By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
Haman, Too, Was Drunk
The Megillah tells us that Haman was drunk with the hatred of Mordechai. In spite of Haman having been appointed to the highest possible position of honor and power by King Achashveirosh, “Yet all this means nothing to me,” declared Haman. So consumed was he with loathing that he used his high office to engineer the extermination of all Jews on a designated day. Why just one day? Would he not have pleasure if the genocide of all the Jews was achieved over a period of several days?
Haman despised Jews so intensely that he devised his meticulous plan of annihilation to include the extreme possibility of their being miraculously saved. If saved, Haman formulated, then let the Jews have only one day of celebration, not more!
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, the greatly respected Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva, spoke at a Project YES conference titled “Purim Parenting: Keeping our children safe and sober.” Rabbi Kamenetsky responded to the question of getting drunk on Purim: “Chas veshalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah!” The rosh yeshiva shed light on the words “ad delo yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” (not knowing the difference between Haman and Mordechai) and said that when one sings verses of a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha, one occasionally will sing the verses in an incorrect order, meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, the Rosh Yeshiva stated, that this is to be taken to condone drunkenness, which is in absolute direct contrast to the teachings of our Torah.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, Rav of Agudas Israel of Staten Island and a popular speaker, noted author, and columnist, gives a famous weekly Chumash shiur. Discussing the subject of getting inebriated on Purim, Rabbi Weiss cited a source that finds the gematria (numerology) of Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai to be exactly the same. On Purim, should one have difficulty in adding up and matching the gematrias, according to Rabbi Weiss, one would thus have fulfilled the requirement of ad delo yoda (until one cannot discern differences between Haman and Mordechai).
To Collect Tzedakah
As the joyous Purim holiday approaches, many preparations are under way for assembling and distributing mishloach manos. The custom of mishloach manos involves sending two types of ready-to-eat food to a poor person. The root mitzvah, of course, is charity. Since time immemorial, collections of charity have been undertaken on Purim for all needs.
Yeshiva students dressed in costumes customarily band together and travel in small groups visiting affluent homes, providing Purim entertainment, and soliciting charitable contributions. They sing, dance, tell humorous stories, and recite amusingly recast commentaries on the Megillah. The groups rent cars and vans in order to get around. An older student is usually designated as the driver and is responsible to get the group to their destinations and back. Efficient planning will get the group to the maximum number of households and generate the greatest amount of charity.
Most yeshivas encourage their students to participate in this annual tradition. Some, though, are unhappy with the prospect of their students journeying around town without proper supervision. In particular, certain chassidishe yeshivas issue annual warnings to their students and families not to travel by means of buses, mini-buses, or limousines. Car services, too, are listed as less than ideal.
In years past, the Hisachdus Horabbonim, the organization of chassidishe rabbis headquartered in Williamsburg, issued a number of practical safety directives. The Hisachdus calls for groups to travel with a designated leader, by car or mini-bus and nothing larger, to sing only songs that are not influenced by secular music, and that the represented organizations appoint supervisors to oversee these activities. In addition, an alarm should be sounded if the conduct of any group is found to have gone over the line and becomes unacceptable.
Needless to say, liquor should not be offered to group members. The Hisachdus did, however, call upon the public to heavily favor and generously reward those groups whose conduct is proper and within the guidelines.
Additional warnings constrain use of loudspeakers, which, according to the directives, create an atmosphere that is the exact opposite of that desired by yeshivas. The students are likewise warned not to participate in large gatherings in the streets, which tend to get rowdy.
Contemplating the warnings, the observant community can take great pride in the aspirations and activities of our yeshiva students, who overwhelmingly conduct themselves as regal gentlemen, reflecting most positively on their yeshivas and the organizations for which they collect. On the morning after Shushan Purim, all students are remarkably and refreshingly at their stations in the beis medrash, back to their lofty routine of Torah pursuit. “May Heaven grant that their number multiply!”
