Is it ever appropriate to get drunk?
The Talmud (Megillah 7b) cites Rava’s opinion that one must become drunk on Purim to the point that one is 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. Others correctly read the entire passage and recognize that the anecdote is a blatant refutation of this position. The Talmud’s lesson is: Don’t get drunk. Terrible things can happen if you do.
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 [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 a person 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 the eyes of G-d.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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Chazal warn us about the dangers of drunkenness. Furthermore, the greatness of man is his self-control and intellect, so anything that undermines these aspects should be avoided. I assume, therefore, that the question strictly concerns getting drunk on Purim.
In answer to that question: If one knows himself and is able to get drunk appropriately without doing damage or saying things that are improper, I would be hard-pressed to say something’s wrong with it. But again, it’s only okay if the person knows he won’t overstep any lines.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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Wine is associated with joy and is incorporated in kiddush and kos shel berachah. But the two portrayals in the Torah of people getting drunk – regarding Noach and Lot – are (to be generous) negative.
As someone who makes kiddush on grape juice and only drinks wine (with low alcoholic content) for the four cups at the Seder, I lack the appreciation for drinking that others bring to this discussion. As far as I can tell, the loss of control and dignity accompanying getting drunk doesn’t conform to any notion of human dignity.
Humans are meant to be dignified beings exercising self-control. The classic explanation of the Ramban to the command “Be holy” places getting drunk on the wrong side of this commandment.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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The Or HaChaim HaKadosh explains that Nadav and Avihu walked into the Mishkan in an inebriated state because of their spiritual aspirations. They had climbed as high as they could within the confines of their own physical limitations, and as a result of drinking wine they were able to remove whatever inhibitions remained in order to experience an ultimate expiration of the soul (kelayos hanefesh) and thereby cleave to the Divine.
The Shelah HaKadosh writes in this same context that many great rabbanim would drink significant quantities of wine on Shabbos for a similar reason. Nichnas yayin yatza sod – the drinking would enable them to expand their intellectual horizons and share more Torah with their students.
In a similar vein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offers a compelling explanation of the famous Talmudic story of Rabba and Reb Zeira drinking copious amounts of wine on Purim to the point where Rabba “shechted” Reb Zeira.
The Rebbe explains that Reb Zeira endured a spiritual experience, an expiration of the soul akin to the experience of Nadav and Avihu. (It’s worthwhile studying this explanation in the original to fully appreciate its profundity and see the various proofs he offers).
The common theme of all of the above is that drinking can get one “spiritually high.” The term “drunk” implies loss of intellectual faculties, sometimes to destructive ends. That surely is of no benefit or value and must be frowned upon. But if the physical high releases deeper spiritual yearnings and aspirations, then make mine a double. L’chaim.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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It depends on the degree of drunkenness. If “drunk” means slightly inebriated – light-headed and happy but fully in control of one’s actions – then this state is how one achieves simchas yom tov and is comforted during mourning and other difficult times.
If “drunk” means one cannot think straight and one’s level of shame is lessened, then this state is one that reduces one’s ability to make sound moral choices and, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, is forbidden due to a Torah prohibition. In this state one would not be able to talk properly before a person of stature (a king) and would be prohibited from davening.
If “drunk” means like Lot – totally wasted – then getting drunk is definitely a Torah prohibition and could lead to all sorts of sins, and merely putting oneself in such a state is a serious sin.
Perhaps the only exception to this rule is getting drunk Purim, and that is only according to some opinions and definitely only for someone who is sure that when drunk he will not transgress even the slightest sin and will act in a manner befitting a Torah personality.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator