ד׳ בתשרי ה׳תשע״ח (September 24, 2017)

Sanhedrin 70a-b: Drinking and Jewish Law

When discussing the ben sorer u’moreh – a stubborn and rebellious son who is “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Devarim 21:18-21) – the Mishna on today’s daf teaches that he must have eaten a measure of meat and drunk a log (a unit of volume) or, perhaps, half a log of wine. This statement leads to a lengthy discussion in the Gemara of the ramifications in Jewish law of drinking, opening with Rav Ḥanan’s teaching that wine was created for the purpose of consoling those who are in mourning and to offer a reward in this world to evildoers.

A more extensive discussion of these matters appears in Massekhet Eiruvin (65a) where we find distinctions made between drinking moderately and reaching “the drunkenness of Lot” (see Bereshit 19:30-36). According to Rabbi Ḥanina, someone who reaches that level of inebriation will not be held responsible for his actions, as he is not merely impaired in his decision-making capabilities, rather he is unable to function as a thinking person. Someone who has not reached that level is still held responsible for his actions, although the halakha will free him from his obligation in prayer – which demands a high level of concentration and reverence.

Throughout the Talmud, the Gemara points to drinking wine as an activity that can lead to damage, sin, etc. The Ein Ya’akov, written by Rav Ya’akov ibn Habib, explains that this brings to the fore a basic question: If it is so dangerous, why was wine created? This quandary helps explain the closing discussion of the Gemara, which sings the praises of drinking wine responsibly. Included are a number of such statements — some of them based on biblical passages:

Rabbi Ḥanina – Whoever becomes more open and comfortable with others after having a drink of wine, is walking in God’s footsteps

Rabbi Ḥiyya – anyone who drinks, but does not get drunk, has the wisdom of seventy sages.

Rabbi Ḥanina bar Papa – You are not blessed unless wine flows in your house like water.

The Gemara concludes with Rabbi Ilai’s maxim:

A man’s character can be recognized by his behavior regarding three things –

  • B’koso – his drinking, does he drink responsibly?
  • B’kiso – his spending, when he has money, does he apportion it correctly?
  • B’ka’aso – his anger, can he control himself, even when angry?

(note the alliteration in Hebrew “b’koso, b’kiso u’b’ka’aso“).

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