DRUNKENNESS (Heb. שִׁכָּרוֹן, shikkaron).
In the Bible
Biblical, apocryphal, and ancient Near Eastern references make it clear that, far from being condemned, the use of alcoholic beverages was regarded by Jews and others as a necessary (Ecclus. 39:26; Pritchard, Texts, 598, line 89; 602, line 32) and distinctive (Ps. 104:15; Pritchard, Texts, 77c, line 12ff.) feature of human life. A feast was inconceivable without wine, and Proverbs 9:1ff. speaks of Wisdom personified offering food and wine. Indeed, complete abstinence was associated with a turning away from civilization (Jer. 35; see *Rechabites). Likewise, the *Nazirite avoidance of alcohol is of a piece with their refraining from cutting the hair and from participating in the burial of the dead, two other hallmarks of civilization (Numbers 6). *Wine was valued for bringing joy and banishing sorrow (Judg. 9:13; Ps. 104:15; cf. Pritchard, loc. cit., line 21; Prov. 31:6–7; Eccles. 10:19; Ecclus. 31:27–28; 40:20) and was used cultically in libations (Ex. 30:40–41) and the festive sacral meal (Deut. 14:26).
Intoxication, however, was deprecated (cf. Ecclus. 31:25–31; 39:27), both in the cult – in keeping with the biblical rejection of the Dionysiac element of other ancient religions (Lev. 10:8–11; I Sam. 1:13–16; Ezek. 44:21) – and in daily life. Wisdom literature warns that drunkenness brings poverty, woes, quarrels, wounds, strange visions, etc. (Prov. 20:1; 21:17;
[Jeffrey Howard Tigay]
In the Talmud
Basing himself on the fact that the death of Nadab and Abihu is followed by the injunction against priests drinking wine or strong drink when officiating, R. Simeon attributes their death to the fact that they entered the sanctuary while in a state of intoxication (Lev. R. 12:1). Judges must not render decisions after drinking wine (Er. 64a). As a result, judges were forbidden to eat dates because of their possible intoxicating effects (Ket. 10b). The judges of the *Sanhedrin had to abstain from wine during the entire hearing of a capital case (Sanh. 5:1; Sanh. 42a). The criterion for drunkenness is whether the person affected is capable of addressing himself properly to a king. A quarter of a "log" (approx. 3.2 oz., 100 milliliters) of wine was regarded as sufficient to cause intoxication, but it was not a rigid rule. If he later walked a mil (approx. 3,300 ft., 1,100 meters) or slept, a drunken person was considered sober, unless he drank strong Italian wine, in which case he must walk at least three mils (Er. 64a–b). A drunken person is forbidden to conduct a service. Based upon High Priest Eli's reprimand of Hannah (I Sam. 1:13–15), the Talmud lays down that if a person prays in a state of drunkenness, his prayer is an abomination (Ber. 31b). A person under the influence of alcohol is legally responsible for his actions unless he has reached the state of oblivion attributed to Lot (cf. Gen. 19:31–36; Er. 65a). The Bible adopted an ambivalent attitude toward wine, and there are several statements in the Talmud concerning the virtues of wine and its beneficial effects on health (cf. Er. 65a–b). There are many traditions that relate to the negative effects of drink on everyday life. One example that may be cited is the legend that when Noah was about to plant his vineyard, Satan buried in the soil carcasses of a sheep, a lion, a pig, and a monkey. As a result when a person indulges mildly he becomes sheepish, further indulging makes him feel like a lion. Overindulgence causes him to befoul himself like a pig, and when he becomes roaring drunk he literally "makes a monkey of himself" (Tanḥ., Noaḥ, 14). In one chapter of the Midrash (Lev. R. 12:1) there are three statements with regard to drunkenness. One interprets Proverbs 23:31 homiletically to mean that "while the drunkard has his eyes on the cup, the publican has his eyes on his pocket." The second tells of the despairing attempt on the part of the sons of a drunken addict to rid him of his vice, while the third is an account of a drunkard who was determined to make up the absence of one bottle from his daily quota of 12. Some scholars have assumed that drunkenness was not a serious problem in the talmudic period, and so have understood these traditions to reflect a lighthearted, almost jocular attitude toward the phenomenon. Others have suggested that these traditions may reflect not the rarity of drunkenness, but rather its frequency. While the Talmud states a positive injunction that a person shall get so drunk on *Purim that he cannot distinguish between "Blessed be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman," the disastrous results of an actual incident in which two famous amora'im, Rabbah and R. Zera, were involved (Meg. 7b), would seem to represent a serious criticism of this tradition. As a result, later rabbinic authorities were at pains to point out that this talmudic permissibility was not to be taken literally.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz /
Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]
Interest in contemporary drinking among Jews stems from the mystery of drinking not being a problem. Writers in many countries during recent centuries have commented on the comparative sobriety of the Jews. Multinational statistics of arrests for drunkenness, incidences of alcoholic psychosis, and alcoholic admissions to hospitals have consistently revealed a marked underrepresentation of Jews. From the 1940s, social scientists in the United States have systematically studied drinking patterns of Jewish youth and adults. The consistent finding has been that proportionately more Jews than other ethnic or religious segments of the population drink wine, beer, or spirits, but proportionately fewer Jews are heavy drinkers or alcoholics. Sophisticated socio-cultural-psychological hypotheses, rejecting rational blame-avoidance as an adequate explanation, relate Jewish sobriety to the early initiation of children in a family-centered, religiously oriented, moderate drinking pattern. The attitudinal values thus engendered are presumed to prevent later excess in drinking. An alternative but untested hypothesis proposes a genetic immunity to alcoholism.
Leading studies through the late 1960s suggested that the more acculturated Jewish youth tended to adopt the drinking patterns of the general population. Thus the frequency of
IN THE BIBLE: Kaufmann Y., Religion, 321, 374; B. Porten, Archives from Elephantine (1968), 179–86; G.R. Driver, in: Words and Meanings, Essays… D.W. Thomas (1968), 47–67; L. Milano (ed.), Drinking in Ancient Societies (1994). MODERN TIMES: D. Cahalan, I. Cisin and H.R. Crossley, American Drinking Practices (1970); V. Efron and M. Keller, Selected Statistical Tables on the Consumption of Alcohol and on Alcoholism (1963); Keller, in: British Journal of Addiction, 64 (1969); King, in: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 22 (1961), 321; Knupfer and Room, ibid., 28 (1967), 676; C.R. Snyder, Alcohol and the Jews (1958); Shuval and Krasilowsky, in: Israel Annual of Psychiatry, 1 (1964), 277; 3 (1965), 249.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.