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DRUNKENNESS (Heb. שִׁכָּרוֹן, shikkaron).

In the Bible

Biblical, apocryphal, and ancient Near Eastern references make it clear that, far from being condemned, the use of alcoholic beverages was regarded by Jews and others as a necessary (Ecclus. 39:26; Pritchard, Texts, 598, line 89; 602, line 32) and distinctive (Ps. 104:15; Pritchard, Texts, 77c, line 12ff.) feature of human life. A feast was inconceivable without wine, and Proverbs 9:1ff. speaks of Wisdom personified offering food and wine. Indeed, complete abstinence was associated with a turning away from civilization (Jer. 35; see *Rechabites). Likewise, the *Nazirite avoidance of alcohol is of a piece with their refraining from cutting the hair and from participating in the burial of the dead, two other hallmarks of civilization (Numbers 6). *Wine was valued for bringing joy and banishing sorrow (Judg. 9:13; Ps. 104:15; cf. Pritchard, loc. cit., line 21; Prov. 31:6–7; Eccles. 10:19; Ecclus. 31:27–28; 40:20) and was used cultically in libations (Ex. 30:40–41) and the festive sacral meal (Deut. 14:26).

Intoxication, however, was deprecated (cf. Ecclus. 31:25–31; 39:27), both in the cult – in keeping with the biblical rejection of the Dionysiac element of other ancient religions (Lev. 10:8–11; i Sam. 1:13–16; Ezek. 44:21) – and in daily life. Wisdom literature warns that drunkenness brings poverty, woes, quarrels, wounds, strange visions, etc. (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:19–21:29–35; 31:4–5; cf. i Esd. 3:19–24) and causes kings to err in judgment (Prov. 31:4–5; cf. Lev. 10:8–11 (priests); Isa. 28:7 (priest and prophet)). Several narratives depict the disgrace and sometimes death of drunkards (Noah, Gen. 9:20–27; Lot, Gen. 19:31–38; Nabal, i Sam. 25:36; Amnon, ii Sam. 13:28–29; Elah, i Kings 16:9; Ben-Hadad, i Kings 20:16; Ahasuerus, Esth. 1:10; cf. Holofernes, Judith 13:2). The prophets frequently condemn drunkenness, particularly among the wealthy and the leaders (Isa. 28:1ff.; 56:11–12; cf. Prov. 31:4–5), associating it with moral insensitivity (Isa. 5:11–12, 22–23; Amos 2:8), licentiousness (Hos. 4:11–12, 18), and forgetting God (Hos. 4:11–12; cf. Job 1:4–5). Drunkenness and gluttony are among the charges against the insubordinate son (Deut. 21:20). However, Isaiah 51:17–18, like the Ugaritic Aqhat epic (in Pritchard, Texts, 150b, line 32–33), reflects a view that filial duties include helping a parent made unsteady by alcohol to walk. The occasion of drunkenness might be private drinking (Noah, Lot) or group celebration (Nabal, Amnon, Ben-Hadad, Ahasuerus), including carousing on religious festivals (Hos. 4:11ff.). Drinking songs and music are mentioned at such celebrations (Isa. 24:7–9; Amos 6:5–6; Ps. 69:13). One type of gathering that appears, especially in the light of extra – and post – biblical attestations, to have been conducive to drunkenness is the marzeaḥ, referring at times to a joyous banquet (Amos 6:7), at others to a mourning meal (Jer. 16:5)

[Jeffrey Howard Tigay]

In the Talmud

Basing himself on the fact that the death of Nadab and Abihu is followed by the injunction against priests drinking wine or strong drink when officiating, R. Simeon attributes their death to the fact that they entered the sanctuary while in a state of intoxication (Lev. R. 12:1). Judges must not render decisions after drinking wine (Er. 64a). As a result, judges were forbidden to eat dates because of their possible intoxicating effects (Ket. 10b). The judges of the *Sanhedrin had to abstain from wine during the entire hearing of a capital case (Sanh. 5:1; Sanh. 42a). The criterion for drunkenness is whether the person affected is capable of addressing himself properly to a king. A quarter of a "log" (approx. 3.2 oz., 100 milliliters) of wine was regarded as sufficient to cause intoxication, but it was not a rigid rule. If he later walked a mil (approx. 3,300 ft., 1,100 meters) or slept, a drunken person was considered sober, unless he drank strong Italian wine, in which case he must walk at least three mils (Er. 64a–b). A drunken person is forbidden to conduct a service. Based upon High Priest Eli's reprimand of Hannah (i Sam. 1:13–15), the Talmud lays down that if a person prays in a state of drunkenness, his prayer is an abomination (Ber. 31b). A person under the influence of alcohol is legally responsible for his actions unless he has reached the state of oblivion attributed to Lot (cf. Gen. 19:31–36; Er. 65a). The Bible adopted an ambivalent attitude toward wine, and there are several statements in the Talmud concerning the virtues of wine and its beneficial effects on health (cf. Er. 65a–b). There are many traditions that relate to the negative effects of drink on everyday life. One example that may be cited is the legend that when Noah was about to plant his vineyard, Satan buried in the soil carcasses of a sheep, a lion, a pig, and a monkey. As a result when a person indulges mildly he becomes sheepish, further indulging makes him feel like a lion. Overindulgence causes him to befoul himself like a pig, and when he becomes roaring drunk he literally "makes a monkey of himself" (Tanḥ., Noaḥ, 14). In one chapter of the Midrash (Lev. R. 12:1) there are three statements with regard to drunkenness. One interprets Proverbs 23:31 homiletically to mean that "while the drunkard has his eyes on the cup, the publican has his eyes on his pocket." The second tells of the despairing attempt on the part of the sons of a drunken addict to rid him of his vice, while the third is an account of a drunkard who was determined to make up the absence of one bottle from his daily quota of 12. Some scholars have assumed that drunkenness was not a serious problem in the talmudic period, and so have understood these traditions to reflect a lighthearted, almost jocular attitude toward the phenomenon. Others have suggested that these traditions may reflect not the rarity of drunkenness, but rather its frequency. While the Talmud states a positive injunction that a person shall get so drunk on *Purim that he cannot distinguish between "Blessed be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman," the disastrous results of an actual incident in which two famous amora'im, Rabbah and R. Zera, were involved (Meg. 7b), would seem to represent a serious criticism of this tradition. As a result, later rabbinic authorities were at pains to point out that this talmudic permissibility was not to be taken literally.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]

Modern Times

Interest in contemporary drinking among Jews stems from the mystery of drinking not being a problem. Writers in many countries during recent centuries have commented on the comparative sobriety of the Jews. Multinational statistics of arrests for drunkenness, incidences of alcoholic psychosis, and alcoholic admissions to hospitals have consistently revealed a marked underrepresentation of Jews. From the 1940s, social scientists in the United States have systematically studied drinking patterns of Jewish youth and adults. The consistent finding has been that proportionately more Jews than other ethnic or religious segments of the population drink wine, beer, or spirits, but proportionately fewer Jews are heavy drinkers or alcoholics. Sophisticated socio-cultural-psychological hypotheses, rejecting rational blame-avoidance as an adequate explanation, relate Jewish sobriety to the early initiation of children in a family-centered, religiously oriented, moderate drinking pattern. The attitudinal values thus engendered are presumed to prevent later excess in drinking. An alternative but untested hypothesis proposes a genetic immunity to alcoholism.

