Friday, March 02, 2007

Drunken Bnei Torah

Hey, It’s Purim! Ad D’Lo Yada. Let’s go get drunk.

Yes, this is a common attitude amongst many Orthodox young people on that day. Purim is this coming Sunday and it will no doubt contain many such statements between friends. And it cuts across all Hashkafic lines. The most RW of Charedi to the most LW of MO. And it does not begin and end with Purim. Excessive alcohol consumption has been a growing problem in recent years. I see it at weddings all the time. Not by everyone to be sure. Most young people behave responsibly and do not over do it.

But I do encounter it quite often. It is usually done by the Chasan’s friends. I see them really belting down the drinks. And this causes rude and rowdy behavior. These young people use the excuse of Simchas Chasan VeKala for all manner of drunken behavior. From insulting people who get in their way to just dancing so wildly that they are oblivious to anyone other than themselves who are dancing nearby. Flailing arms, stomping feet have more than once hit and injured others trying to dance in the same vicinity a bit more calmly.

When they are asked to tone it down, they will typically say something along the lines “The Chasan wants it”. That is their excuse for the worst kind of drunken behavior. These drunken young people get a sense that whatever it is they are doing, it is really amazing, no matter how stupid it may be or how much of an imposition it is on the other guests, or even for the rest of Baalei Simcha besides the Chasan such as parents, or elderly grandparents.

An example: One will somtimes see Bachurim surround the Chasan and drunkenly drone on with “Zmiros” for what seems like an endless amount of time. This is almost exclusive to Right Wing Yeshiva Bachurim. They do so after the meal just before bentching. Parents, grandparents, other family members and guests stand idly by waiting for them to finish. They care little about anyone else focusing only on what they are doing. If anyone tries to point this out to them, the response is, “The Chasan wants it”. And this they think excuses their selfishness. All because they are drunk. And the Gemara tells us about being drunk and one’s true character. It reveals just how self-centered these Bnei Torah are.

Purim is just another excuse for this kind of behavior. The desire for the “buzz” or “getting high” has always been associated with elements outside of Torah Jewry. But that is no longer the case. Now the finest of Yeshivos can boast of significant numbers of Bachurim who like to get a drunken high on Purim.

In recent years there has been a call from rabbinic leaders for sobriety on the part of Bnei Torah. Interpretaions of “Ad D’Lo Yada” do not require getting “plastered”. The opposite is true. And in any case it can be fulfilled by taking a nap on that day. To their credit Agudah has come out with a Kol Koreh that directly addresses this subject. The signatories include a wide array of Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva from many segments of Orthodoxy. It contains a quote from the Meiri as quoted in the Biur Halacha, Orach Chaim: 695. In part it says that we are not commanded to become drunk to the point of diminishing ourselves. The Simcha we are supposed to have is not one of frivolity or foolishness but one of spiritual pleasure that brings us to a love of HaShem.

But the fact is that far too many young people go way beyond that and have gotten so drunk that it has endangered their own lives and those of others. This is true especially by the Bnei Yeshiva leads to Sakanas Nefashos and Chilul HaShem.

The Kol Koreh is a start, but one must also look at causal factors. Part of the problem is the role model issue. Rebbeim are role models for their Talmidim and some of them get pretty drunk themselves. Or they encourage drinking or at least tolerate it. It is not an uncommon sight to see some Bachurim at the house of their Rebbe throwing up because they are so drunk.

Getting drunk to the levels often encountered on Purim is not a Mitzvah but a Chilul HaShem. Thank God that in recent years, the rabbinic leadership has both acknowledged the problem and is trying to do something about it. But as I said, a Kol Koreh isn’t enough. And as I pointed out, drinking on Purim isn’t the only time it happens. What needs to be done is to put alcohol consumption right up their with mind altering drugs like cocaine and heroin. It is one thing to drink some wine for Kiddush or the Daled Kosos (the four cups of wine drunk at the Pesach Seder) or other such sacramental situations. Those are Mitzvos. It is even OK to say L’Chaim with an alcoholic beverages at a Simcha or at a Shabbos Kiddush. But to use alcohol as a means of getting high is about as Jewish as snorting coke.