Is it appropriate for just anyone to get drunk on Purim?
The Talmud (Megillah 7b) quotes Rava’s opinion that one must become drunk on Purim so as to be unable to tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.” But the same passage goes on to report that Rabba and Rav Zeira became so drunk on Purim that Rabba slaughtered Rav Zeira with a knife. The latter was revived only by a miracle. When Rabba invited Rav Zeira to a Purim celebration the following year, Rav Zeira wisely declined.
Some people read this passage but stop right after Rava’s opinion that one must become drunk on Purim. Others correctly read the entire passage and recognize that the anecdote is a blatant refutation of Rava. The Talmud’s lesson is: don’t get drunk; terrible things can happen if you become intoxicated.
Drunkenness is a shameful state. Maimonides (Hilchot De’ot 5:3) states: “One who becomes intoxicated is a sinner and is despicable, and loses his wisdom. If he [a wise person] becomes drunk in the presence of common folk, he has thereby desecrated the Name.” In his section on the Laws of Holiday Rest (6:20), Maimonides rules: “When one eats, drinks and celebrates on a festival, he should not allow himself to become overly drawn to drinking wine, amusement and silliness…for drunkenness and excessive amusement and silliness are not rejoicing; they are frivolity and foolishness.”
Not only does drunkenness impair one’s judgment, it demeans a person in the eyes of others and in the eyes of G-d. Drunkenness is an affront to one’s own dignity and an affront to the ideals of Torah.
– Response of Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Director, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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Getting drunk on Purim can be a mitzvah or a serious sin, depending on both the intention and outcome. If one gets drunk to fulfill the mitzvah of “ad dlo yada” and conducts himself in a respectable manner, careful not to transgress any prohibitions or cause any damage to others of either a physical, emotional or material nature, and utilizes his inebriated state to accomplish a legitimate facet of Purim festivity, then this is definitely a mitzvah and is commendable.
However, if getting drunk on Purim is merely an excuse to drink excessively and the result is the opposite of what is described above in any way, then one is prohibited to get drunk even on Purim just as on any other day.
– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator.
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Let’s be clear and unequivocal: it is inappropriate for anyone to get drunk on Purim. Period.
Sure, we all can cite the sources that obligate drinking on Purim, even to excess, as we can cite the admonitions not to get drunk. As the saintly Chofetz Chaim wrote (Bi’ur Halacha, Orach Chaim 695), “We are not commanded to become intoxicated and debase ourselves out of joy since we are not commanded in the joy of frivolity and foolishness.” Most poskim constrained the parameters of drinking rather than expanded them, such as Rema who defined the practice as drinking “more than one’s custom” but not to the point of intoxication.
In any event, there are greater considerations. I have seen people killed and maimed, act violently or promiscuously, or make absolute fools of themselves on Purim because of their drinking – and I don’t get out that much. One who is machmir to drink to excess on Purim will invariably be meikil on chilul Hashem, kavod ha’briyot, kavod ha’Torah, arayot and the like. He will inevitably desecrate G-d’s name, impugn people’s dignity, humiliate the Torah he ordinarily strives to represent, and even uncharacteristically act in a debauched, degenerate, and depraved manner. Such is not the way of Torah.
In truth, nichnas yayin yatza sod, people’s inner life emerges after they have imbibed wine and loosened their inhibitions (Eruvin 65a). For most people, that is not a good look. The mature, refined Jew knows limits, how to set a good example for others, and how a ben Torah conducts himself at all times. Drinking to excess recalls too closely the curses of Haman and the lifestyle of Achashveirosh rather than the sobriety and wisdom of Mordechai. We should opt to learn from Mordechai.
Simchat Purim to all!
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and author of the new “Road to Redemption,” now available at Kodeshpress.com.
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From the outset, it is important to clarify what type of drinking is even being discussed. Drinking on Purim is meant to be:
1) wine (Rashi, Megillah 7b),
2) at the Purim seudah (Rambam, Megillah 2:15),
3) on a full stomach (in order to avoid getting sick).
With these three points in mind, let’s explore the question.
First, a little context. Rava famously states that one must get “basumei” (classically translated as getting drunk) on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between “baruch Mordechai” and “arur Haman” (Megillah 7b). The Gemara follows this statement by telling how Rabbah killed Rav Zeira while drunk on Purim. Many commentaries understand this juxtaposition as intending to prohibit, or at least limit, Rava’s mandate.
Many of these commentaries stress that drinking is meant to enhance an appropriate Purim celebration. The Meiri (ibid.) explains that one should only drink in a way that inspires giving thanks to Hashem for His miracles and the role He plays in our lives.
The Kol Bo (45) adds that one should only drink if doing so causes him to be more kind, friendly, and sensitive toward others. True simcha is one that inspires care for other people (Rambam, Megillah 2:17, Yom Tov 6:18).
On the negative side, the Shelah (Ner Mitzvah 15) writes that drinking in a way that impairs our ability to daven or hear the megillah properly is a terrible sin. One cannot argue that drinking is part of avodas Hashem if it prevents mitzvah fulfillment.
More broadly, the Biblical precedents of Noach (Bereishit 9:21) and Lot (19:32) teach us how problematic drinking can be. As the Gemara (Berachot 40a) writes: “There is nothing that brings misery to man like wine.”
The Chatam Sofer (O.C. 1:185) adds that alcohol affects different people in different ways. One should only drink if they are confident that the alcohol will have the aforementioned positive effect.
Most community leaders strongly discourage drinking on Purim. This is because it often generates dangerous or inappropriate conduct. In addition, drinking gives credence to the broader, clearly problematic phenomenon of drinking in our community.
In order to drink properly on Purim, one needs to be:
1) A person who is ready for a meaningful experience and knows how to achieve it properly
2) In a proper context, one in which there is no danger (physical or social) and will reinforce the right type of behavior and experience.
Because this kind of circumstance is very rare, the rule of thumb is that one should not get drunk on Purim. We should follow the Rambam’s (ibid.) directive of drinking a bit more than we usually do (assuming that that is not a significant amount…) and sleeping (after helping to clean up from the seudah) afterwards. While sleeping, one cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai, accomplishing Rava’s directive.
The Rema (O.C. 795:2) adds that the decision about how much to drink should be made “l’shem shamayim – for the sake of heaven.” May our l’shem shamayim intentions merit us a safe, happy, and meaningful Purim!
– Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and Educational Director of World Mizrachi – RZA. He lives with his wife Shani and their six children in Alon Shvut, Israel.