2

What is the attitude of Chazal toward drinking alcohol? It seems to be have been common practice to drink at night (see Shabbos 10a), was this frowned upon? If so, was it only frowned upon in excess? Please source from Chazal, Rishonim, and Acharonim.

11

Just how many sources do you want? There are so many, like in almost any topic. Here are a few (limited to those specifically that indicate whether or not Chazal thought of drinking as favorable or frowned upon)

A bit of Shas:

Berachot 40a quotes an opinion that the Etz HaDaas was a grapevine, because we know that grapes cause sorrow to the world. Similarly, Yoma 76 says that wine is called יין because it brings moaning (יללה), though the Gemara continues that if one is worthy, the wine will make him happier or wiser. Similarly, later on in Berachot (57a), it says, 'some drink wine and it's good for them, and some drink wine and it's bad for them'. The Gemara in Bava Basra (90b) prohibits bringing foods outside of Eretz Yisrael, but allows exporting wine because less wine means less תפלות (levity). Sanhedrin (70), in discussing the Ben Sorer UMoreh, mentions to take lessons from Adam and Noach and that wine can cause destruction. Yoma 71, like the source you quoted, indicates that drinking wine was common, as it states that one who wants to do the equivalent of pouring wine on the mizbeach should fill the throats of talmidei chachamim (with wine). Also, Megillah 17 states that Yosef sent his father wine from Egypt because דעת זקנים נוחה ממנה, the minds of elders are bettered by it. Even more positive is the opinion in Nedarim (10) and Nazir (22) that a nazir is called a 'sinner' because he separated himself from wine. Pesachim 109 states, 'there is no happiness other than through wine', indicating that this is how one should fulfill the mitzvah of being happy on Yom Tov.

Rishonim:

Ibn Ezra on the pesukim by nazir (Bamidbar 6:2) says that nothing is more destructive to service of Hashem as wine. The Sefer Hachinuch similarly explains the concept of nazirus (Mitzvah 372) and kilei hakerem (Mitzvah 549). Radak, however, on the oft quoted pasuk יין ישמח לבב אנוש (Tehillim 104:15), writes that wine makes one happier by opening the mind, and he clearly understood wine-drinking (probably in moderation) to be a good thing. The Rambam in Hil. Deios (5:3) says that a righteous person drinks wine for health purposes but one who becomes drunk is a חוטא ומגונה ומפסיד חכמתו - a sinner, disgusting, and loses his wisdom. The Rambam is just as severe in Moreh Nevuchim (3:8). In Hil. Yom Tov 6:10 he points out that even in the context of holiday joy, it is impossible to serve Hashem while drunk. The Orchos Tzadikim says in Shaar HaSimcha that one needs to be happy to properly serve Hashem, and wine is a legitimate way to increase one's happiness if it's done in appropriately small amounts and not made into a habit.

Maharal (on Sanhedrin 70a) discusses wine as something belonging to Olam Haba.

  • I recall a Gemara that I can't find about young Rabbis getting drunk (on Shabbos?). This was not proper, so the Gemara recommends putting oil on their hands and saying an incantation. (Something like "just like the oil got clear, so should the wine in their systems become clear...) This seems to indicate that they drank to excess, do you know where this Gemara is? – Ish Ploni ViKohen Mar 14 '14 at 5:44
  • 1
    The Gemara has many medical statements relating to wine; I didn't realize that's what you were looking for (that's what I meant in the parenthesis above in the first paragraph, that there are other Chazal's about wine in medical and other contexts). Shabbos 66b: כי הא דרב הונא מבי רב ורב מבי ר' חייא ור' חייא מבי רבי כי הוו מיבסמי מייתי משחא ומילחא ושייפי להו לגוייתא דידייהו וגוייתא דכרעייהו ואמרי כי היכי דציל הא מישחא ליציל חמריה דפלניא בר פלניתא - [rabbis] when they would drink, would put salt and oil on their hands and feet and says 'just as this oil is clear, so too [name]'s wine be clear – הנער הזה Mar 14 '14 at 17:10
  • 1
    But I didn't think this had any indication on whether drinking is good or bad. There's actually some (modern) medicinal reason to this, as the olive has been shown to have alcohol dehydrogenase activity (breaks down alcohol). Sources: Mannitol transport and mannitol dehydrogenase activities are coordinated in Olea europaea under salt and osmotic stresses (pcp.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/09/04/…); Salas, Joaquín J., and Juan Sánchez. "Alcohol dehydrogenases from olive (Olea europaea) fruit." Phytochemistry 48.1 (1998): 35-40 (though maybe rubbing isn't useful) – הנער הזה Mar 14 '14 at 17:23
  • It tells me is that amoraim would not only drink, but get drunk. – Ish Ploni ViKohen Mar 14 '14 at 21:19
5

