Drinking & The Jews

Lisa Miller writes for Newsweek:

It was a Saturday afternoon in July, and according to the police report, the young man was driving drunk. Milton Berle was echoing the generations-old conventional wisdom when he quipped that "Jews don’t drink much because it interferes with their suffering." Orthodox Jews especially have started to wrestle with what some say is a growing problem of alcohol abuse in their communities. Editorialists in Jewish papers and blogs wring their hands over the college students who wind up in the emergency room after over-imbibing on Purim or the men who leave Saturday services en masse to tipple in the cloakroom before returning, rowdy and indecorous, to the sanctuary in time for the sermon. In 2005, the Orthodox Union (which oversees the nation’s Orthodox synagogues) issued a strong statement against these "kiddush clubs." "They were drinking not only the [ceremonial] kiddush wine, but fine single-malt whiskey with a sumptuous smorgasbord," says Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. "It’s not only drinking, it’s idealized drinking, which is a very, very bad message for the kids." Alcohol problems always carry a stigma, but in Orthodox circles that stigma is particularly constraining. " explains Jonathan Katz, director of a New York City-based group for Jewish alcoholics and addicts called JACS. JACS offers 12-step groups, and a Jewish-only rehab center in Los Angeles called Beit T’shuva includes Jewish spirituality in its recovery program. Young men in rabbinical training at the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and elsewhere take alcohol-awareness seminars, and in November, JACS published a book of confessional essays about alcohol by Jewish women.

The truth is, though, that Jews don’t drink—much. Historically, Jews have not had alcohol problems to the extent as some other religious groups—only 11 percent of Jewish men have problems with alcohol abuse and dependence, compared with 28 percent of non-Jewish men.

New research is beginning to support the rabbi’s worries: young Jews do seem to be more vulnerable to alcohol than their parents. Small studies on recent Russian immigrants in Israel and Jewish college students in the United States show that under the right kind of environmental circumstances, some Jews do engage in heavy drinking. 

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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