communal life, it all boils down to “Them and Us”. “Them” is defined as Everyone Else, and They are always wrong – in this case, wrong about Who’s Who on the scale of evil in modern world politics. “Us” / We are always right, by definition.
    For Purim, “They” who misunderstand evil are already Ad-lo-yada before their first drink, so I would suppose they are forbidden to imbibe. “We” would like them to volunteer themselves as designated drivers, and their work in this exercise is to be, or become, sober enough to consider “our” viewpoint. “We” have to drink until we lose an ounce of confidence in how right we are, until we can at least see into “their” opinion.
    Wow, so it goes both ways, in thinking of Purim as World Tolerance Day. Apparently, the drinking helps “Us” learn to tolerate “Them.”
    So easy to pasken without even being a rabbi (haha): “They” abstain, “we” drink! Cool.

  8. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the reason that we drink on Purim in the first place!
    According to the Kizur Shulchan Aruch, the reason that we drink is because the story of Purim revolves around wine:
    1. The Festival of Wine which brought Esther to the throne.
    2. The Festival of Wine which brought down Haman's evil decrees.
    As a result (even though Rav Moshe Feinstein and most other poskim disagree), the drinking should be done with wine.

  9. Indeed, JacktheMan; although the Kitzur does not represent mainstream psak on this, I do recommend that people use wine over other beverages.