Leading studies through the late 1960s suggested that the more acculturated Jewish youth tended to adopt the drinking patterns of the general population. Thus the frequency of drinking was highest among Jews whose religious orientation is Orthodox, lower among those whose orientation is Conservative, lower still among the Reform, and lowest among the secular, i.e., those who deny any feeling of religious association. But the frequency of drinking large amounts on an occasion, of getting drunk, or of getting into trouble on account of drinking ran in the opposite direction, from highest among the secular to lowest among the Orthodox. This suggested to some sociologists that alcoholism among Jews may increase as acculturation proceeded. But two antithetic findings reported that Jews who ostensively drink in the acculturated style consider themselves to have overindulged or "been drunk" after substantially smaller quantities than non-Jews; and the acculturated drinking style tends to be abandoned on settling down and starting to raise children. Only in the United States has Jewish drinking been studied extensively and systematically, but observers in many countries continue to report the pattern of sobriety. Some theorists speculated that the pattern may change in a Jewish state and, that drunkenness is more common among some Eastern Jews than among Westerners. However, although statistics on admission of alcoholics to mental hospitals in Israel in former years are not known, in 1966 78 new cases were admitted (2% of all new cases; in some countries alcoholism accounts for up to 25% of admissions to mental hospitals). The total admission of alcoholics was 154 in 1966 (2% of all admissions); and during a six-year period, only 23 deaths were attributed to alcoholism or its complications. Recent data on Jews in the United States are not available, but in New York State in 1950 0.2% of new cases were alcoholics. There was some evidence of greater alcoholic indulgence by Oriental-born Jews in Israel (but not in those of Oriental descent). Asian and African-born male Jews had twice the rate of first admission for alcoholism to mental hospitals than European-born men did. Israel-born Jews, of whatever descent, had only a third of the rate of the European-born. The rates in women of all origin groups were negligible. Thus there were no signs at the time of serious alcohol problems developing in Israel. However, with the development of a "pub" and "disco" culture among Israeli youth through the 1980s and 1990s and the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union with its more marked drinking tradition, not to mention growing disaffection in the economic underbelly of Israeli society, drinking has come to be perceived as more of a problem, though still not reaching the proportions characteristic of other societies.

[Mark Keller]


in the bible: Kaufmann Y., Religion, 321, 374; B. Porten, Archives from Elephantine (1968), 179–86; G.R. Driver, in: Words and Meanings, Essays… D.W. Thomas (1968), 47–67; L. Milano (ed.), Drinking in Ancient Societies (1994). modern times: D. Cahalan, I. Cisin and H.R. Crossley, American Drinking Practices (1970); V. Efron and M. Keller, Selected Statistical Tables on the Consumption of Alcohol and on Alcoholism (1963); Keller, in: British Journal of Addiction, 64 (1969); King, in: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 22 (1961), 321; Knupfer and Room, ibid., 28 (1967), 676; C.R. Snyder, Alcohol and the Jews (1958); Shuval and Krasilowsky, in: Israel Annual of Psychiatry, 1 (1964), 277; 3 (1965), 249.

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The condition of a person deprived of the use of reason or the control of his faculties by the consumption of alcohol or by means of some other intoxicating substance. In ordinary speech the term is usually applied to this condition when it has been induced by alcohol, but from a moral point of view it is irrelevant whether the intoxicant is alcohol, or whether it is taken by mouth in liquid or solid form, inhaled as a gas, or injected into the bloodstream. Until relatively modern times the only form of intoxicant in common use was alcoholic drink, and consequently older moralists considered drunkenness an offense against temperance consisting in the immoderate consumption of wine or other fermented drink. What was essential to the act and distinguished it from gluttony was the intoxicating effect of the substance ingested. But definitions of drunkenness applicable only to the excessive use of alcohol can no longer be regarded as satisfactory. The moral deformity of the act of getting drunk lies essentially in the unreasonable surrender of control over oneself and one's faculties. The chemical composition of the intoxicant, or its particular mode of affecting the nervous system, is of no moral significance so far as intoxication itself is concerned. What is said of the immoderate use of alcohol is equally true of the immoderate use of ether, narcotics, marijuana, barbiturates, sleeping pills, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), model-maker's glue, or other substances that produce an effect comparable to alcoholic intoxication.

