Sober Jews

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Jewish Attitudes and Practices Re Alcohol


In our modern world, alcohol is used for pleasure, for enjoyment, for fighting inhibitions, for anesthetic effects, for relieving tension, and much more.  Folks use excuses to drink and especially to drink to excess.  I have heard such statements as, “I drank because a child was born; a parent died; fears; celebrations; to be accepted by friends who drink, to be one of the crowd," etc.  It is a well known fact that alcoholism occurs more in folks who have an alcoholic parent or other close blood relatives who are alcoholics; they are more prone to contract that disease than those who do not share these risk factors. 

Alcoholism among Jews is almost an unknown affliction.  Jewish sobriety is proverbial. One theory is that  the Jewish social condition does not allow for inebriation.  Jews have had to defend themselves since time immemorial and could never let down the barriers and drink excessively.  Alcoholics are often vulnerable and exposed to situations they are unable to handle in a rational manner.  Jews must always be in control of  their emotions  and actions in order to survive.  They are unable to allow their impulses to govern them.  Hospital  records  have shown that there is a little over one tenth of one percent of three thousand Jewish cases that applied for admission did so for alcoholism.  Yale University Professor Charles R. Snyder found that on first admission, the ethnicity of “alcoholic psychotics” in New York State hospitals were:  Irish 25.6%,  Scandinavian 7.8%, Italian 4.8%, English 4.3%, German 3.8%, Jewish 0.5%. Snyder believes the Jewish emphasis is on food, so that compulsive eating  is more likely to be selected  as a means of  alleviating psychic tensions than addictive drinking.  

 The modern Jewish people are notoriously a sober and moral people, in England, in America, and elsewhere. 

There are a few Jewish sayings that exhibit  feelings having to do with alcohol consumption, somewhat in jest, together with poetic sing song (The translations are not verbatim but express the general meanings intended):

Ziggele, Miggele Kotinke, Reite Pomerantze, Wenn das Koepple sich schickert an, wollen die fusseloch tanzen (When the head drinks, the feet want to dance).

Oy yoi yoi schicker ist der Goi, shicker ist er trinken muess er weil er ist ein goi! (Inebriated is the outsider/stranger/non-Jew because he  is a non-Jew ).

Welcher sinnediger juedische Mensch beschickert sich?! (Which thinking/rational Jewish person would get drunk!!!?)


The use of alcohol, for medicinal purposes, enjoyment, and in religious ceremonies, has been used as long as we can remember.  The Indians called this liquid firewater; others jokingly call it “sauce”,  juice and a multitude of other names. 

To date we seldom find a Jewish alcoholic, although in recent years in this country we have seen an increase in the use of alcohol among our people.  It is not surprising, because we have the tendency to assimilate taking on the culture of our surroundings and that of our neighbors. Like all of humanity, we use alcohol when we are joyful, as on Purim, the festival when we were rescued by Esther, the queen of Achashveros.  It is used to make us feel happy to celebrate, as it is with many people and groups.  We use it to alleviate pain, within limits.  For example, before an infant boy is circumcised, we place a few drops of alcohol on his lips or mouth to make the pain less intense.  We use it to make a blessing for Kiddush on Sabbath and holidays, but always within limits.   

Let us continue to be exemplary in our appropriate and limited usage of alcohol, and let no one underestimate the destructive elements of its excessive use.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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