People, the walkers of the Orthodox street who attend Orthodox synagogues and live the mimetic culture called Masorah, the 14th article of Maimonidean faith [there are really only 13], maintains that we, the insiders to Torah, cannot be wrong. For Maimonides [and me], Masorah ends with Rabina and Rav Ashi; for the Orthodox street on which we live, Masorah is given from the right reverend rebbe who mediates, manipulates, and, on occasion, mangles the plain sense of Torah words. According to Maimonides, texts have meaning; according to the Orthodox street, the holy text is read through the infallible eye of the street.
1. At OH 695:2, we are told that a man—presumably not a woman—is obliged le-vasumei on Purim so that he—but not she—is so drunk that they cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.” Le-vasumei is taken, to our view mistaken, to mean “to become drunk.”
The Ashkenazi authority, Rabbi Moses Isserles, tactfully but clearly disagrees. There are those who say that we do not have to fall into a toxic stupor, but we should drink more than usual, then fall asleep, at which time we will then be unable to tell the difference between “blessed be Mordecai”—the good guy—and “cursed be Haman,”—the bad guy.
2. The Ashkenazi Yeshivas follow the Shulhan Aruch as they wish to read it, and allow its charges to become drunk. There have been deaths due to drinking on Purim. And this is not funny. My reading of le-vasumei, taken by Rashi to mean “to get drunk,” really means “to give off an odor,” to have wine on the breath, from the root bsm, meaning “odor.” The popular practice is to allow yeshiva teens, under the American legal age for drinking, to let off steam. They are so controlled, disciplined and restricted; we have to give them a break, a release, and some secular, physical fun. And if the rebbe, who has a legitimating beard, the validating sidelocks, the signature black fedora, and most impressively says “Torah” in Yiddish [as opposed to Hebrew as per Sifre Deuteronomy 46], all of which testify to Street Culture but not Book Culture religion, allowed students to become drunk, who are we to challenge the rabbi who is so traditional that he endorses traditions that are not even recorded in the canonical Tradition? The sad, down side of Purim drinking is that the students ingest alcohol and the culture secrets come out. See bEruvin 65a. These students do not deport themselves as B’nei Torah; on the streets, they throw up, and in the name of Mesoreh, that [a] begins at Sinai and [b] is not to be questioned because great rabbis said so, it is improper, disrespectful, and therefore heretical to raise critical issues that call traditional street religion into question. After all, only those who bear the beard, wear the fedora, sport the sidelocks, and are often cloaked in caftans, are entitled to speak their divinely inspired mind. No one else has Tradition, the right to speak, or the authority to cite chapter and verse.
There are several problems with my reading:
- It contradicts the view of the Orthodox street, which on the street is called “Tradition,” i.e., the way we remembered who we were and now who we ought to be.
- It disagrees with Rashi, who just happened to be in the wine business. How dare we disagree with a voice from the past? See, however, Lamentations 5:7.
- We do not derive Jewish law from the niceties of grammar, reflecting what the words of the canon really mean. If the Tradition were read according to Hebrew grammar, the really, fervently, and sincerely Orthodox rabbis, the Orthodox rabbis whose faith is worn on the fedora, would be unable to innovate and make changes, both leniencies, i.e. allowing getting drunk on Purim, and strictures, i.e. not allowing eating before the Megillah reading.
- Yuter’s reading reflects modern Orthodoxy, and is corrupted by modernity, and because Yuter is so up tight with words, he does not respect the real, mysterious, mystical Tradition, ordained by our holy and saintly ancestors, i.e., that we get drunk on Purim.
On one Purim in Springfield, N.J., the local Yeshiva Tiferes Boruch got its students so drunk that there was an accident. A young man cut his hand with broken glass while drunk and was taken to a hospital. The Yeshiva rabbi’s daughters, who did not drink, cleaned up the mess. Getting drunk on Purim is the one Purim mitsva for which women are in Street Culture Orthodoxy religiously exempt. bErubin 64a, which seems to hold getting tipsy to be improper, was apparently not on the Yeshiva’s curriculum, and this Oral Torah norm seems to disagree with Rashi‘s holy and unquestionable opinion.
4. bMegilla 7b describes Rabba’s killing Rabbi Zeira, who was revived. Rabbi Zeira declined a future invitation, ignoring the rule “no foul no fault” and instead felt that he should not rely on miracles. The narrative shows [a] drinking happened on Purim and [b] the Oral Torah did not approve of excessive drinking.
5. The Judaism that discourages drinking is correct doctrine, or Orthodox, and that Judaism of the Street, where God’s will is determined by culture, is Reconstructodox.
