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What is Judaism's take on alcohol consumption?

What is Judaism's take on alcohol consumption?

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Wine and intoxicating beverages are a fascinating subject when viewed from the Torah's perspective. On one hand, we use wine for kiddush and havdallah on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and many, many mitzvot are accompanied by a cup of wine. Blessings are recited on a cup of wine beneath the chupah (wedding canopy), at a circumcision, at a Pidyon Haben (the "Redemption of a Firstborn Son"), and let's not forget the four cups of wine we drink at the Passover seder.

In the Scriptures, wine is described as "bringing joy to G‑d and man" (Judges 9:13). And, indeed, every sacrifice offered in the Holy Temple was accompanied by a wine libation. Because wine is considered to be the "king of beverages" the rabbis coined a special blessing to be recited exclusively on wine: the Hagafen blessing.

And let us not forget the venerated age-old Jewish custom to say l'chaim and wish each other well over a shot glass of schnapps.

Conversely, we are told of the destructive nature of wine and intoxication. Several examples:

According to an opinion expressed in the Talmud, the "Tree" of Knowledge was actually a grapevine. Thus it was the fruit of the vine that tripped up Adam and Eve, causing them and their descendents untold hardship and misery.1

The righteous Noah, whose righteousness caused G‑d to spare the human race, was disgraced by excessive wine consumption.

Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's two holy sons, entered the Tabernacle while drunk and were consumed by a fire that emanated from the heavens.

The Torah extols the virtue, courage, and holiness of the Nazirite who vows to abstain from wine.

So what is wine? Is it a holy beverage with immense powers, reserved for holy and special occasions? Or is it a destructive agent with the power to bring down mighty people; a substance to be avoided at all costs?

Well, a little bit of both, it seems. As we mentioned earlier, according to one opinion, the Tree of Knowledge was a grape vine—and the Tree of Knowledge is dubbed by the Torah as being "good and bad." It has tremendous potential, when utilized properly, and a drawback of equal proportion, if misused and abused. What we use it for is entirely up to us.

Wine's ability to bring joy is because it relaxes our inhibitions and weakens the body's natural defenses. This "weakening of the body" allows the soul to shine through. After taking a l'chaim one is more easily inspired, because the body offers less resistance. This obviously applies only when one drinks in moderation, and on special, holy occasions in an attempt to make them a bit more festive and to introduce an inspirational ambiance.

On the other hand, getting drunk in order to escape responsibilities we have to ourselves, to our families, and to those around us, is highly destructive. A person who is in an "escapist" mode is a dangerous person, because very often he is also escaping many of the rules that he would be wise to follow.

On the practical side, we are forbidden to pray while drunk and priests were not allowed to serve in the Holy Temple whilst drunk. Even today, priests may not bless the congregation after having even a single glass of wine.

Click here for more about wine and intoxication.

I also recommend that you read Can Wine Be Holy?

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

This is also one of the reasons why wine is so often used in the course of the observance of various mitzvot—it is an attempt to rectify the original sin that was perpetrated with wine.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (12)
November 2, 2014
Everyone has their own opinion on alcohol. That's fine but what does the bible say? Going by just the bible (The word of god) it is permitted to use alcohol. It is prohibited to be drunk. So you can drink alcohol as long as you don't get drunk. Simple as that.
Anonymous
May 31, 2014
Like Anonymous from London, I find myself very critical of people who justify drinking for celebratory reasons, or for "relaxation", etc. I subconsciously look at these people like they are "weak" in some sense and lack self-control. Moreover, a person that professes righteousness yet turns to alcohol somehow hints of a deceptive personality.

Despite all this, my opinions may be heavily influenced by my perhaps genetic propensity to be sensitive to alcohol (where some scientists estimate over 50% of Jews to have a mutation in alcohol dehydrogenase). It could simply be that I cannot drink in a way that induces the same feelings as someone who enjoys a drink - and therefore cannot understand the pleasure that they feel. I admit I don't enjoy the company of drunkards but I really don't understand what they are feeling that's so pleasurable (I get nauseous).

