Monday, February 22, 2010

Drunk as a Skunk

Purim is coming. There is an actual Halachic requirement for every adult male over the age of 13 to get drunk on that day. It is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (695:2) based on a Gemarah in Megilla (7b). How drunk? The level of intoxication is to the point where it affects your rational mind. It is called “Ad D’Lo Yadah”. This means to the point where one does not know the difference between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordechai'.

I could never understand this Halacha. In essence it takes the position that one is required to be in a dangerously altered state of consciousness. It takes away any inhibition one might have to behave themselves and lets loose their unconscious thoughts and uninhibited boorish behavior which can easily lead to a Chilul HaShem. I have heard the hurtful words coming out of the mouth of a drunk and seen truly disgusting behavior they would not ordinarily do. Primitive emotions and thoughts come out which are unbecoming of a religious Jew.

As if that were not bad enough - there is a much bigger downside to this. Drunk people can both kill and be killed. Driving while intoxicated has clearly shown that to be the case. But drunk driving is not the only way to end one’s life tragically. If one consumes enough alcohol in a short period of time one can get alcohol poisoning. That can cause death much like a drug overdose can.

I am not here to argue with the Shulchan Aruch. But I do question its application in our day. Many rabbis who understand the issue today have ruled that one can fulfill the requirement of Ad D’Lo Yada by taking a short nap on Purim. I believe that some Roshei yeshiva have even had the courage to forbid their students from drinking on Purim. Too many tragedies have happened in the past. I think they are right. The stakes are too high.

Better late than never but the ‘genie is out of the bottle’. Kids are drinking. It is the drug of choice among many in the Frum community. It doesn’t matter which segment of Orhtodoxy one is from. Like any drug - addiction becomes a major problem. Addictive personalities will become addicted to alcohol and abuse it

It would not surprise me if Purim is a major contributor to the increase of this problem among us. Of course that is the only cause. There are many sources of Alcohol that all can lead to its abuse. Kiddush in Shul offers alcohol and young people imbibe with impunity – often even with approval from parents. I’ve seen fathers take pride in their young son’s ability to ‘take a drink’. They might even bond over sharing a L’Chaim with a son. In other words young people see almost a complete aura of approval. They see the Shulchan Aruch advocate it on Purim, certain Rebbeim endorsing it then and parents even taking pride in it! It is almost as though Halacha and social norms are all on the side of the free use of Alcohol. The result of all this can be tragic.

Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in an article on Foxnews. This incident was not on Purim. Here is an excerpt:

A local rabbi charged with unlawfully dealing with a child after police say an underage UAlbany student drank and was taken to the hospital after a party hosted at the rabbi's home.Rabbi Mendel Rubin is the director of Shabbos House, and faces a misdemeanor charge after police say he hosted a party at the center and a student who attended was taken to the hospital. Police say this happened back on February 5th…

According to the police report, Rabbi Mendel Rubin was hosting a party at the house where alcohol was provided. Police say the sick person, an underage student, had consumed alcohol at the party.He had to be transported to St. Peter's Hospital and according to the report the student blew a .459.Cox says, "at that BAC you are highly impaired it’s even life threatening."

Frankly I’m glad to see this rabbi arrested. He denies serving the underage young man any alcohol and claims he simply took some on his own. But that is not good enough. He served alcohol in his home and clearly did not discourage anyone from drinking. At the very least he made no provisions to prevent a minor from doing so. Aside from the danger he posed he has contributed to a Chilul HaShem!

It’s time our community reverse this trend. Alcohol ought to be banned at any Purim gathering of any kind. At this point it is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh. I would even go so far as to suggest that police monitor any school or home that has advertised a Purim party. If any minor is caught being served alcohol - the host be arrested and charged.