Senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis urge against getting drunk on Purim this year

Saying inebriation could lead to violating restrictions and spreading coronavirus, religious authorities call for restraint

People celebrate the holiday of Purim in the ultra-orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People celebrate the holiday of Purim in the ultra-orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Senior rabbis and religious authorities in the ultra-Orthodox community have ruled that due to the coronavirus outbreak, revelers during the coming Purim festival should refrain from keeping up the tradition of drinking until tipsiness.

The opinion, which was to be published in ultra-Orthodox media during the day, warned that drunken behavior could lead to violations of government rules aimed at preventing the virus from spreading, the Ynet news site reported Wednesday.

Last Purim, at the start of the pandemic, there was a jump in virus infections after many ignored rules against holding large events.

“The state of intoxication is very dangerous and obscene,” begins the opinion, a copy of which was obtained by the website.

“During the severe coronavirus epidemic, since alcohol is known to dull and remove clarity of thought in the mind of the intoxicated drinker, he may not behave with the necessary care and maintain both his health and well-being, along with the medical rules highly recommended by doctors, and in any case may bring about a higher infection rate that harms and endangers public health,” the authorities wrote.

Purim this year starts on Thursday night and lasts, in some locations, through Sunday. The festival is generally marked with parties, the wearing of costumes, large communal meals and drinking, bringing together family and friends.

Ultra-Orthodox men search for costumes ahead of the Purim festival in the city center of Jerusalem on February 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The festival celebrates a story of Jewish deliverance in the Persian empire during the 5th century BCE, as recorded in the Book of Esther. The tradition for drinking to excess on Purim is sourced in the Talmud which cites the 3rd century CE rabbi Rava as advising drinking until one can no longer tell the difference between blessings for one of the heroes of the story, Mordechai, and curses for his foe, Haman.

Coming from such an esteemed source, the tradition is taken seriously, often resulting in scenes of alcohol-fueled antics in Jewish communities around the world.

The traditional festive meal, during which alcohol consumption is a tradition, will this year be held in most places on Friday.

In warning against drinking alcohol this year, the rabbis also noted that the festive meals will continue until close to the start of Shabbat at sundown, raising the danger that the overly inebriated may violate religious restrictions of the day of rest.

The idea to issue a warning against alcohol was initiated by Menachem Chaim Breier, deputy medical director at the Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. It was also signed by Yitzhak Zilberstein, a leading halachic authority on medical matters, as well as rabbis Yehudah Silman and Sariel Rosenberg, who both head prominent rabbinical courts in the ultra-Orthodox community. Shimon Baadani, a leading Sephardic rabbi who advises the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also put his name to the document.

Over the past few years, Breier has publicly campaigned against excessive drinking over Purim, in particular among younger members of the ultra-Orthodox community, according to the report.

On Tuesday the government approved a nationwide evening curfew for Purim to prevent mass gatherings during the festival. The curfew will be in effect on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 8:30 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m.

Since the start of the outbreak in the country last year, the government has occasionally ordered curfews, specifically during major holidays, in an effort to prevent gatherings and an inevitable spread of the virus.

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