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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.
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Discussion (21)
March 16, 2017
Alcoholism
If a person is in danger of becoming addicted or losing the sobriety they have fought very hard to achieve, having wine or other alcoholic substances would be unkosher for them.
Menachem Posner
March 16, 2017
The disease of alcoholism can be triggered by one sip of wine and a person never knows who is susceptible. It's sad if someone must ingest alcohol in order to feel comfortable in their own skin, to rejoice and celebrate life and God.
Anonymous
October 4, 2016
Thanks Rabbi for shining some light about wine.from your explanation, what I think I have learnt is that wine itself is not a sin but sin is how one uses the wine; the sin lies within a person and not in the wine.

I long to continue learning more from you Rabbi.
David
Kenya
September 5, 2016
Very helpful..thank you and shalom.
Joe Wright
Shepshed
April 26, 2016
Thank you!
Anonymous
January 1, 2016
I wonder what age Jewish children consume alcohol?
Anonymous
December 17, 2015
I think that with the consideration that alcohol, just like drugs can be addicting, it's best to avoid them entirely. I have seen a lot of people who comment on the fact that they can control themselves, then get carried away and do the most absurd things while drunk, despite that they thought they could hold it in. Why drink in the first place? a devout follower would pray, do good things, feast and feed the needy in order to feel the thrill of being close to G-d. Isn't that what faith is all about? Or rather, the conviction of a true purpose is to do the things that are constructive for both yourself and those around you. A sip of a drink that has the potential to arouse addiction is not worth it.
Anonymous
Canada
September 12, 2015
Protocols
Notice that when people are given freedom, they use it to drink themselves senseless and behave like animals. We ourselves should avoid behaving like that.
Anonymous
April 28, 2015
Many of the beverages consumed by ancient Israelites might have had a lower degree of alcohol, nothing like the more refined beverages of today. One would have to consume huge volumes to make one drunk, more than one would be able to consume I believe. There were stronger drinks and these Israelites were encouraged to avoid, to not consume. Also new wine was generally consumed which would not have had a very high percentage of alcohol. The prophets and judges were not allowed to drink alcohol and the Lord gave them this commandment to be an example.
Llewellleo
Austria
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