To Drink, Or Not To Drink?

Rabbi Sender Kaszirer for TLS. The Purim spirit in the air, with all the preparations and activities, is the light at the end of the cold and dark winter tunnel. Nowhere is the excitement felt more than in the halls of our yeshivos. During bein hasdorim, late at night, and at every free moment, bochurim are schmoozing about their Purim plans. Tzedaka groups, costumes, routes, shpiels, and parties are the highlights of each conversation for these few weeks of the year.

But while there is no greater joy than simcha shel mitzvah and the hachanos (preparations) are what make mitzvos so much more meaningful, Purim has unfortunately become associated with undisciplined behavior – most specifically, excessive drinking.

In truth, it’s not a simple subject. While we disapprove of drinking year round, on Purim, the mitzvos hayom seems to call for a “let loose” attitude. The halacha states clearly “chayov inish lebesumei b’Puraya (on Purim) ad d’lo yada – a person should become intoxicated on Purim until he cannot differentiate…” The poskim discuss whether this halacha is to be taken literally or not, and if there are other ways to fulfill this mitzvah. But many Gedolei Rosh Yeshivas, Admorim, and Rebbeim take the chiyuv at face value, and actually become inebriated to the level of ad d’lo yada. While under the influence, they dispense divrei chochoma umusar and countless brachos. Many talmidim truly feel a special connection with their Rebbe/ Rosh Yeshiva at this time. I have seen countless introverted talmidim who have been closed books all year long, only to reveal their true pnimius on Purim. Likewise, rebbeim have a unique way of expressing their true ahava to each and every talmid.

On the other hand, when unsupervised and unmonitored, drinking can turn yeshiva bochurim into a wild horde. Hatzolah has been called to the aid of far too many intoxicated teens on Purim night. Far worse, the mitzvah of drinking on Purim led to a new mentality that “everything goes.” On Purim it is muttar to smoke, (even if you are 10 years old!) muttar to utter vulgarities, and to create a breakdown in g’darim that we adhere to all year round. (In an informal survey in my Mesivta, 50% of smokers told me that they smoked their very first cigarette on Purim!)

In the past, some well-meaning mechanchim and askonim tried to implement a no drinking policy for teenagers, but experience has shown that it is nearly impossible to enforce. And considering the upshots of drinking we mentioned above, it would seem that doing away with drinking altogether might not be the best solution. We must therefore analyze this great mitzvah and come up with a method in which bochurim can experience the positive side of drinking without the typical holelus that accompanies it.

As I try to avoid being the Grinch that stole Purim, I want to suggest a three step approach that can be implemented in Yeshivos. (This method was instituted in our Yeshiva and B’’H had great results!)

  1. Education: During the weeks leading up to Purim, in addition to learning the relevant halachos, Rabbeim must teach why we drink, how to drink, what to drink, and especially, how a Ben Torah acts when he drinks. I was zoche to hear my rebbe, the Novominsker Rebbe shlita, speak many years before Purim, and he would tell us how a Ben Torah acts on Purim.  He would constantly remind us that:

A. We should only drink wine, no hard liquor.

B. To drink only during the seudah.

C. As with every mitzvah, we should drink l’sheim Shomayim and with a hecherkeit (upliftedness).  

These yesodos must be reviewed and ingrained in the mind of every talmid. (Parents usually don’t succeed in delivering this message.)

Boys must also understand the reason behind the festivities and drinking. We must teach them that if they get “trashed” at the beginning of Purim, they will they miss the true simcha of the day, but if they drink properly, not only will they be mekayem this mitzvah, they will enjoy it as well.

  1. Monitoring: On Purim itself, and especially during the seudah or mesibah, one or two of the rebbeim shall not be intoxicated, and they should monitor who drinks and how much each bochur is drinking. These rebbeim should dispense the drinks and keep things orderly, and they can tend to any boy who has had one drink too many in a responsible fashion.
  2. Follow up: Discussing the pitfalls a teen encounters on Purim is beyond the scope of this article. Parents must be aware, however, that unacceptable behavior takes place at parties, on street corners, and in rented limousines, often accompanied by a breakdown in all barriers of kedusha and tznius.

Therefore, At a designated time (12-1 AM is reasonable) each and every bochur should be transported home, to his parents, to his own bed! (Purim night is a nightmare for parents who don’t know where their son is at 3 AM.) Parents can send a quick text or email to the Rebbe who acted as the chaperone to let him know that their child is home safely. Understandably, there is some cost involved in providing transportation, but some well meaning parents or friends can supplement in order to ensure a safe and kosher Purim.

I realize that my suggestions are not foolproof. But I hope they will serve as eye openers and guidance for the Yom Tov of Purim. 

Finally, let’s use the great eis ratzon to be mispallel have only nachas d’kudosha from our children and talmidim.

A Freilichen Purim!

Rabbi Sender Kaszirer is the Rosh Yeshivah of the Mesivta of Eatontown NJ (MOE). MOE is a yeshivah high school that is dedicateed to service talmidim and bochurim who are at risk of failing in the traditional yeshivah system. Rabbi Kaszirer is sought after by Mechanchim, Parents and teens for counsel, advice and guidance, he has presented at the national conventions of Agudath Yisroel and Torah Umesorah.

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  1. While I applaud the effort to put some sanity and “sanctity” back into Purim, how about a much simpler approach. No more collecting! When did this become part of Minhagai Purim? Why can’t bochrim, yes children, spend the Seudas Purim with their family or Yeshiva? Why all this Hefkarus? Why do we need to contort our Torah for the few dollars the Yeshivas make on this Bizayon HaTorah?