Do Not Get Drunk
The Talmud refers negatively to drunkards several times. “A drunkard should not pray, and if he prayed, his prayers are an abomination” (Eruvin 64a). The Aruch HaShulchan equates drunken prayers to idol worship, a total negation of respect for Heaven (Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 99:4). “He who becomes drunk is as though he worshiped idols” (Mishnah Berurah 99:1:5). This unfavorable attitude and negation applies all year round, 24/7, including during Purim.
Thankfully, alcoholism is not a serious problem within the observant community. The continuous uproar against kiddush clubs, and lately kiddushim, by the organized rabbinate is indicative of its extreme displeasure with any alcoholic excess. Our vigilance must never be allowed to slacken in face of its ugliness and destructiveness to individuals, families, and to our holy institutions. On the eve of Purim, when some give themselves license to take an extra drink, public announcements by many yeshivas and organizations warn against doing so. The declarations remind us of tragedies that occurred in the recent past.
The Satmar Yeshiva, amongst others, continues to bluntly prohibit its students from renting or riding in trucks on Purim. In years past, groups of boys would rent a truck, the cheapest mode of transportation, and travel to homes soliciting for worthy causes. The boys would be in the cargo area of the truck and its back doors open to allow its music to be heard and its joyous costumed passengers to be seen. After a dose of alcohol, without seats or safety barriers, inevitably someone, Heaven forbid, falls out of the open doors while traveling and is seriously injured.
The Drinking Chart
In preparation for Purim a few years ago, a two-page guide to inebriation and its categorization within halachah was formulated and widely circulated. In almost every shul and yeshiva, the revised and updated chart was received with great interest. Review credit is attributed to Rabbi Yaakov Ephraim Forchheimer and Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchok Felder, greatly respected dayanim of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.
The guide divides those that drank a revi’is (4.42 liquid ounces or 86 grams) or more of wine into four categories: 1. One who is “unaffected by the intoxicant.” 2. One who is affected slightly but continues to “speak coherently, neither slurs nor repeats his words.” 3. One who is affected to the extent that one “slurs and/or repeats his words.” and 4. One who has become “oblivious to his surroundings.”
The guide charts the halachic viability of the these four categories as it applies to tefillah, being counted in a minyan, Kriyas Shema, Birchos Kriyas Shema, other berachos, Birkas HaMazon, being counted in for quorum for bentching, and Kohanim duchaning. The critical line drawn is the one in between those that slur their words and those that are oblivious to their surroundings. Those that are only affected to the extent of slurring their speech may, for the most part, fulfill their halachic obligations. Those that are more drunk are disqualified from offering prayers and cannot be included in a minyan.
However, it is quite noteworthy that Kohanim, whom we look up to and from whom we expect a nobler mode of behavior, are held to a stricter interpretation in regards to duchaning. Sephardic Kohanim duchan evey day, all year long, all over the world. Ashkenazic Kohanim duchan in Israel all year long. If a Kohen, Sephard or Ashkenaz, speaks coherently and does not slur his words, but is affected by the wine or alcoholic drink that he imbibed, he is not permitted to perform or participate in the Priestly Blessings. This is especially evident on Simchas Torah, another occasion that some permit themselves to drink more than they should. On that happy yom tov, when Kiddush is made available after aliyos and Kriyas HaTorah, duchaning is moved up to Shacharis from its regular timing during Musaf to preclude the participation of Kohanim who might possibly be slightly inebriated.
Is a Clown Allowed to Daven Minchah?
In an interesting footnote on the chart, the question if one is permitted to pray while wearing a Purim costume is dealt with. If the costume consists of regular clothing that one ordinarily does not wear, such as a kaftan, bekeshe, shtreimel, beeber hat, etc., prayer is permitted while sober. However, a clown or animal costume, etc. according to some opinions, would preclude one from praying. Interestingly, students of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath have a standard clown outfit that is worn every Purim as well as at other joyous occasions, such as at weddings in the weeks proceeding Purim. The students have become accustomed to the clown outfits and, accordingly, prayer in those clown outfits would be permitted. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.