Sunday, February 22, 2009

Drinking on Purim

What do you think of this quote in context of the ideas regarding drinking on Purim? (Do you think it supports the idea/ opposes it?)


“Such is my fate! Do you know, sir, do you know, I have sold her very stockings for drink? Not her shoes—that would be more or less in the order of things, but her stockings, her stockings I have sold for drink! Her mohair shawl I sold for drink, a present to her long ago, her own property, not mine; and we live in a cold room and she caught cold this winter and has begun coughing and spitting blood too. We have three little children and Katerina Ivanovna is at work from morning till night; she is scrubbing and cleaning and washing the children, for she’s been used to cleanliness from a child. But her chest is weak and she has a tendency to consumption and I feel it! Do you suppose I don’t feel it? And the more I drink the more I feel it. That’s why I drink too. I try to find sympathy and feeling in drink.… I drink so that I may suffer twice as much!” And as though in despair he laid his head down on the table.

~Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Take a look at the Chochmas Mano'ach on Megilla 7b, the famous gemara in question - I think it represents one of the nicest explanations regarding the issue that I have ever seen.

Since it is printed in very small lettering in the back of the shas, I can try to scan and enlarge it if you wish.

Full disclosure: in my opinion, it is completely prohibited to drink on Purim as the vast majority of Orthodox people currently do (getting very drunk). I have the outline for a polemic entitled "Why I hate Purim" that, given enough provocation, I may write one of these days...

"Livesumei" means to prepare spiced wine to drink, NOT to drink with the goal of getting drunk. Becoming inebriated is a clear Torah prohibition... cf. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu's comment that if someone is worried that they will not be able to say birkat hamazon with the proper intent after their se'udas Purim having imbibed, they are exempt from this mitzvah and shound not drink at all!!

Am writing this with only my memory and my Talman gemara to guide me - if you desire a properly-researched response, let me know and I will look stuff up and put it together...

Anonymous said...


The actual words of the Talmud, which is brought down in the code of Jewish law is that "a man is obligated to get drunk . . ' the word is not really to get drunk, the true translation of it is "to smell nice". In Aramaic, the language of the Talmud "le-basumi" really is related to the Hebrew word "bosem" fragrance. That means that a person is suppose to make himself fragrant, meaning becoming something that another person would enjoy." What does drinking have to do with giving joy to someone else?! I'm truly puzzled by it all.

Anonymous said...

"And the more I drink the more I feel it. That’s why I drink too. I try to find sympathy and feeling in drink.… I drink so that I may suffer twice as much!”
The quote belngs to a true alcoholic! Unfortunately, I also witness great many Orthodox Jews drink on purim,young and old. The scene disgusts me. Each and every year I wait for the rabbis(of the shuls I attend) to say something that would stop this practice,but the words never come. Very sad!

Anonymous said...

R' Sperber in the 6th volume of minhagei yisrael summarizes the halachik approaches to the gemara (and the story that follows)
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף ז עמוד ב
אמר רבא: מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי. רבה ורבי זירא עבדו סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי, איבסום, קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא. למחר בעי רחמי ואחייה. לשנה אמר ליה: ניתי מר ונעביד סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי! - אמר ליה: לא בכל שעתא ושעתא מתרחיש ניסא.
into 4 categories (iirc)
1. it is a total mitzvah to get drunk
2. it's a mitzvah balma (like reading all 10 names of haman's sons in 1 breath)
3. it doesn't mean getting stupid but just a little slow
4.don't do it

An interesting thesis would be to understand why each posek chose a particular approach (I have some theories but.....)
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

I hate the common practice of getting drunk on Purim. It is such a hilul Hashem; a group of people in my community once got hammered in the presence of some of their children's non-Jewish nannies, who found the whole thing a riot. If people want to not know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, they should take a nice, long shluf.

