Purim and The Search for Yossi

“The more often and earlier a child smokes, drinks and uses marijuana, the likelier that child is to use harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.”

“It’s all about children. A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

“Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine”.

– Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Chairman and President

I like Joseph Califano – although I never met him. I admire his dedication, his courage, and his brutal confrontation of the facts on the ground.

He heads The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (www.casacolumbia.org). The Center, now celebrating its 11th year, has dedicated itself to the prevention of substance abuse and its horrific consequences. The ubiquitous, “Parents; the Anti-Drug” ads are a direct result of the research and public advocacy of CASA, under the leadership of Joseph Califano.

And, during this Purim season, as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of our precious children are being introduced for the first time – under the guise of one of our most joyous Yomim Tovim, and under the direction of adults who should be modeling more responsible behavior – to the deadly scourge of cigarettes and alcohol that bring addiction and even death to our children; ask yourself, “Where is Yossi Califano???” Where are the people in our community who will step forward, call a spade a spade and address this issue? Who will break through the denial and apathy and stop the exponential growth of smoking and drinking among our dear children?


Truth be told, we do have ‘Yossi Califanos’ in our Orthodox world. They have been speaking to us. We just have not been listening.

Their names are Rabbi Abraham Twersky, s’hlita, one of the most visionary and courageous people of our times, David Mandel, CEO of Ohel, Dr. Bentzion Twerski, among others.

For years, (and in the case of Rabbi Abraham Twerski, decades), they have been acting as the prophets of our times – standing in the village squares and begging us to listen to them. It is high time that we do. And for the sake of our children, we need to get serious about curbing alcohol abuse and cigarette use among our children.


If you think I am an alarmist, or if you think that I am overstating the case, why don’t you be courageous and do some due diligence of your own? It is quite simple and should take less than five minutes.

Just ask any local Hatzolah member any one or all of the following questions:

How many Hatzolah calls are there on Purim for alcohol overdoses?
(In Monsey, the Hatzolah members with whom I spoke tell me that there were 4 calls last year for alcohol overdoses just on Purim.)

When was the last time YOU personally went on a call (not only during Purim) to assist a victim of drinking overdoses?

Do you know of any nearly fatal overdoses due to alcohol abuse? (I personally know of one instance last year where Hatzolah rushed a yeshiva bachur to a hospital after falling into A FULL COMA on a Monsey Bus. This young man drank nearly a full bottle of whiskey at a vort – not during the Purim season!!)

If your local Hatzolah member says that that I am overreacting, please feel free to ignore this column, or please write a letter to the editor next week refuting what I am writing. But if he confirms what I am writing; I suggest you take my warning seriously.


As for the ramifications of Purim and the concept ‘ad d’lo yoda’:

From a standpoint of halacha and minhagim, there is absolutely no basis for smoking of any kind as it relates to Purim.

As far as alcohol consumption is concerned; I am not a posek, so I will not offer my thoughts as to the mitzvas hayom of ad d’lo yoda. I am also aware of the various minhagim among our diverse k’lal, and the importance of maintaining our minhagim.

I would however, encourage each of my readers to ask their Rov for guidance and direction on this matter – just as they would ask any other halachic question. And when we do ask the question, let us ask:

. Should we be drinking?
. How much?
. How about our children? At what age should they be drinking?
. Is there another way to fulfill the obligation of ad d’lo yada?

Regardless of your thoughts on the ‘Indian shaitel’ issue that surfaced more than a year ago, it was inspiring to see thousands of women humbly following the Da’as Torah of their Rabbonim. Now it is time for the men to step forward and ask our rabbonim and gedolim how Purim should be conducted according to the letter – and spirit (no pun intended) of our Torah.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and Menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and Director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

Rabbi Horowitz recently released his sefer on Divrei Torah, “Growing With the Parsha; Torah Thoughts for Teens” To purchase the sefer ($15-), or for more information about Rabbi Horowitz’s parenting materials, please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com or call 845-352-7100 X 133.

9 comments on “Purim and The Search for Yossi

  1. One last point on this issue-Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim in KGH , informed all high school aged bachurim and their parents that if they arrived drunk or became drunk on Purim in the yeshivah that they would be suspended for a week and that their parents would have to pick them up,etc. Parents and students were all sent a form for their signatures,etc. A friend of mine showed me a copy of the form.From what I discerned in a conversation with one of the administrators, this policy was quite successful and the few Beis Medrash (>21) bachurim who drank too much realized that they did not exactly come off as role models for the younger bachurim. This same person told me that Queens Hatzala had a much quieter Purim this year than previously because of the communal awareness that drinking by teens in an unsupervised manner is a dangerous and halachically improper way of celebrating Purim.

  2. For those interested in learning about the sugya, Rishonim and Acharonim,re the mitzvah of drinking on Purim, I highly recommend the section in HaMoadim BHalacha by R SY Zevin ZTL.

