Sunday, March 20, 2011

And again: Drinking on Purim

This is a "sticky post" - It will remain on top through Purim. Please scroll down if you are looking for newer posts.

First: In response to the emails I have received, this year there will be no costume for me.

I'm not shaving all or half of my beard, and I'm not leaving a goatee. I'm not dressing up as Thing 1, a surgeon, a gorilla, Batman, Batman in a sombrero, a New York Ranger, a New York Ranger who is also a member of the US Olympic Hockey team, a box-wearing hamantashen vending machine, or a box-wearing victim of Bernie Madoff... sorry. I just didn't have the time to think of something particularly inventive, and I'm not going to do it just for the sake of doing it. My apologies.

But to re-live a couple of those old costumes, feel free to click here.

Now then: In what has become an annual tradition, here are my thoughts on drinking on Purim. It's based on my past posts, but with significant changes to take into account the comments from previous years.

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 will feel lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Seudah 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). Most years, I actually do 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 a taste of wine from Kiddush 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) 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.’

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


  1. I'm not too happy with outright drunkenness seen on Simchas Torah, either. What, by the way, caused that phenomenon?

  2. Rabbi,
    You do not seem like a party pooper.
    There are however, party poopers who insist that drinking moderately is not sufficient, and that we must 100% refrain from alcohol on Purim, a practice that is on very shaky ground halachicly. It seems like there are those that feel that drinking is OK every day of the year except for Yom Kippur and Purim.
    Exactly what the specifics of drinking on Purim are is debatable, but I think it is clear that an overwhelming majority of poskim maintain that one must have a least a sip of alcohol! In the community that I live in there are many that maintain that one should not drink at all on Purim and search out obscure minority opinions and use bizzare quasi-Conservative/Reform type interpretations to come up with that we don't have to/shouldn't drink. For example, just as someone with medical issues (or a recovering alcoholic) or a minor should not drink, there are those that say, "well since we live in 'dangerous time" we all have the status of someone with medical or emotional issues that mean we shouldn't drink even a little bit.

  3. I don't agree about not giving kids a sip under any circumstance --I have given my kids a sip of wine on pesach (I usually use grape juice on shabbos) and a sip of wine or beer on purim and the result has been that they know they don't like the taste and they don't see it as a forbidden fruit that is desirable just because it is forbidden. I see that as a desirable result.

    I agree that most (adult) people appear to need you and other Rabbis discouraging drinking on Purim though. Not sure why.

  4. Bob-
    Ya got me.

    I hear you, although I wouldn't go as far as you do in labelling those interpretations.

    Possibly because they grew up seeing the adults drinking a lot on Purim, and they took their cue from that.

  5. Rabbi--

    another comment --in my observation, a bigger problem than purim both in general and from the point of view of giving children a good example is every shabbos all year, at least in some shuls. There are gentlemen who go to the kiddush (some have their own private kiddush) and get pretty tipsy. I have seen this many times when I am visiting Toronto, though of course it happens elsewhere as well.

  6. Yasher ko'ach on giving a fair and balanced approach. I am also opting for the yoter m'limudo option this year, especially given the fact that i will be expected to be able to drive my wife's family around later in the evening...

    I hope you don't mind my cross-posting this in my own blog...

    (I'm not the same Shmuel as the above fellow, by the way)

  7. Shmuel 1-
    Agreed, and I am very disturbed by that practice.

    Shmuel 2-
    Thanks, and feel free.

  8. If the issue is "ad delo Yada" then it depends what Daat is.
    If we follow Devorim 29:3 "velo nasan Hashem lachem 'lev(heart=emotions) hayom haseh"(and other sources)then Daat is related to include the emotions and not just cognition.Therefor a change in emotion will be enough to satisfy "ad delo yada".
    Practically ,just a little more wine than kiddush.

  9. Your post is valuable,sagacious and needed.Hopefully heeded.

  10. Do you think the biannual anti-drinking speeches to high school kids help any? Or is it like the warning on cigarette packages? (won't stop you, but it fulfills our duty to warn)

    My son just comes home twice a year (just before purim and succot) and announces that the rosh yeshiva has delivered the obligatory "don't drink,you are too young and someone might get hurt" speech.

    It doesn't matter to him, he is allowed wine at our table. (He's 17) But does it really help?

  11. daat y-
    Or would one need to be "without emotion", seeing both as equal, both maasei HaShem?

    I think it's effective if it's played out in deeds. Otherwise, it's a wink-and-nod thing.

  12. I'm against all the drinking. It's a bad lesson for the kids.

  13. Batya maybe you should also be against the whole purim story for the childrens sake. Think about, a jewish woman being raped (or willfully becoming queens of persia, depends which interpretation you prefer) by a goy while being married to her uncle who was probably close to double if not triple her age?! How about the fact that we celebrate the hanging of a bunch of men? We even have little miniature linchings as a zecher? Maybe we should stop the whole purim story for the sake of the children. We'll just keep the costumes and groggers. Maybe we shouldn't drink on pesach either, for the kids sake. Let's totally take out karbanot from the torah cause then the kids will think that killing animals is ok. How about the whole mechiyat amalek thing, not to good to teach kids to be vengeful is it? I could go on for quite a while.