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Drinking on Purim

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Dedicated to my students (and the entire student body) at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh

The Talmud teaches that one is required to get drunk on Purim until one cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. [1] The reason for this requirement is in order to recall the many miracles of the Purim story that actually occurred during the course of wine parties, such as Vashti’s downfall, Esther’s rise to royalty, and Haman’s execution.[2]

How drunk is one supposed to get on Purim? The Talmud relates that Rabba and Rabbi Zeira once held their Purim seuda together. Rabba became so intoxicated at the meal that he got up and “slaughtered” Rabbi Zeira as a result of having become so drunk. Not to worry, though. The following day Rabba prayed for Divine mercy and had Rabbi Zeira resurrected.[3] The following year, Rabba again invited Rabbi Zeira over for the Purim meal, but Rabbi Zeira declined the invite, explaining that one cannot always expect miracles to occur.

One who suspects that their drunkenness could lead to murder or other unacceptable conduct should not drink, though all others are indeed required to intoxicate themselves on Purim.[4] According to many authorities, one is literally required to get drunk on Purim to the point that one cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”.[5] This was in fact the practice of many great rabbis.[6] Other authorities suggest that the point of intoxication one must reach is simply where one would be unable to recite the ancient liturgical poem of “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”.[7] Yet others suggest that one is merely required to drink “a little more than usual” on Purim which would bring on drowsiness and cause one to fall asleep.[8] One certainly cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai” while asleep![9]

Additionally, there are a number of inspiring homiletical interpretations regarding how much one should drink on Purim.[10] Among the more widely cited is the suggestion that one must become intoxicated to the point at which one would be unable to calculate the gematria, the numerical value, of “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.[11] Women should not drink on Purim as it is considered unbecoming for women to become intoxicated, certainly not in public.[12]

There exists a very different approach to the issue of drinking on Purim, as well. According to some authorities one should, in fact, not drink on Purim at all. Indeed, it is suggested that the entire reason that the Talmud troubled itself to record the story of Rabba killing Rabbi Zeira was in order to show us precisely why we should not drink on Purim.[13] Common custom, however, is not like this view.

Contrary to popular misconception, the mitzva of drinking on Purim is intended to be performed exclusively with wine, to the exclusion of all other alcoholic beverages.[14] It is also noted[15] that drinking wine on Purim is meant to be reminiscent of the verse: “wine gladdens the heart of man”.[16] Some authorities suggest that since wine was a much stronger drink in Talmudic times than it is today, it is permissible to drink whiskey and other alcoholic beverages in fulfillment of this mitzva as well.[17] So too, the drinking is meant to take place specifically within the context of the Purim seuda, and it is not intended to serve as an excuse for a drinking spree throughout the day.[18] The mitzva of drinking is in effect only on Purim day. There is no mitzva to drink on Purim night.[19]

There also exists what seems to be somewhat of a compromise approach to the requirement of drinking on Purim. Some authorities suggest that drinking is merely recommended, but not truly required.[20]Likewise, one who has a weak disposition or otherwise feels that drinking will harm him is exempt from the requirement to drink.[21] One is also not permitted to drink excessively on Purim if one fears that it may lead to violating, or being unable to fulfill other important mitzvot such as reciting the birkat hamazon after one’s Purim meal or reciting ma’ariv the night following Purim. Indeed, in such situations, it is far better for one not to drink at all.[22]


1 Megilla 7b

2 Abudraham;Purim

3 Megilla 7b

4 Rambam Megilla 2:15, O.C. 695:2

5 Bach 695

6 Siddur Ya’avetz

7 Beit Yosef O.C. 695, Aruch Hashulchan 695:3

8 Rambam Megilla 2:15

9 Rema 695:2, Mishna Berura 695:5

10 Bach 695, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 695:2-5

11 Magen Avraham 695:3

12 Shevet Halevi 101:18, Moadim U’zmanim 2:190, Rivevot Ephraim 1:458

13 Ba’al Hamaor

14 Hitorerut Teshuva O.C. 3:491, Nitei Gavriel p.83, Rambam Megilla 2:15

15 Mikraei Kodesh;Purim

16 Tehillim 104

17 Moadim U’zmanim 2:190, Shvilei David 695:3. See also Sefer Gilyonei Hashas;Pesachim 117, Daat Kedoshim (Botchatch) Vol 2. p.88

18 Rambam Megilla 2:15

19 O.C. 695:1

20 Maharil 56, Aruch Hashulchan 695:4

21 Shaarei Teshuva 695:2

22 Biur Halacha 695, Kol Bo

 

 
 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

33 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    are you saying the minhag of many yeshivot is wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    KT

  2. Nachum says:

    “Required” is a tricky word. There is no obligation to drink, period, on Purim, let alone get drunk. I mean, you don’t even need alcohol to fulfill kiddush on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and that’s an actual mitzvah!