That said, I don't think your quote has anything to do with Purim drunkenness. That character is an alcoholic; the Orthodox people in question get drunk only once a year. The character has figured out a psychological reason for his alcoholism: it helps him feel and suffer. This is totally different from the Purim scene. I think that for the demographic who makes it a "religious" (or at least religiously acceptable) point to get drunk on Purim, the holiday is the one time of the year--which can be a rigid routine of halakha, minhag and the pursuit of social acceptance--they can really let loose.

Anonymous said...

odd, while reading that I thought it was from the Brother's Karamazov (same author)

In the Brother's Karamzov statements like that were about being a "sensationalist", meaning it's all about experiencing different sensations. But I don't think that is what Purim drinking is about at all.

David_on_the_Lake said...

Personally...I find it repulsive.
Although I do have to say..I've been to the land of Dostoyevsky and can certainly relate to his words.
But somehow when frum people get drunk it's just shocking and seems wrong..

Stubborn and Strong said...

well woman are not allowed to get drunk because it is immodest. If men are planning to drink just hope that they are smart and stay inside of the house all the time.

Tobie said...

The quote is the drunken ravings of a genuine alcoholic, and certainly his personal form of drunkenness is not generalizable to any population. I'm not sure that it is relevant to Purim at all.

I think it's a little entertaining when people suddenly decide that לבסומי means something different than what it always means in Aramaic. How exactly would spiced wine or being nice impair one's ability to differentiate between Mordechai and Haman, except by getting you drunk?

It's particularly funny bc the Gemara provides a perfectly good source of halachic ambivalence in the very same source: The command is followed by a story of two Chachamim who got so drunk that one killed the other. (According to some girsa'ot, the Tanna involvement was the same one who made the statement about the mitzva to get drunk) So if you want an interpretation that doesn't glorify drunkenness- and I can see how you would- why not base it on the really big hook instead of re-reading לבסומי?

Anonymous said...

" And the more I drink the more I feel it."

Actually, I believe that this quote can be applicable to the repulsive scenes in some shuls and parties that take place on purim.I had some people state to me that they truly feel joy by getting drunk...Very strange indeed.

Anonymous said...

I saw groups (15-20) of women in Har Nof having group smokes in front of their buildings on Purim.

Shimon said...

Wow, I love this.
It really pinpoints the dilemma!
(I used to be a drinker until I read the Seridei Aish's account of R' Naftali Amsterdam and realized how far I was from it)

Shimon said...

there is also the wonderful passage in "The Little Prince"

Purim said...


BTW, I might be wrong, but I think that we never saw our Rabbis drunk on Purim...

Unknown said...

I think that it is unfortunate that we have forgotten why we drink on Purim. The two reasons that are quoted by the Kizur Shulchan Aruch are as follows:
1. The Festival of Wine (Mishtai Hayaiin) which brought in Esther at the expense of Vashti
2. The Festival of Wine which brought about Haman's downfall
Since both these occurrences were with wine, we drink wine on Purim.

OrthodoxJew said...


I don't know the source in the Gemara offhand, but it does say that a man is allowed to become "shatui" (become affected by alcohol), and even pray, if he is able to straigten himself in the way a person must when presenting himself before a king. The fact that the Gemara gives this condition means that it's allowed. You're right that the Torah frowns upon casual and pointless inebriation, as is said in verses in Amos and Isaiah.

Chaim said...

Gavi, Chana,

Your interpretations of the etymology of "L'Vasumei" are nice, but I'm sure you are aware that the Rishonim don't read the words the way you do. Rashi there translates it as "להשתכר בייו" - to get drunk on wine. Rambam codifies it (in Hilchos Megilla 2:15) as "ושותה יין עד שישתכר וירדם בשכרותו" - to drink wine until drunk and falls asleep in his drunkenness.
As you surely know, there are definitely those who righteously try to modify the Halacha for our modern times, but you can't deny that the Rishonim understood the words as referring to getting drunk. How drunk, in what fashion, etc. are certainly up for discussion, though.