6. Rabbi Joel Sirkis to OH 695 sees the narrative of R. Zeira’s revival as a rejection of Rava’s revelry. Esther 1:8 at least pleads for pluralism; there should be no coerced drinking. According to Ahashuerus, one may but need not become drunk.
7. Applying linguistics appropriately but in a fashion inappropriate to the Orthodox street [i.e., the view that follows R. Isserles but not Rabbi Karo according to the view that one “ought” to get drunk], supra., quoting Orhot Hayyim, R. Karo himself actually says that the word basumei is different from the word va-yishtakker, that he [not women(!)] are to become drunk, indicating that the actual mandate, le-vasumei, cannot mean “getting drunk.” Note well that R. Karo does not feel bound by Rashi‘s view, even though Rashi lived earlier, was part of the Tradition, and presumably infallible in his report of “Tradition.” By using linguistics, morality, uncommon common sense, and by daring to disagree with the saintly Rashi, R. Karo anticipates that new fangled phenomenon called “modern Orthodoxy.”
8. Street Culture Orthodoxy grounds itself in what is mistaken to be the mystical religion of R. Isaac Luria, Shaar ha-Kavvanot 2:332-333, drinking to the sacred spark in Haman. But this text is problematic and does not really reflect R. Luria’s own view.
9. Meiri to bMegillah 7b, argues that we are not required to become drunk, as we are not commanded to be wild and out of control, but we are commanded to feel the joy of loving God. The problem with this view, of Rabbi Menahem ha-Meiri, is that it was recently discovered after our Street Culture traditions were in social practice and place. Rabbi Abraham Karelitz, known for preaching ne’imus ha-qitsobiyyus, literally the “”sweetness of extremism,” also decrees that we do not use new or newly discovered information when deciding Torah law in our present. It must have been God’s will that the manuscript and Meiri information was hidden in the past so it may not be referenced in legal decision making in our present. The modern Orthodox rejoinder, impish, impious, and insubordinate that it is, argues:
- If Torah is about obeying God, and God’s will appears in God’s words, do we not have to get God’s word and will right? God said “mistakes happen!” [Leviticus 4:13] Rabbi Karelitz, the advocate of the “sweetness of extremism,” apparently disagrees.
- If it be God’s will that manuscripts and Meiri were unknown due to divine providence or God’s will, and therefore the evidence could not be considered because it was not then available, the new evidence should now be usable because it is presumably God’s will that the material was now discovered, and upon discovery, this sacred information must be considered in the making of religious decisions.
- Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in an essay called “Two kinds of Tradition,” [Hebrew] argued that there are two kinds of normative, binding Tradition: [a] the textual canon and [b] mimetic culture. For Street Culture, the canon, i.e., God’s recorded, binding, and sacred word, is filtered through the prism of culture; for the Book Culture Judaism of the Oral Torah, the Book provides the sacred and empowering benchmark whereby the culture is judged, applied and modified.
10. Hayyei Adam, Laws of Purim, argues that with drunken diminished capacity, ritual observance will suffer as obligations like hand wishing, after meal blessings, and daily prayers might be forgotten. And if one would, being “under the influence,” behave badly, “it would be better he not become drunk.”
11. Maimonides [who is first cited and then ignored by Street Culture Orthodoxy] at Megillah 2:15 says we drink until we fall asleep but do not become drunk. At the Guide 3:8 he, anticipating Hayyei Adam, excoriates drunkenness as a forbidden evil.
The Vilner Gaon, OH supra argues that we must always maintain our moral ability to distinguish between good and evil. Since inebriation dulls our senses, the drinking to drunkenness may not be taken literally. We must always be able to use our heads. Religious Jews do not get drunk, the Torah joy is rational or Apollonian; drunkenness is Dionysian, and chaotic. Drunkenness is a capital offense; saqol yissaqel means that if you are drunk, “surely you are to be stoned.”
Last 10 posts by Rabbi Alan Yuter
- May Women Run for Public Office? - May 19th, 2013
- Sucking the Life out of God’s Law: A response to a blog post, “Metzitzah and the Halachic Process” - May 12th, 2013
- The Political Modesty of Rabbi Eliezer Melammed - May 5th, 2013
- The Israeli Draft of Women: What is Orthodox Judaism Anyway? - April 29th, 2013
- The Law of Preserving Life according to the Two Forms of Orthodox Judaism - April 21st, 2013
- The Narrative of Abraham and Efron: A Clash of Two Cultures - April 14th, 2013
- Rambam and Drafting Yeshiva Students - April 8th, 2013
- How not to Observe Sukkot - March 31st, 2013
- On Truth in Packaging - March 24th, 2013
- Ko’ah de-Heteira ‘Adif – Orthodox rabbis ought to be strict about being lenient - March 17th, 2013