  3. mycroft says:

    “Nachum on February 12, 2013 at 6:10 am

    “Required” is a tricky word. There is no obligation to drink, period, on Purim, let alone get drunk. I mean, you don’t even need alcohol to fulfill kiddush on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and that’s an actual mitzvah!”
    Not that anyone follows me-in the mycroft household we have no alcohol. An advantage we get rid of our chametz-we don’t “sell” our chametz.

  4. Ray Kaufman says:

    There is nothing tricky about the word “required”. It means exactly what everyone thinks it means. There is an halachic obligation to become intoxicated on Purim. If you can do that without drinking mutov. Also, the theoretical maximum alcohol content of naturally fermented wine is about 14-15%, about what you find in modern wines. Wine in talmudic times was not stronger than it is today.

  5. Sam says:

    Regardless of the meaning of required I with rabbis would have the nerve to actually accept the legitimate position that drinking to get drunk by yeshiva students is wrong and make that clear to the students

  6. Nachum says:

    “There is an halachic obligation to become intoxicated on Purim.”

    Last I checked, there were four mitzvot related to Purim, and this isn’t one of them.

  7. Mair Zvi says:

    This topic of drinking wine on Purim to the point of mental obliviousness raises the question of the use of marijuana in Judaism.
    One of the stated reasons the Vilna Gaon opposed Chassidim was because they smoked. What did they smoke?
    Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn is said to have smoked before Shabbat. R.Levi Yitzchok of Bertichev is said to have smoked before he prayed. What did they smoke? Ordinary tobacco? Unlikely. R. Shlomo Carlebach is known to have been a marijuana user.
    One of the components of the anointing oil,(Shemos 30:22-33) was called kaneh-bosm, translated as aromatic hemp, which sounds suspiciously similar to the word cannabis.

  8. joel rich says:

    R’ Mair,
    R’ Moshe has an interesting tshuvah on the issue (but I prefer to send people straight to seeing “reefer madness”)
    KT

  9. Ari Enkin says:

    “chayav inish…” does seem to imply obligation, even though its not one of the taryag.

    Ari Enkin

  10. Yankel says:

    Actually, the idea that there are authorities who say one should not drink on Purim at all is a misconception. They only say that one need not become highly intoxicated. See Bach ad loc. To the best of my knowledge there is not a single classical Posek who says that one need not consume any alcohol whatsoever on Purim.

  11. Ari Enkin says:

    I’d have to look up the Baal Hamaor again, but I think he says that you need not drink at all.

    Ari Enkin

  12. Shlomo says:

    Mair Zvi:

    There’s a whole book on that subject. It’s rather original and entertaining.
    http://www.amazon.com/Cannabis-Chassidis-Ancient-Emerging-ebook/dp/B00444439M

  13. Gabriel M says:

    http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/list-audio-shiurim/41-audiohalakha/269-purim-dont-get-drunk

    This is a good shiur on the subject. B’kitzur “to get drunk” is arguable a mistranslation of “”livsumei” and even many Rishonim who do follow Rashi in translating it that way write that you should not get drunk. The Beit Yosef quotes many of these rishonim, which would suggest his word for word quote from the Gemara should not be read as a license to get drunk.

    I would add that it is a mitzvah not to commit Hillul Hashem and every year thousands of frum Jews seem to think they are patur from this mitzvah on Purim. I shudder to think how many Jews have been put off by seeing the bizarre antics of bachurim who can’t hold their liquor (or how many goyim are put off embracing the Sheva Mitzvot). I’ve seen 4 Jews beat some guy up, countless people sicking in public, roads of angry drivers blocked by idiots and mounds of litter left everywhere the day after. This has to stop.

