Davening Under the Influence – By Rabbi Binyomin Radner

purim tlsBy Rabbi Binyomin Radner. 1. Is one allowed to recite birchas hamazon if he is intoxicated? 2. Is one allowed to daven mincha/maariv when he is under the influence of alcohol? What if by the time he is sober the time for tefilah will have already passed? 3. Does wine Halachically intoxicate less, equally, or more during a meal as not during a meal? 4. At what point is one considered to be Halachically intoxicated?

The Gemara, Brachos 31A tells that it is forbidden for a shikur to pray while he is under the influence of alcohol. This is derived from that which Eili suspected Chana of praying while under the influence of alcohol and reproached her for this. We also derive from this incident that one who sees his friend praying while under the influence, or doing anything else improper, must reproach him for this. Furthermore, a shikur who went ahead and prayed while he was drunk is considered as if he worshipped avodah zara.

Tosafos cites the view of Yerushalmi, Terumos 1:4 that although one who is shikur should not pray, he is in fact allowed and even required to recite birchas hamazon in the event that he became shikur during his meal, even if he is too drunk to speak with a king.

Rabbeinu Yona seconds this and quotes the Yerushalmi as well that this ban forbidding a shikur from praying is limited to prayer, and does not apply to grace after meals. One who is intoxicated is still required to recite birchas hamazon. This would seem to be because birchas hamazon is midioraysa and tefillah is midirabanan.

Rashba, Brachos 31a also says that a shikur should still recite the grace after meals even though he is not permitted to pray.

So we see that although one who is drunk should not pray, he should still recite birchas hamazon after his meal.

But just how drunk does one have to be in order to disqualify his prayer and necessitate the prayer to be recited again after he recuperates?

The Gemara, Eruvin 64A tells that a shasui (slightly inebriated individual) should not pray, but if he does then his prayer is still a prayer i.e. it counts for credit and he does not have to repeat the prayer. A shikur (more drunk) should not pray, and if he goes ahead and prays anyway, then his prayer is considered to be an abomination (to’evah). A shasui is defined by the Gemara as one who is under the influence of alcohol but is still able to speak in front of a king; whereas a shikur is defined as one who is under the influence of alcohol to the point that he cannot speak in front of a king. So for the purpose of this article we will refer to a shashui as someone who is slightly inebriated, and to a shikur as someone who is plastered.

Tosafos notes that with the Gemara ruling that the prayer of one who is plastered (a shikur) is an abomination, this means that he does not fulfill his obligation of prayer, and must pray again after he lands safely from his state of drunkenness. Whereas one who is only inebriated, although he is out of line when praying while under the influence, his prayer still qualifies and he does not have to repeat the prayer again later. This is because he was in a more controlled state of drunkenness than the individual who was plastered. So we see that both the slightly inebriated fellow and the plastered fellow are both banned from praying, the practical difference between the two lies ex post facto. If the shasui prayed, he does not pray again but if the shikur prayed then he must repeat the prayer again later.

Tosafos notes that we find a similar idea in Brachos 22B that one who prays in the close proximity of tzo’ah (excrement) does not receive credit for praying, he must repeat the prayer after he relocates to a clean place. This prayer as well, like the prayer of one who is shikur, is considered to be abominable and one gets no credit for it. The prayer is unacceptable in and of itself.

The Rosh codifies this and similar to Tosafos, compares the prayer of a drunk to the case in Brachos that if one discovers that he prayed in the proximity of excrement then his prayer is an abomination, and he must pray again. Rosh also rules that a shasui should not pray lechatchila, however he should recite birchas hamazon even lechatchila, as the Yerushalmi says.

So we see that according to the views of both Tosafos and of Rosh, the reason why a shikur is forbidden from praying is because his prayer is ‘abominable’, similar to one who prays in the proximity of excrement.

However Rambam apparently understands this idea differently:

Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:17 rules, “A shikur should not pray because he does not have kavana i.e. he lacks the proper concentration necessary to pray due to the fact that he is under the influence of alcohol. If he does pray anyways, then his prayer is considered to be an abomination and he must pray again after he becomes sober.”

