I came across a post on Mi Yodea about the Torah approach to alcohol and a lot of it seems pretty negative. For example, Brachot 40a - 'grapes cause sorrow to the world', Yoma 76 - wine is called יין because it brings moaning (יללה), Bava Basra 90b - you're not allowed to export food/drink from Israel except wine because less wine means less levity, Ibn Ezra says there's nothing more destructive to service of Hashem than wine, etc...

The full answer, with many more sources, can be found here. Obviously there are positive sources as well, but with so many negative opinions, I would think this would be something prohibited.

Additionally, I know Igros Moshe's Teshuva that smoking marijuana is prohibited because of the damage it does to the human body and the cravings it gives you. Science has deemed alcohol even more damaging to the body, and it definitely induces similar cravings that R' Moshe discusses.

So why is alcohol not forbidden?

  • 1
    Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Siman 29, Sief 7 may be of some interest to you.
    – ezra
    Nov 22, 2017 at 23:28
  • Lots of stupid things to do are technically permitted
    – Double AA
    Nov 22, 2017 at 23:28
  • 1
    From what I've seen drunkenness to the point where one is impaired is almost never encouraged by classical Jewish sources. A lesser degree of alcohol consumption is sometimes encouraged, as for example to help mourners cope.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 22, 2017 at 23:54
  • Maybe you will find this interesting Why wine for kiddush?
    – mbloch
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:52

2 Answers 2


Rabbenu Avraham ben HaRambam writes:

If God would forbid everyone to drink wine and alcohol as he forbade non-kosher animals and fowl, not all would be able to comply...such a prohibition would also interfere with the benefit of wine and the occasional need to drink it. And if our Torah would say "Drink but don't become intoxicated," it would not work because there is no precise amount. Therefore he taught in the true Torah that it is permitted...but indicated that drunkenness is repulsive and practically forbidden (Hamaspik L'ovdey Hashem ed. Wincelberg p. 556).

This is in turn paraphrased (unattributed) by Rashba (Shut HaHadashot: 367):

ומפני שלא ראתה התורה למנוע שתית היין ולא יוכל לתת שעור לשתיתו עד שתתיר התורה בדרך משל שתיית הרביעית ותאסור יותר משתיית הרביעית וכיוצא בזה, ספר הכתוב התקלות הנולדות ממנו לתועלת גדולה שיהא זהיר ונזהר ממנו כל איש כפי אשר יכיר כל אחד בטבעו

And since the Torah didn't want to forbid the consumption of wine, and could not give an amount to the drinking, such that the Torah would for example permit the consumption of a revi'it and forbid consumption of more than a revi'it, or the like, Scripture related the problems that stem from it, for a great purpose; that a person should be wary of it; each person based on his own self-evaluation.

The Malmad HaTalmidim (Parashat Tazria) writes (and indicates that it is an older idea) that when it comes to intuitive things, the Torah suffices by teaching us to avoid through stories, rather through direct directives. His example, is drunkenness:

כבר קדם לנו כי הדברים שירחיקם השכל יספיק לתורה במניעתם בדרך ספור. וכשם שלא אסרה התורה השכרות בפירוש והספיק לה ברמזים בספורים

Unlike Rabbenu Avraham and Rashba, he is only addressing drunkenness; not any consumption of alcohol. Furthermore, unlike them, he does not say why the Torah chooses to teach intuitive moral instructions through stories rather than direct directives.

For an example of such instruction, see Radak to Genesis (9:20) who writes that the story of Noah's drunkenness is God's way of teaching Man not to get drunk:

היה הספור הזה להזהיר על משתה היין ושלא לשגות בו...בא ספור ממנו בתורה לספר בגנותו


@mevakesh's answer is great, I only want to widen the question a bit and answer from a different point.

  1. I wonder you didn't mention Nazir, that brings the Sin Offering (חטאת) at the end of his Nazirut, to symbolize that his avoiding of the "worldly pleasures", including wine, is a kind of a sin.
  2. In general, after the original sin, part of our commandments (and therefore our goal in this world) focus on intentional "consuming of the bad" with the sole intention to turn it into good, by using it in serving Hashem. Besides alcohol, sex is a great example of this rule. A supposedly "disgusting and filthy" behavior (ask preschoolers, that did not taste it yet) is turned happily into a great Mitzva(s) and joy.
  3. Another example is simple eating, as Rambam rules in Hilchot Deot. This behavior can be "holy", resembling the altar - "זה השלחן אשר לפני ה'" or be turned into gluttony etc.
  4. Same with money.
  5. So to stay out of trouble Torah could prohibit a lot of activities (listed) and require us to turn into monks, but luckily, Hashem wanted it the other way - to cope with it and turn it into a Kedushah.
  6. It falls under "קדש עצמך במותר לך" - Yevomos 20a - **"Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you". Explanation: If all the things were divided into only two clear categories: good and bad, fully allowed and fully prohibited, there would be no "קדש את עצמך", no Hassidus, no bonuses in Avoydas Hashem. Alcohol, food, sex and other worldly pleasures all fall into this category, of letting the pious to go beyond regular observing. This is called "Hashem's intention", as opposed to "Hashem's commandments".
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 30, 2017 at 13:35
  • To summarise, 1) where is the Rambam in De'ot? What does it say? How is it relevant to the question? 2) You state that So to stay out of trouble Torah could prohibit a lot of activities (listed), however this isn't true. The activities you listed include sex and eating. Those are both essential for survival so banning them wouldn't keep anyone out of trouble; it would kill them. 3) Yevamot 20 says that it is praiseworthy to refrain from permissible but negative things. That doesn't tell you why God didn't prohibit these things in the first place; it just tells you that
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 30, 2017 at 15:52
  • if something is bad you shouldn't do it. Furthermore, it provides no evidence for your thesis that the Torah left things muttar because it is good to elevate the base. On the contrary, the Gemara is advocating perishut avoiding the permissible. 4) Your premise is that the Torah leaves things permissible since it wants us to elevate them and use them for the good. That may or may not be true, but it doesn't really answer the question, since the Torah DOES ban some things which it (apparently deems harmful to us or others). It doesn't simply leave it permissible and let us elevate it.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 30, 2017 at 15:52
  • The OP knows (and indicated) that there are some positive aspects of wine. The question is why in spite of them, the Torah didnt decide to ban it just as it bans other things. Stating that sometimes the Torah doesn't choose to ban things so that we elevate them, doesn't address why the Torah chose to allow this.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 30, 2017 at 15:52
  • To state what ought to be obvious, none of this is directed against you as a person (and apologise if criticism of posts is construed as anything else). I have no reason to doubt that you are a fine person, and look forward to you positively contributing to the site.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 30, 2017 at 15:56

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