  14. ruvie says:

    “does seem to imply obligation, even though its not one of the taryag”

    taryag? when did purim enter the “biblical” obligation realm?per the rambam – they are divrei sofrim and not part of the count (613). there are 7 mitzot of purim. seudah is one of them not getting drunk. yet there is a debate whether there is a chiyuv to drink to the point of drunkeness with the baal hamoer and ran citing rebeinu ephraim that we do not pasken per rava that there is an obligation. you can add the bach too. all agree that there is an obligation per esther 9:22 “that they make them days of feasting and joy”..simcha denotes wine and meat – ein simcha ela bbaser v’yanin.

    the opening sentence of the post needs to be rewritten to – its is required to drink on purim per the talmud – the arugument is do you have to get drunk? or just drink more. see shibolei haleket sec.201 and the meiri – that rejects rava view l’halacha but maintain one has to drink and rejoice nevertheless.

  15. Gabriel M says:

    … so while everyone should drink wine, you should also make sure to raise your kids to be able to drink a glass of real wine without losing control. If everyone would be machmir to use wine that is rui lamizbeach for Kiddush etc. and introduce the children to real wine by that means, this wouldn’t be very hard to achieve.

  16. Ray Kaufman says:

    “Required” may not be a “tricky” word but, perhaps, “intoxicated” may be. The means and level of intoxication may be subject to varying dicta. As noted by posters above. there are many different ways to attain the level of Ad sh’lo yadah. Clearly, one doesn’t have to get knee-walking drunk to have difficulty confusing the gematria of Baruch Mordecai and Arur Haman. In fact, I’m confused right now and I haven’t imbibed since Havdalah.
    Drunkenness on Purim can be a spiritual experience or a stumbling block. In my Yeshiva days, I recall one Purim seeing one of the eltere bachurim, royally drunk, tearfully saying Viduy and begging HaShem for a Kaporah before the Aron in the Yeshiva beis midrash. I have also seen bachurim, equally drunk, acting like chazeirim.
    The untereste shureh is that alcohol, like technology, is neither good nor bad. It is the use thereof that determines it’s moral impact.

  17. Ruvie says:

    My apologies on part of the above – misread ” even though not one of the taryag” – as a taryag- need better glasses in my senility. However, the mitzvah – or obligation – is one of seudah or misteh which connotes drinking.
    The rest do my comments still apply to the post.

  18. Y.Aharon says:

    However you understand “ad delo yada” is doesn’t mean to the point where you don’t know which way is up, or you’re puking on the floor of the bet medrash. Even the obnoxious behavior of some of those left standing generates a hilul Hashem amongst the non-yeshivish bystanders. Teen-agers, much less children, should be supervised so that they don’t consume hard liquor, or drink more than a minimal amount of wine. The last thing we need is to engender more alcoholics.

  19. Mr. Cohen says:

    I congratulate Rabbi Ari Enkin on another excellent Torah message.

    PS: Regardless of what previous generations did,
    in our generation getting drunk on Purim has become a
    danger to human life [including children] and a big
    Chillul HaShem.

    In recent years, the reputation of Orthodox Jews has
    suffered severe damage with numerous Chillul HaShem
    stories reported in newspapers read by many millions of people.

    I beg of all Jews to avoid creating more Chillul HaShem;
    PLEASE DO NOT GET DRUNK ON PURIM!!!

  20. HAGTBG says:

    However you understand “ad delo yada” is doesn’t mean to the point where you don’t know which way is up, or you’re puking on the floor of the bet medrash. Even the obnoxious behavior of some of those left standing generates a hilul Hashem amongst the non-yeshivish bystanders. Teen-agers, much less children, should be supervised so that they don’t consume hard liquor, or drink more than a minimal amount of wine. The last thing we need is to engender more alcoholics.

    This, like pedophilia, women leaving the house twice a month,the elimination of polygamy or marrying your niece, is an instance where strong modern mores alter the prior halachic landscape.

  21. Mair Zvi says:

    It appears to me that Lubavitch has more than its fair share of Chassidim who, shall we say, overindulge in alcholic beverages on a regular basis (not just Purim) yet don’t openly exhibit obnoxious and offensive public behavior as a result. Why is this? A possible answer might be that they do not use the words “schnaps” or “bronfen” in reference to their drinking of alcohol. They invariably refer to alcohol as “L’chaim”, as in: “let’s have a “L’Chaim”!. After quickly swallowing their drink in one fell swoop they invariably proclaim, “L’Chaim, L’Chaim”(twice) and then shortly proceed to the next round.
    I have come to the conclusion that the expression “L’Chaim” bestows a mystical immunity to the ravages of alcoholism on all Lubavitchers.
    Or perhaps it’s the Rebbe who is protecting them.

  22. shmuel says:

    The sage advice of the Chayei Adam cited by the Biur Halacha, which is cited in turn by R. Enkin in footnote 22, is very important. Among the actions that one should refrain from drinking in order to avoid performing is being “noheig kalut rosh.” If one approaches his Purim se’uda having internalized this Chayei Adam/Biur Halacha (whichever he wants to open up) he should have no problems.

  23. Mr. Cohen says:

    “Drinking should be done during the seudah.

    Women should also drink a little bit (a reviis or less) of wine, and can also be yotzeis with grape juice instead of wine.

    However, there is no obligation for children under
    bar or bat mitzvah to drink even grape juice.

    It is, in all events, forbidden for anyone to become drunk.

    The lesson is clear:
    Our seudah should be graced only by the Yetzer HaTov
    and the Torah atmosphere that Mordechai HaTzadik and
    Esther HaMalkah were ready to give their lives for
    and would be so proud of!”

    ORIGINAL SOURCE:
    Pesakim of Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Shlita, recorded with his approbation by his close talmid, Rabbi Doniel Kleinman, Shlita, in recently published Sefer Koveitz Halachos

    IMMEDIATE SOURCE:
    Hakhel Email Community Awareness Bulletin, 2010 February 25

  24. Steve says:

    Most are familiar withn the Rambam’s philosophical objections to drinking, yet the Rambam is clear that a person must become shikor on Purim (I think he says “Vyeradem b’shikruso,” implying that one gets drunk before he falls asleep). The way to reconcile, of course, is to drink in the home, not chas v’shalom in the beis medrash, get drunk within your own arba amos, and sleep it off. No chilul hashem and yotzei the mitzva at the same time. Seems like a win-win to me.

  25. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Women should not drink on Purim as it is considered unbecoming for women to become intoxicated, certainly not in public.” And intoxicated men are becoming? So much for the tzniut applies equally to men and women argument.

  26. Shlomo says:

    This, like pedophilia, women leaving the house twice a month,the elimination of polygamy or marrying your niece, is an instance where strong modern mores alter the prior halachic landscape.

    “Not causing a chilul hashem” is not a recently invented modern more. Maybe the metziut of what constitutes a chilul hashem is.

  27. Shlomo says:

    And intoxicated men are becoming? So much for the tzniut applies equally to men and women argument.

    Perhaps this is a nice way of saying that drunk women are more likely to, um, get taken advantage of while drunk.

  28. Mair Zvi says:

    Becoming intoxicated has more to do with lack of derech eretz and kovod habrios rather than lack of tznius. You can be intoxicated and still remain tzniusdik… at least in appearance. This assumes that the term tznius refers to modesty in appearance only, rather than also referring to behavior as well.

  29. James More says:

    This is very difficult. How wise are the Tamud sages. I will need to dig deeper for the courage, strength, and stamina for this bar, but I will drink to fulfill this mitzvah. “Haman! Haman! Is that you my drinking buddy, Haman! Can I buy you one, Haman? Now what do you think of Mordechai over there singing karaoke? You hate him and you want to kill him. Unusual toast, Haman, but I will drink to that!” Good thing this is only one day of social drinking. Officer, what I do, I do for the lord.

  30. DF says:

    This is a textbook example of people finding poskim to match their own personal viewpoints in life. If you like regulations and telling other people how to live their lives, you say its forbidden to drink. If you think people should decide for themselves, you say it’s a mitzvah. Just by recognizing the politics of the commenters here, I could have told you exactly what each would say the halacha is. In other words, in all but a few cases, the halacha is whatever you want it to be.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Frankly, in many respects — I second that thought!

    Ari Enkin

  32. spikele says:

    Halakhically speaking, there is NO requirement to get drunk on Purim.

 
 

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