Moral Classification. The extension of the concept of drunkenness to include intoxication brought on by other means than alcoholic drink raises a question regarding the propriety of considering it, as the classic moralists did, as an offense against temperance. It might seem more reasonable to classify it simply as a form of temporary mutilation, in which case its essential opposition would be to the virtue of charity or justice. Nevertheless, it is possible to defend and to retain the older classification, because, besides being a mutilation, drunkenness is alsoand more formallyan unreasonable indulgence of the sense appetite. It is not necessarily a gratification of the sense of taste, for the pleasure involved in the actual drinking does not commonly account for the drinker's excess. He seeks other satisfactionsthe feeling of relief from strain and tension, the feeling of ease in social situations, a sense of euphoria, or perhaps the alleviation of unpleasant feelings by forgetfulness or oblivion. The inordinateness of his act, from the point of view of temperance, consists in the fact that he is so attached to his sensory satisfactions that he is prepared to give up control of himself to achieve them.

Degrees of Drunkenness. Moralists commonly distinguish two degrees of drunkenness. A person is perfectly or absolutely drunk when he sinks into a stupor from which he cannot be aroused, or when he can no longer tell right from wrong, or when the inhibitions that usually hold his disorderly impulses in check are so weakened that he cannot control himself and is in proximate danger, if occasion offers, of doing something seriously wrong. In these cases an intoxicated person is said to be perfectly drunk, because he has lost the capacity to act as a responsible human being. On the other hand, if he has lost some measure of control over himself, yet has not reached absolute drunkenness as here defined, he is said to be imperfectly drunk.

Some authors would measure perfect drunkenness by a relative as well as an absolute standard. The amount of control over self that can be surrendered without losing one's capacity to act as a responsible moral agent depends to some extent upon circumstances. The temporary loss of the capacity to articulate distinctly or to walk steadily would be a relatively minor deprivation in some circumstances; in others, the condition could cause serious scandal. Similarly, a retardation in the speed of one's reflexes could matter little, but a person with retarded reflexes is a public menace when he is at the wheel of a car. In surrendering such capacities, which are not absolutely necessary in themselves but which are necessary for the responsible human behavior of an individual by reason of his circumstances, he becomes, in effect, perfectly drunk.

Moral Evaluation. It is generally admitted that drunkenness can be legitimately induced when it is necessary for purposes of health. It is then justified, as is any legitimate mutilation, by application of the principle of totality. The use of reason can be temporarily sacrificed in the interests of the whole man. The total anesthesia administered to a surgical patient would be an example in point. The use of sodium pentathol or some other similar drug in narcoanalysis would be another.

Imperfectly Voluntary Drunkenness. Drunkenness may be no sin at all, or less than a grave sin, when the conditions necessary for subjective responsibility are lacking. For example, if one becomes drunk by accident, or because he fails inculpably to advert to the excessive quantity of liquor he is consuming, there can be no grave sin. In the case of a habitual drunkard or an alcoholic, there may be reason to wonder whether the individual has the moral freedom necessary to resist the compulsion to drink (see responsibility).

Perfect Drunkenness. St. Paul in Gal 5.21 enumerates drunkenness among the works of the flesh and, here as in 1 Cor 6.10, declares that those guilty of it will be excluded from the kingdom of God. However, no absolutely compelling argument can be drawn from the Scriptures to show that isolated acts of drunkenness, uncomplicated by association with other kinds of wicked action, are mortally sinful. St. Thomas Aquinas as a younger man seems to have held that drunkenness was not per se a grave sin (see In 2 sent. 24.3.6.; De malo 7.4 ad 1; 2.8 ad 3). But if this indeed was his earlier opinion, he changed his mind on the subject and in the Summa theologiae declared unambiguously that drunkenness was mortally sinful. It may be that in his earlier statements he was misled, as were other scholastics, by an apocryphal text attributed to St. Augustine, according to which drunkenness was not a mortal sin except when indulged in frequently or for evil purpose. It was St. Thomas's later teaching that prevailed, however, and it represents the common doctrine of all Catholic moralists.

The reasons why perfect drunkenness is held to be mortally sinful are these: (1) It makes the exercise of reason temporarily impossible; and reason, besides being man's noblest faculty, is radically necessary to responsible moral action, to self-protection, to the performance of duty, and to the avoidance of evil. (2) It relaxes the inhibitions and so permits vicious inclinations to seek an outlet, thus exposing a man to the danger of sin. (3) The immoderate use of intoxicants exposes a man to the danger of addiction and to many other grave evil consequences of a personal and a social kind.

