Peninei Halakha

11. Laws of Drinking

One fulfills his obligation to drink on Purim with any intoxicating beverage. However, it is preferable to drink wine, because the miracle came about through wine. If one derives greater joy from drinking other beverages, he should drink mostly what he likes best, as, fundamentally, the mitzva is to rejoice. But if he enjoys drinking wine even a little bit, it is best to begin by drinking wine, in commemoration of the miracle.[12]

It is a mitzva even for women to drink a lot of wine that brings joy on Purim. However, they must be careful not to get drunk, because drunkenness is more degrading for women than it is for men, and it constitutes a breach of the mitzva of tzni’ut (modesty), for which women are praised.[13]

If one knows that drinking a lot of wine causes him to cry and become depressed, or causes headaches, it is preferable for him to fulfill the mitzva by drinking just a little more than usual. This is because the main objective of the mitzva is to be happy, and if drinking makes one sad, he undermines the mitzva. If, however, he cries out of joy – for example, if he is happy to cry about important things, like the present state of the Jewish people, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, or his own unrepentant spiritual state – he may fulfill the mitzva by drinking “until he does not know.”

If one knows that when he gets drunk he goes wild and hurts others, or he ends up wallowing in his own vomit and degrading himself in public, he should not get drunk. Rather, he should fulfill the mitzva by drinking more than usual. Such a person need not bemoan the fact that he cannot control himself when drunk. Even though the Sages state that “When wine enters, a secret comes out” (Eruvin 65a), and thus his actions while drunk seemingly show that he has a deep-seated inclination toward violence and rowdiness, nevertheless, the Sages also say, “The reward is proportionate to the exertion” (Avot 5:23). Since he actually manages to curb his impulses in the course of daily life, it is clear that he continually makes great improvements.[14]

In order to fulfill the mitzva properly, one must understand that alcohol reaches the height of its influence around twenty minutes after it is ingested. This delay causes some people to make a mistake: When five minutes pass after drinking a cup of wine or hard liquor, and they do not feel any significant change, they think that they need to drink another cup. And when, even then, they feel that they have not fulfilled the mitzva, they drink another cup, and – just to be sure – one more. Then, all of a sudden, the first cup starts taking effect, and then the second, the third, and the fourth. All at once they become very drunk, behave like animals, and begin to vomit, causing much shame and degradation. Therefore, one must know how to drink and rejoice, waiting at least a half-hour between drinks and incorporating one’s drinking into the meal. This way, people will be able to rejoice properly throughout Purim.

[12]. See Mikra’ei Kodesh (Frank) §44, which cites sources indicating that one must drink wine specifically. However, it seems that in practice, this requirement is only le-khatĥila. After all, the mitzva mentioned in the verse and in the writings of the Rishonim is that “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he does not know,” with no mention of wine whatsoever. The main thing is to rejoice through drinking.

[13]. See Ketubot 65a, which indicates that wine and drunkenness are more degrading for women than they are for men. Perhaps this is why the Sages say in Pesaĥim 109a, regarding the mitzva of rejoicing on the festivals, that people should rejoice through what is appropriate for them: men through wine and women through nice clothing. This implies that women cannot rejoice through wine, because drunkenness is degrading for them. See Peninei Halakha: Pesaĥ 16:7 and n. 3, regarding the Four Cups. Nevertheless, it is a mitzva for women to drink a small amount, without getting drunk.

[14]. Ĥayei Adam, quoted in bhl 665:2, s.v. “ad,” states that one should not reach a state of drunkenness in which he sins. It is true that I write later on in the name of Rav Kook that, when it comes to missing prayers, we apply the rule “One who is engaged in performing a mitzva is exempt from performing another mitzva.” Nevertheless, all agree that one may not cause oneself to sin. It is true that Rav Kook writes in Mitzvat Re’iyah (Omissions §695) that the performance of a mitzva protects one from harm, proving this from a statement of Rashba; nevertheless, it seems that everyone agrees that one who knows from experience that getting drunk leads him to sin or degradation should not get drunk. It is also obvious that one who feels sad when he drinks heavily should not drink, as Purim is supposed to be a day of feasting and joy. However, if he cries for good things, and enjoys doing so, he may get drunk, and it is even a mitzva to do so. A proof for this is found in Shibolei Ha-leket §93, which cites an aggadic teaching that R. Akiva used to cry on Shabbat, saying that it gave him pleasure. This is quoted in Beit Yosef and Rema, oĥ 288:2, and in mb ad loc. 4.

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The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman