I live in a community where about a fourth to half of the population is Jewish and I have many friends here that all seem to have different outlooks about addictive substances. Particularly about alcohol and tobacco.

The stance seems to range from the Mormon end of abstinence to the other end of the spectrum of usage being fine. Most friends seem to be on the moderation and abstinence side wile sharing some references that support abstinence or strict moderation. Oddly more affluent friends seem to abstain or maybe only use wine on major holidays.

What's the norm and is there some official Jewish doctrine that controls this?


1 Answer 1


I won't mention the tobacco element as it is dealt with quite comprehensively in the link provided by @Kazibacsi, however, I will note some sources about alcohol.

Whilst wine plays an important part in our service to G-d - we use it for making Kiddush, Havdalah, at a brit (circumcision), on the night of Pesach (Passover - where we drink 'The Four Cups') we are advised to have things in moderation.

Whilst the Gemara in Gittin 70a does write:

"Mar Ukva said: This one who drinks inferior white wine [tilya] will be afflicted with weakness [vitak]. Rav Ḥisda said: There are sixty types of wine. The best of them all is red, fragrant wine. The worst of them all is inferior white wine. (Sefaria translation)."

A few lines on, the Gemara continues:

"Eight actions are difficult for the body and the soul to handle in large amounts and are beneficial in small amounts, and they are: Traveling on the road, engaging in the way of the world, i.e., engaging in sexual intercourse, having wealth, work, drinking wine, sleep, hot water, and bloodletting."

So over-indulgence in wine is regarded as being harmful to the body and moderation is key.

It is also worth noting that alcohol's addictive qualities mean that we face a battle to control our urges, and if one struggles in this area one should take a sensible approach.

The Vilna Gaon on his commentary on Mishlei (Proverbs) 23:35 makes an insightful analysis:

“Don’t say I will go and quench my thirst with a cask of wine and if it is good I will enjoy it and if it is bad I will leave it. Because when he clings to it he will find pleasure in it even if it is bad and cause his harm.”

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