It is disputed among moralists whether perfect drunkenness may be venially sinful because of slightness (parvity) of matter, by which is meant the brevity of time during which an intoxicated person is without control of himself. Some authors (e.g., Lacroix and Noldin) held that a short loss of self-control (the limits of which are variously set at several minutes, half an hour, or even an hour) will excuse from mortal sin. Others have taken the position that the full malice of perfect drunkenness is realized even when one's self-possession is lost for a short time.

There is general agreement among moralists that a person is morally accountable for the sinful acts and the injustice that he foresees he is likely to commit when he allows himself to become intoxicated.

Imperfect Drunkenness. Imperfect drunkenness is per se no more than a venial sin. It could be a grave sin if indulged in for a gravely sinful purpose or if it caused serious scandal. On the other hand, it is no sin at all if there is sufficient reason for the indulgence, e.g., an acute attack of melancholy, a special occasion calling for something unusual in the way of festivity and joviality.

Remedy. For cases of recurrent excess in the use of intoxicants without the addiction or sickness factors that occur in the alcoholic, prayer and the frequent use of the Sacraments ought to be encouraged. An effort should be made to get at the root of the disorder, i.e., to discover why the individual is so strongly inclined to look to intoxicants for satisfaction, and to work out a more adequate solution to his problems. The total-abstinence pledge is sometimes helpful, but it should be recommended with some caution; if it does not appear likely that the person will be faithful to it, the pledge could do more harm than good. Some application of the program of alcoholics anonymous, particularly of the Twelve Steps, can be made to the cases of those who are not, strictly speaking, alcoholics. Membership in total abstinence societies has helped many.

See Also: sobriety; temperance (virtue of); temperance movements.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 88.5 ad 1; 2a2ae, 150. d. m. prÜmmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, ed. e. m. mÜnch (12th ed. Freiburg-Barcelona 1955) 2:668673. t. ortolan, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951 ) 8.1: 246248. j. c. ford, Man Takes a Drink (New York 1955).

[p. k. meagher]

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199. Drunkenness (See also Alcoholism.)

  1. Acrasia self-indulgent in the pleasures of the senses. [Br. Lit.: Faerie Queene ]
  2. Admiral of the red a wine-bibber. [Br. Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 11]
  3. Bacchus, priest of a toper, perhaps originally because of ceremonial duties. [Western Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 65]
  4. Barleycorn, John humorous personification of intoxicating liquor. [Am. and Br. Folklore: Misc.]
  5. Booze sold cheap whiskey in a log-cabin bottle. [Am. Hist.: Espy, 152153]
  6. Capp, Andy archetypal British working-class toper. [Comics: Horn, 8283]
  7. Gambrinus mythical Flemish king; reputed inventor of beer. [Flem. Myth.: NCE, 1041]
  8. Magnifico, Don appointed Princes butler, oversamples his wines. [Ital. Opera: Rossini, Cinderella, Westerman, 120121]
  9. Noah inebriated from wine, sprawls naked in tent. [O.T.: Genesis 9:2023]
  10. Silenus one of Bacchuss retinue; fat, always inebriated. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 283]
  11. Sly, Christopher identity changes during drunken stupor. [Br. Lit.: Taming of the Shrew ]
  12. Tam OShanter stumbling home from the tavern sees witches dancing around open coffins in the graveyard. [Br. Lit.: Burns Tam OShanter in Benét, 985]
  13. Vincent, St. patron saint of drunks. [Christian Hagiog.: Brewer Dictionary, 1129]
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The state of an individual whose mind is affected by the consumption of alcohol.

Drunkenness is a consequence of drinking intoxicating liquors to such an extent as to alter the normal condition of an individual and significantly reduce his capacity for rational action and conduct. It can be asserted as a defense in civil and criminal actions in which the state of mind of the defendant is an essential element to be established in order to obtain legal relief.