Halachic Analysis: Getting Drunk on Purim

[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman] It is one halacha that parents just don’t like at all. It is also one that they do not really have an answer for. “But Mom, Dad, you are always telling me to keep halacha, and this is a Shulchan Aruch! The Shulchan Aruch states quite clearly (OC 695:2), ‘A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point where he cannot distinguish between Boruch Mordechai and Arur Haman.’  It’s halacha, Mom!” “Oh yeah, well it’s also a halacha to honor your mother and father!  And you are not drinking! Period.” “Well, we’ll see, everyone else is..” “I don’t care about everyone else.  If you drink – no car privileges!  End of story.” DIFFERENT REACTIONS There will generally be two types of readers of this article.  Those that are appalled at the excess drinking, the car accidents, the ER visits, the stench of vomit and the genuine desecration of G-d’s Name when all this debauchery is witnessed by civil servants and goyim alike. There will also be those who will think, “Calm down.  People need a bit of a break and there is nothing wrong with getting drunk a little bit.  It is only once or twice a year, anyhow.” There will also be a third type who will be perhaps a bit more inquisitive and observe that this particular ruling of Chazal is generally not like other rulings.  They will question what exactly happened here.  I would like to present a possible theory. The aforementioned Shulchan Aruch derives the halacha from a statement of Rava in Megillah 7b.  There are variant texts of this Gemorah – the examination and explanation of which are for another time.  Let us direct our attention to another Gemorah. THE YERUSHALMI AND THREE INTERPRETATIONS Elsewhere, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Tractate Shabbos 8:1) explains that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai would only drink wine from Pesach to Pesach.  The implication is that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai did not drink wine on Purim.  The Talmud Bavli has a similar statement in Nedarim (49b). There are three possible understandings of this passage of the Yerushalmi.  The first is that indeed, this is the case, but the halacha is not in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai.  The second possibility is that we are misreading the import and implication of this Yerushalmi.  The third possibility is that Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai had a perfectly valid reason not to consume wine on Purim and was in complete accordance with our statement in the Gemorah which is cited by the Shulchan Aruch. The Shaarei Teshuva (695:2) writes clearly that we should interpret the Yerushalmi in this third method.    This third understanding of the Yerushalmi understands that  Rabbi Yehuda Ben Illai had a weaker constitution and that drinking wine would actually damage his health, body or general welfare. WE ARE ALL LIKE RABBI YEHUDAH BAR ILLAI A very good argument can be made that in contemporary times we all share the status of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Illai. How so? According to the National Institute of Health [See http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body ], drinking too much –  even on a single occasion, can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body: Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the … Continue reading Halachic Analysis: Getting Drunk on Purim