Drinking heavily on Purim can leave lasting impressions.
By Louis Finkelman
You can look through the entire Hebrew Bible and nearly all of rabbinic literature without finding anything positive about getting drunk. That is, until you come to Rabba’s statement: “A person must get ‘spiced’ on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordecai” (Talmud Megillah 7bj).
The statement attracted pushback over centuries. The Talmud also reports “Rabba and Rabbi Zeira shared a Purim feast together and got ‘spiced.’ Rabba got up and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, Rabba prayed for mercy and revived him. The next year, Rabba invited Rabbi Zeira to share the Purim feast again, but Rabbi Zeira declined, ‘Not every day does a miracle occur.’”
Some later rabbis advise against drinking on Purim. Others suggest taking a nap. While asleep, you cannot discern between Haman and Mordecai.
Some people, though, often teen boys, try to implement the recommendation to imbibe scrupulously.
One former Detroiter writes about his first year away from home as a 13-year-old yeshivah student in the 1960s. On Purim, students would visit their Talmud teacher and lie on his living room floor listening to him lecture about morality as they drank heavily.
“I had never ingested more than a few ounces of wine on Shabbat or Jewish holidays,” he writes. “My initial shock turned to disgust as the room began to reek of sweat and vomit.”
Another anonymous informant, now a respected rabbi, recalls a Purim morning when he dormed at his Midwest yeshivah high school. A classmate he did not know wound up at a teacher’s house, three miles from the dorm. The administration did not, he recalls, treat the student’s wandering as an emergency and did not warn students against drinking.
Daniel Jacobovitz of Oak Park recalls three bad memories of Purim drinking:
“The first: I was delivering mishloah manot (Purim treats) in Oak Park about 20 years ago, when I was 14. One of the places I went was a school. I was astonished to see kids about my age just drinking; some were just wasted.
“The second: I was having the Purim feast with my extended family. It was not a drinking party, but a feast with plenty of food. One person — about my age then, 13 or 14 — kept sneaking alcohol. No one said anything. By the end, he made a complete fool of himself.
“The third: A few years later, somebody I knew was drinking and kept on drinking. After I left, I heard someone took him to the emergency room … He spent the night in the hospital; they said he had alcohol poisoning.
“I just turned 34. I don’t drink. I haven’t seen anything like that since, but, then, I don’t hang around people seriously drinking. These stories have been bothering me for years. I am glad I finally got to tell them.”
Rabbinic scholar Dina Najman, head of an Orthodox synagogue in Riverdale, N.Y., (and a former Detroiter), writes, “We have a responsibility to explain this is not only a medical concern (preserving life) but also… halakhic… excessive drinking is the opposite of giving praise to God.”
The nonprofit Detroit Chaverim will run a free bus from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday, March 20, and from 1 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday, March 24, traveling between Coolidge and Southfield roads, and from Nine Mile Road to 11 Mile Road. Call (248) 658-8111 for an appointment for a group, or, if you see the bus, hail a ride. DetroitChaverim.org.