Two Drinking Occasions a Year in Judaism? Not Even Close.
“I never drink, unless it’s connected to something Jewish.”
Many Jews who would never dream of considering themselves problem drinkers will often make a statement like this one. They will tell you that the only times they touch alcohol is when the Torah commands it or when there’s Jewish life cycle event at which alcohol is typically consumed.
That sounds great in theory, but if you really look at the Jewish calendar, you’ll discover that there is a shockingly high number of events when it’s “kosher” for Jews to drink.
So I thought I’d do the math and try to determine how many times can a Jew legitimately drink alcohol in a religious setting without raising the eyebrows or ire of friends and loved ones.
The precise figure? Well, in Judaism, the answer is as always, “It depends.” But if you add everything up, you can legitimately take a drink in our faith anywhere from 268 to 332 times a year.
332 times! That’s nearly daily drinking. There are plenty of people who have gotten sober in Alcoholics Anonymous who never drank as often as Jews just keeping their traditions!
How could it be that there are so many occasions at which drinking is permitted, strongly suggested, or even required? Let’s do the math together and find out.
We’ll start with Shabbat, which arrives, of course, 52 times a year. So that’s Friday night kiddush times 52, Shabbat morning kiddush times 52, and Havdalah, at the close of Shabbat, times 52. Net total alcohol opportunities: 156.
If you also hear kiddush at your synagogue or temple, as do many people, that’s another 52 opportunities to have an alcoholic beverage, no questions asked. So now we’re up to a staggering 208 drinking occasions a year. By the way, staggering is exactly the right word. Anybody who drinks 208 times over the course of a 365-day calendar is likely to be staggering.
Now here’s a little secret about Shabbat. Ever notice a bunch of men get up during the haftorah, disappear for about fifteen minutes, and come back in a considerably lighter mood? Those fellows represent the Ritual Committee, who typically repair to the janitor’s closet, or the office of the Executive Director, or somewhere private, to imbibe a little schnapps.
Not everyone is on the Ritual Committee, however. But if you are, then you can count yourself another 64 drinking opportunities. How did I get to 64? These include 52 Shabbat maftir readings, plus 13 Yom Tov days of the year minus Yom Kippur.
So if you’re on the Ritual Committee and you say or hear Kiddish in shul, we’re now up to 272 times when we can raise a glass without raising an eyebrow.
Now let’s turn to Yom Tov. When you add up the holidays of Pesach, Shavout, Sukkot, and Shmini Atzeret, (not Chol Ha-Moed), it comes to 10. Evening kiddush plus morning kiddush equals 20 times to drink. Throw in Rosh Hashanah, and that’s four more. So we’re up to 24. Add in Havdalah for these 12 days of Yom Tov and another for Havdalah after Yom Kippur, and we’re adding 13 to our 24 for an additional 37 opportunities to drink. Oh, and I almost forgot—there’s also kiddush at shul on Yom Tov! So let’s add 12 to our 37 for an additional 49.
Running total: 321 legitimate moments to drink alcohol.
Now let’s talk about life-cycle events. When Jews hatch, match, or dispatch, they do so with wine or other alcoholic beverages as part of the party. So let’s say over the course of the year, you attend a fairly small number of such events. Let’s call it two weddings, one sheva brachot (the dinners in the week after the wedding), one brit milah, one pidyon haben, one bar mitzvah, one bat mitzvah, one funeral (chas v’shalom), and two yahrzeits.
Why do I include yahrzeits? Because at shacharit (morning) services, the person saying kaddish often brings a bottle of booze. Everyone has a shot and says, the “The neshama should have an Aliyah.”
That’s ten more times when we open a bottle. So we’re up to 331 times to drink.
And then, lest we forget, there’s Purim, which makes it 332.
So the next time someone tells you, “I don’t have a drinking problem. All I do is drink when my religion commands me to," don’t buy it. That individual is drinking on average six times a week.
That’s a lot of booze, all sanctioned by our religion. When people think about alcohol and Judaism, they typically call to mind Simchat Torah and Purim, two holidays famous (or notorious) for big drinking. But those two chagim actually provide cover for the real Jewish drinking schedule, which allows for those 268 (332 if you’re on the Ritual Committee) legitimate, justifiable, alcohol opportunities each year.
You only drink when your religion tells you to? Well, if 268 times isn’t enough opportunity for alcohol, then you may want to find not just a minyan but an A.A. meeting. L’chaim!
Author: New York Times best selling author Michael Levin runs a firm that does ghostwritten memoirs, business books, and business fables. Michael's mission is to "create outstanding books for outstanding individuals." You can read more about about Michael's journey and mission on his website, www.michaellevinwrites.com