Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Drinking on 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 believe adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children, beyond what would normally be consumed at a meal on Shabbat. As I see it, 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.

As the Rambam writes (Hilchot Megilah 2:17), the finest joy is a celebration which centers around a mitzvah. 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 to others 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. Not the same message, but I think it's a useful rule of thumb:

    If you're enjoying a drink because it's Purim, you're doing a mitzvah;
    but if you're enjoying Purim because it's a license to drink -- don't.

    1. Well put to the original post and this response. Rav Micha's comment reminds me of an incident burned into my brain from about 8 or 10 years ago.
      We went to a local shul for Purim, known for their drinking. Heck of thing to be known for, but I digress (only a little). There was much drinking and dancing before the Torah reading. I myself refuse to drink during davening on what I consider halachic grounds, but to each his own. We're dancing around when the rabbi's brother in law urges me to drink, and I politely refuse repeatedly. After some continued dancing and merriment, he says to me in all seriousness, " I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE SO FREILECH WITHOUT MASHKEH!" That's when I knew there's a real problem out there, and it goes beyond my mere halachic objection to drinking during davening.

      A holy, very happy Purim to all!

    2. Some consider mashkeh to be a general cure-all or prerequisite to holiness every day. This can verge on addiction.

    3. R' Micha-
      Nicely put.

      R' Mordechai-

  2. If one just reads and takes seriously the bi'ur halachas about drinking at the Purim seuda, he'll have no problem. Also, assuming that one is drinking for the right reasons and acts responsibly, that is an excellent example for children, much better than "this stuff is so dangerous we don't dare touch it." I think that second attitude leads to irresponsible behavior by those who lack the desire or the discipline to be complete teetotalers.

  3. Dear Husband,

    Among your words you say,
    "I believe adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children"

    Had this been a worry of our sages, they'd have warned us. I, for one, as a father of 4, think you're dead wrong. Of course it depends on who is doing the drinking - and why. It depends on the person behind the boozing; If he's drinking it "up", or drinking it "down". A good parent will know, although he fulfils the Purim halachah, he knows too that he's a model for the small ones to follow. Seeing a father drink it up for the sake of Purim is the mitzvah, man! Hashem doesn't want you to drink it up in a closet and then expose yourself as a drunkard; He wants you to think of Purim, what it means, why we should drink on this holiest of days (that even Yom Kippur huddles in its shadows), so children should learn in the process. And, of course, it doesn't hurt to have some fun at the same time!!

    1. Vanguard-
      You're free to disagree, of course. I envy your certainty.