  3. For the individuals who might think that drugs and spirituality are connected, here is a Mekubal answer:

    Many people experimenting with mind-altering drugs feel themselves to be spiritual
    supermen. They believe that they can side step the long, ardent details of spiritual
    discipline. What they do not know is that what they are experiencing is not an objective
    reality, but a subjective one. Such subjective truths are of no concern for the Kabbalist,
    for such immature experiences are nothing but klipah (the glow that surrounds the true
    light). Bluntly put, such experiences are lies.

    As there are no shortcuts in physical bodybuilding, so there are no shortcuts with
    spiritual soul building. Hallucinogenic chemicals are like spiritual steroids. In the short run, they appear to bring results. Yet, in reality all they do is destroy the souls ability to
    properly receive G-d’s power through the biological channels that correlate to their
    spiritual counterparts. What is left is a handicapped spiritual condition. One who is in
    this condition still hungers for the true taste of spiritual nourishment, yet is unable toreceive it, due to the inability of his body to receive the light.
    In such cases, out of desperation, many choose to receive from the dark side, rather
    than not receive at all. Of course, what is received is not real. Yet, a filling illusion is sometimes considered more desirable than an empty reality.
    This is the result of those paths that do not properly channel G-d’s light. They cause
    themselves harm, and add insult to injury by drifting farther from the truth, instead of
    rectifying the wrong.
    According to the Torah, drug use for the purpose of spiritual gain is condemned. There
    is no place for it.

    Good Shabbes.

  4. On the issue of smoking, last week’s Mispacha included an article on advertising geared to the frum world on smoking with graphics such as a shtreimel, black hat and a cigarette, etc and a catchy phrase. If I had the power, I would post those ads anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps, am even eye grabbing ad would be two shots of an x-ray, CAT or MRI of a healthy lung and a lung of an addicted smoker. It would probably be like showing the difference between day and night just for the shock value.

  5. With all due respect to R Horowitz, being machmir by realizing that many of us either can’t or don’t tolerate drinking in large doses well and that it impedes our judgment might be a chumra that we should all think about more seriously. Rashi in Parshas Noach describes 4 levels of behavior that affect a person in response to drinking alcohol. It is sufficient to note that they reflect 4 downward stages in awareness and judgment of all kinds.

    I have also heard that the Brisker Rav ZTL drank a small amount , smiled on Purim,. as was not his demeanor for the rest of the year, and then reverted back to his regular mood as soon as Purim was over.

    I have seen drunken bachurim attempt to demonstrate their sense of Simchas Purim both on Purim (and Simchas Torah). It is not a pretty site and which often makes me wonder if they can daven , utter any davar shebekedusha on those days, let alone perform any other activity which requires a clear and unimpaired sense of judgment such as driving a car.Drinking is a far more dangerous activity than skiing or searching for chametz.

    I would also take issue with Ellie. A coma is by definition life threatening, regardless of the cause.The notion that one can or should teach a child to drink responsibly is in my opinion neither supported by any sources nor one that is without risks, Many teens who overdrink attribute this behavior to unregulated drinking at a kiddush, shalom zachor, etc. Without entering into a halachic debate-there is ample supoort for fulfillinh Arba Kosos on Pesach with grape juice if you will either become sick, have a medical problem or will not enjoy the Sedarim otherwise. Wouldn’t the same logic apply with Seudas Purim and the allegedly alocholic part of it-especially when there are Rishonim who deny that there is a mitzvah of drinking ad lo yada altogether? I believe that R D A Twerski hit the nail on the head on this issue and we should all be seekig to reduce the amount of booze inbibed within our communities so that we need not have to pilpul over whether AA is “kosher.”

  6. Dear Readers:

    After receiving several emails re: this post and giving it some more thought, I will respectfully step back from endorsing Rabbi Twersky’s suggestion of a total ban on drinking liquor.

    I think drinking liquor in moderation is appropriate on Purim and throughout the year.

    However, I still fully support the ‘spirit’ of his letter 100%


  7. Dear Readers:

    This is the text of an open letter recently sent to community leaders by Dr. Abraham Twersky re: drinking on Purim.

    To our esteemed Rabbis and Community Leaders:

    As you know, I have been alerting the community of the increasing problem of alcohol abuse and marijuana smoking among Jewish adolescents. It is unfortunate that many people still do not accept that some of our own children are involved. This is happening to children from the finest families. There is no immunity.

    Given the gravity of the problem and the ineffectiveness of prevention programs, the very least we can do is avoid encouraging intoxication.

    Purim is upon us, and many people drink to excess because of the mistaken notion that there is a “mitzvah” to get drunk on Purim. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher rebbe and the Baa’ Hatanya (author of the Tanya) in his Shulchan Aruch says: “It is impossible to serve Hashem either in levity or drunkenness.” One of the final authorities on halacha, the Chofetz Chaim in Mishna Berura (695) states clearly that the proper thing to do is not to drink to intoxication, but rather to drink just a bit more than is customary (which would be a glass or two of wine) and to go to sleep. This is the proper way to fulfil “not distinguishing between ‘cursed be Haman’ and blessed be Mordechai’.”