  2. “These rebbeim should dispense the drinks and keep things orderly”

    The only problem I have with this, is that if by ‘drinks’ you are refering to alcohol, remeber it is illegal to drink under the age of 21. It is also illegal to serve alcohol to any person under the age of 21. The best eitzah is to not allow drinking whatsoever. Can you imagine the bushah if LPD decided to enforce the law to the very letter, and arrest every intoxicated kid, arrest every person serving alcohol to minors, every person drunk in public? The local police holding would have enough people for multiple miyanim for ma’ariv.

    Let’s keep thing dry and kovodik.

  3. Very well said! I have always told my boys that they are only allowed to drink on Purim in my house or around me, so that I can supervise them properly. I don’t like what Purim has become with the drunk guys and all the collecting mishigas, but it has become a fact of life, and therefore we need to allow it to some degree. When it becomes assur to do something, they will want it more…and get it however possible. So if they must drink, at least watch them and monitor them.

  4. i agree with number 1. why did we turn purim into a fundraising event. i remember as a bachur that purim equaled collecting tzedaka. we would plan months in advance which would result in tremendous bitul torah for months before. Purim should be a spiritual yom tov with spent with families or in a yeshiva enviroment, not out collecting all day and a drinking stupor. times have changed and kids today dont undertsnad limits not that we understaood them either however it wasnt a springboard for other things

  5. Clearly and persuasively thought out and cogently delivered. Kudos to you Rabbi Kaszirer. May Hashem grant you much hatzlochoh in all your efforts. We need many more Roshei Yeshiva like you.

  6. Finally an article which actually gives reasonable advice, as opposed to the soapbox preaching ‘don’t drink’ attitude which does nothing but increase a lack of respect to those who issue such proclamations.

    To #1
    It is a halacha ‘ B’echad B’Adar Mashmiam al HaShkalim’. In today’s world, when we try to catch as many mitzos as we can, we are mehader this mitzva through Purim itself. On a realistic note, it gives the bochurim something constructive to do while drunk (can you imagine hundreds of drunk teenagers with nothing to do), as well as teaching them (in a small way) the reality of running a Yeshiva includes financial aspects as well.

  7. no more limos. no more collecting. its NOT the yeshivas place to teach a bochur what it takes to run a moisod. they are there to TEACH. if the yeshiva would have a mesiba they wouldn’t be on the streets. then the rabeim could have that wonderful connection with the talmidim. they are on the streets BECAUSE they collect. if the yeshiva wants to collect let the rosh hayeshiva collect. NO MORE COLLECTING!!!

  8. Great article! I would like to mention that I also received hadracha from R’ Yosef Tendler Zt’l and he was very concerned about the dangers of the general hefkerus that came from improper drinking. It is interesting to note that many who in general are not so machmir in halacha are real machimirm when it comes to drinking on Purim!

  9. Thanks Rabbi K well said and practical ideas. May you continue to marbitz Torah have much nachas from your talmidim and your own children I personally know all the koach you and your dedicated staff instill to your talmidim . Chazak and a Frelichen Purim

  10. To #9: If you are truly interested in “catching as many Mitzvos as you can” I’d suggest we start with Kiddush HaShem… that was Kiddush HaShem… not just Kiddush, As for giving kids something to do, believe it or not I was a Bachur once upon a time too… and I spent Purim night in my Yeshiva where we has a Mesibah, music, and a Purim Schpil. Purim day was spent with my family where we wee involved in delivering and receiving Mishloach Manos and a Seudas Purim. If parents can’t control or raise their children, please don’t reinvent the Yom Tov to accommodate it. I used to love Purim and now I have begun to dread it. (from a parent and grandparent).

  11. Great article. Thank you Rabbi Kaszirer for all the amazing work that you do for the yeshiva, and for Klal Yisroel!!
    Rabbi M, you do unbelievable work! Keep it up!

  12. Words of wisdom. I have spent a few Purim with Mesivta of eatontown and they know how to keep Purim the same as “the good old days” (The bachrim obviously follow steps A,B and C just like the amazing rabayim tought them). Rabbi Kaszirer keep up the great work you are doing. I wish every yeshiva had a Rosh Yeshiva like you, so every one can enjoy real simchas Purim!!!!!!!!!

  13. What, pray tell, would serve one
    well to say about this day?
    We thank Hashem, we drink and
    then we binge the day away.
    Perhaps the drinking, I’m just
    thinking, should be toned down a
    For you I mean, I shan’t be seen
    without a whiskey hit.
    But, for real I beg put down that
    keg. Save some for the rest.
    We’re thirsty too, like every Jew
    To strive to be the best.
    On this miracle day, we find a
    way to reach the highest high.
    But I implore, drink no more than
    is needed to get by.

  14. With all due respect, this article seems to make the situation sound much worse then it is. I am sitting in a car with 3 other bachurim and not one of them can remember a purim where there was a break down of kedusha and tznius. Yes, there are guys who this may happen to, but these aren’t the run of the mill yeshiva guys. Probably not much of yeshiva guys at all. The gemara says nichnas yoyin yutza sod, when wine goes in secrets come out. This goes on, and is seen, every purim. No normal guy beats up people, speaks vulgarities, or do things thats source is a breakdown of kedusha and tznius. In closing, there are people to whom this article applies, but its not your real yeshiva guy, and it shouldn’t be construed as such.

  15. I went to mesivta of Eatontown for three years, and before that I was in two mainstream Yeshivas in flatbush, and I have witnessed that this is an issue for even mainstream Yeshivas. The only meaningful purims I have had have been under rabbi kaszirer and the other amazing rabbeim! Thank you rebbe and hopefully I will enjoy purim this year as much as I did when spending it with rebbe

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