Purim Time For a Sober Look At Jews and Alcohol
By Moshe Werzberger MD
As I was driving on Shabbos, rushing an intoxicated, unresponsive teenager who was vomiting blood to the ER, the absurdity of the situation was painfully evident to me. Here was a young student who together with some friends at an Oneg Shabbos had, without any second thought, drunk himself to the point of endangering his life. Yet, on Purim we allow our children unrestricted access to alcohol, endangering their lives.
An unresponsive, intoxicated patient requires approximately nine hours to return to sobriety. During this time of stupor, lethargy, and diminished reflexes, the patient is in danger. He may lose control of his airway, vomit, choke, and heaven forbid die. He may have a seizure, or suffer an irregular heartbeat. If someone is used to drinking alcohol on a regular basis it is possible for him to attain much higher alcohol levels, which can cause him to lapse into a coma, or even to die from direct alcohol poisoning.
It is time to reevaluate our community's use of alcohol. Clearly we are drinking much more than our parent's generation, and our children are drinking more than us. This is the age of "At Risk Children". Doesn't anyone see the obvious correlation between the profuse alcohol consumption among our youth and the unprecedented number of children using illegal and dangerous drugs?
In the other communities, addicts of all backgrounds, from the inner city to the affluent suburbs, were studied to find a common cause for their addiction. The common denominator found between these disparate groups was the early introduction to the recreational use of alcohol.
Have you taken an objective look at how much alcohol you drink? How many shots do you have at a kiddush? How many drinks do you have on Friday night? Are you well versed in the differences between the single malts, barrel proof bourbons, and of course the 127 proof Bookers? Have you spoken to your teenage son, asked him about his alcohol consumption? Does he have a few beers at a party or Oneg Shabbos? Does he drink hard liquor at a kiddush on Shabbos, or at a wedding or Bar Mitzvah? How much is he drinking while away at camp? At affairs, our underage youth drink beer and hard liquor in full view of the adults, without any reprimand. It is not uncommon for there to be several of our youth, clearly intoxicated, at a given event.
To be clear; alcohol is a drug, with dangerous and possibly deadly consequences. It is not OK for teenagers to drink liquor or beer. It is unhealthy, illegal, and can lead to Marijuana, Cocaine, or Heroin addiction, not to mention the potential for lifelong alcohol dependency. It is not OK for an adult to have multiple drinks at a kiddush or affair. This is unhealthy for the adult and is incongruent with the behavior we ought to expect from our children.
As Jews, we were given the gift of a Torah way of life. Noach's son Shem was blessed because of his dignified behavior when his father became intoxicated. Cham, however was cursed due to his improper response to the situation. Jews until now had an admirable reputation for sobriety. The Torah teaches us how to elevate the use of alcohol through the commandments; such as kiddush on shabbos, the four cups at the seder, wedding ceremonies, and circumcisions. This is the proper setting for the use of alcohol.
One of the commandments of Purim is to drink. But how much need one drink to fulfill his obligation, is there a limit? How could it be that God requires us to endanger our lives, and the lives of others in order to fulfill our obligation on Purim? According to the Halacha the proper way to celebrate on Purim is as follows. The commandment of drinking is only fulfilled with wine. Therefore, beer and liquor should not be drunk at all on Purim. Furthermore, this commandment only applies at the daytime Purim meal. Any amount of wine, which will cause the person to become intoxicated and behave in an improper manner, should not be drunk on Purim.
Teenagers who make the rounds collecting charity on Purim should not be served alcohol. You are endangering their lives, and the lives of others. Furthermore, you are legally responsible for any harm resulting from their intoxication.
On Purim we celebrate that God saved us from destruction at the hands of an external enemy. Today, the immediate threat to the future of the Jewish people is from our own behavior. In the merit of celebrating Purim properly, may we triumph over the threat of addiction, and may we see our children grow to become good Jews and successful people.
This article by Dr. Moshe Werzberger, practicing internist in Brooklyn, NY and Former Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Brookdale University Hospital is distributed as a public service by The Orthodox Caucus and its task force on Substance Abuse.