The rambam in de'os writes that it is forbidden to drink in the afternon (when you will get drunk) based of the Mishnah in avos (3: 10). The Orchos Chaim is also in the Kol Bo, and their source is the Meoros to Megillah 7b who also writes that there is no greater sin than drunkenness.

Rabbeinu Avraham Ben HaRambam writes (p. 556 in English Feldheim ed.) that although the Torah didnt forbid wine since it is sometimes useful, it didnt prohibit drunkenness since there is no way way to define the difference between too much and not too much. However we are required to draw the line for ourselves, as we realize (from several passages in the Torah) that the Torah opposes drunkenness. The Rashba says the same thing almost word for word in the maamar al Yishmael.

The Malmad Hatalmidim (13th cent. Provence) similarly writes (parshas tazria) that when it comes to things which are logically inappropriate the Torah suffices with preventing us from doing them through hints in stories and the like, such as drunkenness

  • 3
    This is a really good answer!! +1 :) – Shokhet Jan 23 '15 at 2:49
3

Orchos Chaim Hilchos Purim 38 writes that getting drunk is completely forbidden, and there is no greater sin, as it leads to illicit relationships, spilling blood, and many other sins.

0

I would like to add a few sources not mentioned in previous answers.

Rambam writes the following:

Guide for the Perplexed 3:8

Wine may be treated as food, if taken as such, but to form parties for the purpose of drinking wine together must be considered more disgraceful than the unrestrained conduct of persons who in daylight meet in the same house undressed and naked. For the natural action of the digestive organ is indispensable to man, he cannot do without it; whilst drunkenness depends on the free will of an evil man. To appear naked in the presence of other people is misconduct only according to public opinion, not according to the dictates of reason, whilst drunkenness, which ruins the mind and the body of man, reason stamps as a vice. You, therefore, who desire to act as human beings must keep away from it, and even from speaking of it. (Friedlander translation)

In his letter to his son R. Abraham1 he writes as follows:

Be careful about drinking wine. An excessive amount injures the strongest and disgraces the most honorable. In this respect, how relevent is the last will and testament of Yehonadov, the son of Rochov to his sons! Take note, however, that I am not admonishing you about anything that I did not train and habituate you from your birth (such as not to drink wine altogether), but you can break the habit of wine-drinking by substituting water and indulging only during meals and never for pleasure. No wonder the Torah registers a strong denunciation of the saintly Noah, if only for the purpose of drawing a lesson about the habit of drinking wine. (Stitskin translation)

Ralbag in his commentary to the end of Parshas Noach writes:

התועלת הראשון הוא במידות והוא שראוי להתרחק משתיית היין יותר מן החוק לפי שיקרה ממנו מן הגנות וההפסד מה שלא יעלם הלא תראה כי נח עם היותו שלם מאד נכשל בו וכן ההקש בשאר הדברים המשכרים כמו החלב ומה שידמה לו

The first lesson is in character traits, and it is that it is proper to distance oneself from drinking wine more than is normal, on account of what will happen to him of degradation and loss which cannot be ignored. Do you not see that Noach, notwithstanding that he was very wholesome, stumbled in this. And so it is similarly with other things that inebriate, such as milk and that which is similar to it.

Samuel David Luzzato in his commentary there writes similarly:

גם רצה ללמד הרעות הנמשכות מן היין כי נח שהיה צדיק תמים בכל אנשי דורו נולדו לו תקלות על ידי השכרות

[The Torah] also wanted to teach the evils that come about through wine. For Noach who was a purely righteous man among all the men of his generation had tragedies come about to him through drunkenness.

The negative aspects of drinking are also discussed in the Pele Yoetz under the entries Achila U'shesiya, Yayin, Purim, and Shesiya.


1. The authenticity of this letter is suspect; according to R. Shilat it was certainly not written by Rambam.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .