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Drinking on Purim (Part Two) -- published 3/08 -- "A"
Column # 61
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
This article orignally appeared in Chicago Community Kollel

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

As the parents of three teenage boys, we are frightened each Purim that our kids will drink heavily and chas v’shalom get violently ill or worse, get hurt in a car crash.

What are your thoughts on the entire drinking ‘scene’ on Purim and what can we do as parents when our kids tell us to, “Chill out, everyone is doing it (drinking)?”


Dovid and Chanie

Rabbi Horowitz Responds:

Last week, we discussed some of the ‘big-picture’ klal issues relating to teen drinking and smoking. In this column, we will address:

• Smoking and drinking on Purim from a halachic standpoint
• Being proactive in teaching your children about the ills of these various vices
• How to help your children buck peer pressure

For starters, from a standpoint of halacha and minhag (Jewish law and accepted practice, respectively), there is absolutely no basis for smoking of any kind as it relates to Purim. Case closed.

Drinking, on the other hand, does have a substantive source in halacha and one could make the case that it would be entirely appropriate for one to get drunk on Purim. Additionally, there are established minhagim in many kehilos for people – even distinguished talmidei chachamim – to get very drunk on Purim. However, I feel that even those with that minhag should ask their Rav and strongly reconsider whether it is wise to continue this practice in light of the challenging times in which we live.

Our chazal note that on Purim, one is “obligated to reach a state where one cannot discern (ad d’lo yoda) between [the wicked] Haman and [the blessed] Mordechai. It is on the basis of these words that the custom of drinking on Purim is based. With that in mind, how, then, can one arrive at the conclusion that heavy drinking on Purim is inappropriate? The answer is that our chachamim clearly indicate that one can fulfill the requirement of “ad d’lo yoda” by drinking in moderation and then napping, due to the fact that when one is sleeping, he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai.

I also do not think that we can make any comparison between past practices and the current climate, as things have changed dramatically over the past 10-20 years regarding the consumption of alcohol among our children. A generation ago, it was rare if not unheard of for a frum boy to drink hard liquor (I had 88 boys in my graduating class, and I cannot recall any of them drinking whiskey.) Unfortunately, that is just not the case today. Moreover, study after study reveals that people who do not smoke or drink in their teen years hardly ever pick it up later in life, and these 2 activities are ‘gateway drugs’ meaning that it is almost unheard of for kids to use hard drugs without first smoking/drinking. (See last week’s column for 2 quotes from CASA studies.) With this knowledge in hand, it seems awfully destructive to expose our children to these ‘gateways’ under the guise of one of our most joyous Yomim Tovim – especially when there are acceptable halachic alternatives.

It is extraordinarily difficult to try to get your teens to buck peer pressure and there is a stage in their lives when you cannot make these choices for them. And that is why it is encouraging that so many Yeshivos have gone to alcohol-free Purim gatherings. But as parents, research clearly indicates that two factors help children make good choices and resist the seduction of these dangerous vices are: 1) parents who ‘get it’– are knowledgeable about the dangers that their children face, and, 2) parents who consistently speak to their children about avoiding these substances.
In a column I ran last year on Purim drinking, I mentioned an article about the reaction of many school district superintendents and elected officials in affluent suburban areas of New York City to the growing incidence of substance abuse in their communities. Public health officials in these areas were alarmed by the trend of rising drug and alcohol use among the teens in their care. They were also puzzled by the fact that during the same time period, drug use was dropping dramatically in the inner city. Overall, there were still higher percentages of inner city kids who were ‘using.’ However, there was a clear, sustained pattern of diminishing numbers in the cities and increasing substance abuse in wealthy suburban areas. Several school districts in the northern suburbs of New York City pooled their resources and retained a firm to conduct extensive research in an attempt to gain insight into the reasons for this inexplicable phenomenon.

The research firm discovered that the inner city parents and schools were succeeding in reversing the trend of rising drug use because they were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than were the more affluent suburbanites. Inner city parents and school officials were very mindful of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse – and were willing to make this issue a priority in their lives. Inner-city schools had ‘healthy living’ curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents spoke to their children early and often – as early as ages five and six, in many instances – about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use. Despite the challenges of inner-city life, the parental input had an overwhelmingly positive impact on reducing the incidence of substance abuse among children. Affluent suburbanites, on the other hand, were oblivious to the realities of drug use among the kids in their own communities. In fact, most suburban teens that were interviewed for the study felt that their parents were ‘clueless’ as to the number of kids who were ‘using’ and the hard-core nature of the substances that were being used. Inner-city kids, on the other hand, reported that they felt their parents ‘really get it.’

Ironically, the fact that we, baruch Hashem, shelter our children from the secular world, may add an element of risk to them taking up smoking and drinking. Why? Because we, as parents, may have the mindset of the suburban parents noted above who think their kids are immune to these dangers. Additionally, our children do not hear all the public health commercials and public school awareness campaigns alerting children to the dangers of smoking and drinking. I am certainly not advocating that we expose our children to the secular world so that they hear ‘smoking-is-not-cool’ or ‘this-is-your-brain-on-drugs’ advertisements. But we need to be aware of the fact that our kids are not hearing this important information, and it is our job to share these messages with them – early and often.

Best wishes for a safe, enjoyable, and meaningful Purim.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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