    There is clearly no justification for drinking anything but wine. Aruch Hashulchan (695) writes that “in practice one should distance himself from drunkenness” and he particularly condemns drinking spirits (liquor) in very sharp terms. Alcohol intoxication is an abomination, and overriding the rulings of the Baal Hatanya, the Chofetz Chaim and the Aruch Hashulchan by drinking to intoxication is inexcusable.

    Let us use good judgement on Purim. We should set a model for our children by not drinking to excess and by supervising adolescents so that they do not drink. We can all enjoy a safe, respectable Purim.

    I invite you to affix your signature below, indicating your agreement and support, and to distribute this letter throughout the community.

    Abraham J. Twerski, MD

    I proudly affix my signature to this.

    Yakov Horowitz

  8. I am posting an email that I got in response to my post re: drinking on Purim.
    I hope to respond to this letter on Sunday.


    Dear Rabbi Horowitz,
    Let me start by thanking you for the great work you do in Yeshiva Darchai Noam, with my children specifically, for your klal work, and for your very active role in many chinuch areas. May Hashem give you the strength to continue your great work.

    Please allow me to comment on you article “The Dangers of Teen Drinking/Smoking on Purim”
    I would like to make clear distinctions between smoking (at any time), drinking (in moderation during the year), and getting drunk on Purim.

    As far as smoking goes, there is no Halachic reason to smoke and it is obviously very dangerous.

    Drinking, however, is part of our Jewish life, culture, and Halacha, and if done in a proper way is not dangerous. Additionally, there is a significant distinction between adults and children – a distinction that I hope is self-explanatory.

    That being said I am still torn between the grave problem of alcohol abuse, and the fact that alcohol is a very obvious part of Jewish life and its practices.

    I believe that as in many other areas, our Torah believes in drinking in moderation, not abstinence (and in the case of Purim much more than in moderation).

    It is our job as parents and leaders to teach our children that one can drink responsibly at a simcha, on Shabbos & Yom Tov, at a Kiddush in Shul, and that on Purim because it is a mitzvah you can even get drunk (in a safe & proper way). But on the other hand there are rules, and like many other things (playing with fire, driving, using power tools) there is a proper age and a certain way to do it.
    However if you are going to tell me that we are in such a sorry state that we don’t have the ability to teach this to our children, and therefore must (although it is not the Torah way) choose the path of abstinence; it is very sad that we have come to that. And if you feel that is the case, perhaps we might need to look into other areas of life were abstinence might be necessary. And, perhaps most importantly, I am not convinced that abstinence works.

    I would also like to point out that I was a Hatzolah member and coordinator for seven years (in Israel), and while Purim is a very active day and yes we do bring people in many states of unconsciousness “coma” – I have not heard of any life threatening cases. I respectfully believe that your comments on this are grossly exaggerated.

    I don’t think that the mitzvah of drinking on Purim is statistically (not emotionally) more dangerous than many other mitzvahs we do (lighting candles on Shabbos and Chanukah (kids also light), burning the chometz,… not to mention many daily activities (driving) or sports (skiing) that are sometimes not necessary at all, and statistically are much more dangerous than this mitzvah that people seem to be afraid of.

    It is my true hope that we can continue to keep all the mitzvos in the Torah and do so while bringing up a happy and healthy generation of true yiray shamayim that will bring nachas to all of us.

    Looking forward to your response,



    Monsey N.Y.

  9. Rav Horowitz needs no approbation from me, but I want to add a hearty ‘yishar kochecha’ to his words.

    I have been a rav in several high schools (and a shul), a street paramedic, and a critical care transport paramedic. I am married to a physician (Family Practice, toxicology, pathology, occupational health). The religious, psychological, social, and medical effects that we have observed from unsupervised and inappropriate alcohol use on Purim (and other times) is horrific. We are not tea-totalers. We like a bottle of wine on the table on Shabbat and Yom Tov. We drink a l’chaim while singing z’mirot.

    We do not like people dropped, ‘dead drunk’ (which can become literal very easily), uncontrolled, vomitting, on someone else’s doorstep for ‘care’ (abrogation of responsibility by the other, near-dead-drunks). We do not like students coming to yeshiva/school (sometimes as young as 7th grade) after Purim comparing stories of whose drunken/stoned behaviour was the most outrageous or disgusting. We do not like the Chillul Hashem (the Aruch Hashulchan warns explicitly about this in hilchot Purim) resulting from the irresponsibility and stupidity. I don’t like to see the diagnosis shared among professionals as ‘near terminal stupidity’ or ‘candidate for a Darwin Award’. Oh, and did I mention that these are the people who do *not* display chronic substance abuse problems (yet)? :-(

    I get disregarded (or worse) each year when I warn people to drink responsibly, and to limit or prevent the access to alcohol by minors. I want to see my students clamoring to do mitzvot; drinking to embarrassing and dangerous levels doesn’t top my list.

    Thank you Rav Horowitz for speaking up. Maybe this year we’ll get to relax, enjoy drinking to ad d’lo yada and Purim torah, and see our children and other adults learn how to ‘do it right’. We should all take responsibility to make that happen…

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