In way it comes down to human empathy. Can non-drinkers ever feel truly inter-connected with drinkers or will they feel detached?
John
Sydney, Australia
May 19, 2014
Be honest with yourself!
Obviously, at least to me, G-d frowns on the use of Alcohol, especially by those who draw the closest to him. Thus, the prohibition for the Nazerite. If you were a priest in the temple you were a dead man if you were under the influence, and came into the presence of Hashem. Do you see the conflict here? Where is the common sense, Hello? Hello? Why are we still lying to ourselves about it to this day?

Those of us who are usually accustom to a certain level of spiritual intuition, and yet are familiar with a good Purim hangover, will be ESPECIALLY keen to notice that we are spiritually unclean, as there is a darkness that falls on a person for a time afterwards that is quite real I assure you.

It seems that drinking is tolerated to a certain degree due to the sinful weakness of man, but we do not warn people enough about what they are sacrificing for this empty thrill...
Paul J.
Huntsville Al.
May 7, 2013
choice, its yours, even if you want to be abusive in the face of G_D
Judaism is a wonderful religion.
Obey Mitzvas, learn Torah, get Married, have children.
Teach them Torah, and love of mankind.
Celebrate the holidays, and keep the Sabbath with the finest food and wine you can afford.
Give charity, help the sick, the poor, and be hospitable

It does not say, take many wives, take too many drinks, eat too much, be rude, use bad language, or discredit other humans.

Happy to be special.

Mark Cohen
Guateng
February 16, 2013
I'm confused
Dear Rabbi,

I was wondering where in the Torah one is permitted to consume alcohol in any form? Has its consumption always been legal/illegal throughout Jewish history?

Being Muslim I really want to learn more about my brothers in faith. I was wondering why G-d would permit Musa alais-salaam's people to drink?
Scientes
August 10, 2012
Alcohol is Intitoxant
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search A toxicant is a type of poison that is made by humans or introduced into the environment by human activity.[1] This is in contrast to a toxin, which is a poison produced naturally by an organism (e.g. plant, animal, insect).[2].
Background: Ethylene glycol (EG) and methanol are responsible for accidental, suicidal, and epidemic poisonings, resulting in death or permanent sequelae.
Mr.F.Koch
The Hague, The Netherlands
August 28, 2011
Judaism's rules on alcohol
And so the answer, based on what G_d says, is...? I too want to convert, but I don't want someone's opinion on the booze issue. I want what the established historical religious text says. Either you can drink or you can't. Presently I do drink - a few beers or vodkas over a weekly bbq.
Anonymous
December 1, 2010
To Anonymous, London, UK
I understand that you disagree with Rabbi Posner, but it is no reason to get rude and personal: "...are you mad?"

Please, let's have some respect for our fellow Jews and human beings and especially those charged with guiding and teaching us in the ways of our G-d.

This is a forum for discussion and exchange. I am learning about G-d and His people, as I want to convert and I find Chabad.org very useful and I thank G-d everyday for the Chabad.org team as well as the many users who post insightful comments.

Please, don't ruin this fantastic service for other users. Rather pray that G-d would continually guide and help the people who have brought us this wonderful resource.

Shalom and happy Chanukah to everyone!
Diane Kisela
Cape Town, South Africa
February 24, 2010
Balance
The usage of any tool has with it the necessity of using it in a balanced way. And so, one can say that fire is useful in that it can heat your food and keep your house warm but someone with destructive intent can use the same exact tool and cause an entire town to burn down into a smouldering ruin of charcoal.

Even religious texts (a type of tool) can be used in imbalanced ways. They can sometimes be used to cling to and avoid introspection (which I feel is the opposite of what they should be used for).

And so I would suggest that it is always the intent of the use of any tool that is important. So our use of tools (anything) need to be balanced and if we aren't balanced, our usage will not be.

I suggest the reasonable use of alcohol can be a 'spiritual' tool and not just for celebrations with people but entirely alone.

Alcohol use isn't 'better' than everyday conscious state but it can allow different reception of 'patterns' of Reality in a quiet environment.
David King
Halifax, Canada
August 23, 2009
to the abolitionist in london:
Do you think that the author is mad, or perhaps it is G-d who is mad? After all, He is the one who created alcohol in the first place...
Otto Heidingsfeld
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