Drink ‘Til You Drop: Purim and the Alcohol Connection

Purim is the fun, boisterous Jewish holiday that falls on the 14th of Adar, usually sometime in February drinkstill mid March. The holiday, which commemorates the foiling of a plot to kill all the Jews of ancient Persia, comes with its own set of unique and sometimes surprising commandments.

Perhaps the most surprising one is the mitzvah to get drunk. Not just to have a sip or two of wine, but to get truly sloshed. So sloshed that revelers cannot discern the difference between the names of Purim’s hero Mordechai and villain Haman.

You might think that the origin of this practically pagan-sounding ritual is fundamentally hedonistic. However both ancient and modern Jewish sources cite a rather esoteric explanation for drinking on Purim: Alcohol sublimates rationale thoughts and precludes inhibitions (as every college student knows!)

The advantage of this altered state is that the drinker is truly humbled once they are stripped of their intellectual cynicism. With alcohol in their system, drunken Purim partiers are paradoxically enabled to appreciate that only a higher power can truly discern between good and bad, between Mordechai and Haman. Or so goes the rationale.

Of course, all that philosophic wrangling is lost or long since forgotten on most of the Purim drinking crowd. Drinking ’til you drop is the motto for Purim. And many people – including a fair share of teenagers and the under-21 crowd — are eager to get in on the action.

So eager, in fact, that Purim-related alcohol poisoning and drunk driving are two looming concerns on the radar screens of Jewish community leaders. Today, rabbis, teachers and youth group counselors are urging parents and peers to “just say no” to under-aged drinking. Some are even going as far as calling for a full moratorium on legal age adult drinking as well.

Aish.com’s Purim column includes an addendum from Dr. Mike, Chief of General Pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital in Long Island, warning against the dangers of acute alcohol ingestion. Dr. Mike writes: “Driving and drinking obviously is absolutely against halacha (Jewish law) and common sense. Mentioning this would be most helpful and potentially life-saving.”

Despite the foreboding warnings, Purim will continue to be a time for revelry and rejoicing – and for many, that will include enjoying a few (or a few more than that) drinks. If you are among those planning to enjoy the festivities this Purim, please remember to head Dr. Mike’s warning. Drink responsibly and don’t drink and drive.

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