It is clear that according to Rambam, the reason for why the prayer of a drunk is invalid is due to the inherent lack of proper concentration in such a prayer. This point of kavana is omitted by Tosafos and by Rosh as they consider the prayer of a shikur to be abominable in and of itself, irrespective of his lack of concentration. Meaning, even if theoretically a shikur would to be able to concentrate properly, according to Tosafos and Rosh his prayer would still be considered abominable.

Aruch Hashulchan, O.C. 99: 1-6 expounds upon the words of the Rambam on this subject as follows:

If the main reason for why a shikur is prohibited from praying is due to the fact that he lacks the proper concentration, as the Rambam explains, then why does that deem his prayer an abomination? We do not generally find such an idea in Halacha that one has to pray again merely because he did not pray with sufficient concentration. So why does our subject who prayed after he got plastered, have to pray again? The mere fact that he lacks the proper concentration is hardly grounds to require him to pray again. Furthermore, how are we to understand that someone who prays without kavana is considered as if he is an idol-worshipper?! Certainly the Tur and Shulchan Aruch do not agree with this and therefore did not give the reason for disqualifying the prayer of a drunk because of a lack of kavana. Rather, they gave the same reason that Tosafos and the Rosh did, which is that a prayer recited while under the influence is abominable in and of it-self, similar to one who prayed near foul excreta.

But what can be said for the Rambam?

Aruch Hashulchan answers that ordinarily if one’s mind wanders and he loses his focus during his prayer, then we apply the rule of “The Torah was not given to malachei hasharais.” Human beings are not expected to be angels. If one’s mind wanders ordinarily, then he does not have to pray again. However if one starts off praying in a state of drunkenness, in which it will be impossible for him to have proper concentration, this is a tremendous chutzpah. The reason why it says that it is as if he served idols is because he displays a complete disregard and lack of respect for the king which he prays to. We learn a lesson from here that those who come into shul hastily from the street and pray without any preparation, daven improperly. Rather one must prepare himself accordingly before beginning his prayer. This is why we take three steps back prior to beginning our prayer, to prepare ourselves accordingly to pray in front of the king. Not only that, but even if the time for prayer is passing him by, the drunk should still refrain from praying in a state of drunkenness. Rather he should wait until he becomes sober, and daven twice later as a makeup. Although not all Poskim agree with this as we will soon see, this is the ruling of the Aruch Hashulchan. However, in regards to birchas hamazon one who is drunk should still recite it after his meal, even in a state of drunkenness.

(Rabi Akiva Eiger, Teshuvos 5:6 says a remarkable chiddush that according to Tosafos, Shabbos 10a if the zeman tefilah is passing him by then he should still pray even if he is a shasui.)

There is another state of drunkenness referred to by Chazal as one who is ‘Shikur like Lot’. This refers to one who is more drunk than the shasui and also more drunk than the shikur; an individual who is totally off the deep end and has no idea or recollection of his actions. He is totally exempt from all mitzvos. Any prayer/blessing he makes while he was ‘Shikur like Lot’ is for naught and must be performed again, as he has the status in Halacha of a shotah (one who is not cooking on all four burners.) Just as a shotah is exempt from all mitzvos, so too a ‘Shikur like Lot’ is exempt from all mitzvos.

There is a remarkable chiddush which we find in several of the commentators that wine which is consumed during the course of a meal does not intoxicate its consumer to the point of invalidating his prayer.

They contend that the idea that one who is under the influence of alcohol is not permitted to pray, only applies to one who became intoxicated from alcohol at a period of time other than during a meal:

Tosafos, Taanis 17A d.h. Veyodea notes that wine in middle of a meal does not intoxicate and therefore a Kohen who consumed alcohol during a meal is in fact allowed to perform the avoda. (Perhaps it is because the food coats his stomach and helps contain the influence of the alcohol.) This view of Tosafos is also mentioned in the Sefer Mitzvas Katan, Siman 133 and cited by Magen Avrohom O.C. 99:1 and by Mishna Berura O.C. 99:2. which clearly indicates that this has Halachic implications. The Mishna Berura, however, slightly qualifies this ruling by citing the words of the Pri Migadim that it depends on the circumstances and according to how one assesses his own individual level of intoxication. Meaning, that although according to the letter of the law wine consumed during the course of a meal does not intoxicate, one still must assess himself honestly if he can pray normally or not. (Some say that even wine before a meal does not intoxicate either. See O.C. Bais Yosef, 473:3 that wine before a meal also does not intoxicate. See also Smag, Siman 19)

Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 152:8 takes issue with this that it is a chiddush to say that wine consumed during a meal does not intoxicate. He points out that this idea is not mentioned in the Chinuch or in the Rambam. Hence, the Minchas Chinuch does present a strong argument to support the premise that wine consumed during a meal certainly does intoxicate its consumer as well. Nonetheless, as mentioned, Tosafos, Semak, Magen Avrohom and Mishna Berura all seem to understand that wine during a meal does not Halachically intoxicate.

The Magihah, Minchas Chinuch Hagoh 8 (in the innovative Minchas Chinuch, Mahadores Rennert version) draws further support from that which Malki Tzedek took out bread first and only then drank wine, in order that he would still be able to do the avoda. This would be in line with the view that wine consumed together with food does not intoxicate.

A very important source on this topic can be found in the Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitzah 2:5 in a discussion about Seudas Yom Tov where he points out that one may, in fact, daven after his seuda even if he drank during the seuda on Yom Tov, since it is a seudas mitzvah. Due to the fact that simcha is so vital on Yom Tov, Chazal relaxed the issur against praying while under the influence. Furthermore, nowadays when we are lacking kavana anyways, we do not have to be stringent with a shashui. This alludes to the view of Rambam that the main emphasis of our discussion is on the kavana issue or lack thereof. This view is also cited by Magen Avrohom O.C. 99:6. However, even this waiver for Yom Tov is only for a shasui- the inebriated fellow, not for a shikur- the plastered fellow.

Remarkably, Magen Giborim takes this idea of Yam Shel Shlomo further and extends the waiver to Purim as well. Since there is a special mitzvah of drinking on Purim, therefore even though ordinarily a shasui cannot pray while under the influence, he is allowed to on Purim. The conventional train of thought would seem to be that a shasui should not daven on Purim either, yet there are several possibilities brought down justifying why one who is under the influence could still daven. Still Mishna Berura O.C. 99:17 frowns upon the idea of allowing one who is drunk to pray and also notes that the waiver of Yam Shel Shlomo on Yom Tov was limited to a shasui.

Conclusion: It is preferable to daven mincha before one starts his seuda in order that he does not run into problems of properly assessing himself whether he is a shasui, a shikur, or a ‘Shikur like Lot’. The Rema seems to allude to this by mentioning that the custom is to begin the seuda after mincha. To daven while shikur is a grave sin which Chazal liken to idol worship and should not be taken lightly. One who is planning on fulfilling the mitzvah of ad delo yoda in the most extreme fashion, should do so during the meal. This way when he davens later he will be able to rely on the afore-mentioned authorities who maintain that he is allowed to daven since wine consumed during a meal does not intoxicate.

If during the Purim seuda, one does get more drunk than anticipated, then according to Rema and Aruch Hashulchan he should still recite birchas hamazon after the meal as this is a mitzvah dioraysa, but should wait until he becomes sober in order to daven maariv. Although Mishna Berura O.C. 99:11 (Hilchos Tefillah) suggests that one should be stringent and not make any brachos while he is drunk, later on in Mishna Berura O.C. 185:4-6 (Hilchos Birchas Hamazon), he says clearly that one who became drunk during a meal should still recite birchas hamazon. This seems to be the general consensus of the Poskim.

It is not within the scope of this work to be machria on any issues discussed here. For a final ruling a Halachic authority should be consulted.
Note: One should also remember to refrain from paskening any questions in Halacha while he is under the influence of alcohol. For one to pasken Halacha while under the influence of alcohol is forbidden, just like a Kohen is forbidden from performing the avoda while under the influence. (See Gemara Kerisus 13a and Chinuch, Mitzvah 152.) Some Poskim refrain from drinking wine on Purim, Pesach, and even on Shabbos, in order to be available to pasken questions in Halacha whenever the need arises.

A Freilichin Purim!

Written by: Rabbi Binyomin Radner For any questions, comments, or to receive this article in PDF form please contact the author at [email protected]

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