“Walking on a path dispels the effect of wine.”
Today’s Daf Yomi provides an analysis of the effects of drinking too much wine and the associated pain of regret. We are told that one can walk or sleep off the effects of imbibing too much, especially of Italian wine which is stronger than most. At the heart of the discussion is the myth that alcoholism and drunkenness do not exist in Jewish families. A stigma exists within our general culture related to addiction, but I can attest how much more pronounced it was growing up as a child of an alcoholic in a Jewish home.
The discussion on drunkenness starts with a simple pronouncement that a Rabbi may not issue rulings if he is under the influence of wine. We are also told that one must not pray if he is intoxicated, because “his prayer is an abomination.” On the other hand, we are told that if one prays while drinking wine and presumably if one is not drunk “his prayer is prayer” and he has “fulfilled his obligation.” Rav Nahman commented that concerning himself, his mind is clear only after consuming wine. I cannot help but wonder if this is an example of Rabbinic denial and rationalization.
The Gemara attempts to distinguish between one who drinks wine, perhaps like Rav Nahman who claimed it made him sharper, and one who is intoxicated. This was in the days before there was the availability of breathalyzers, or the standard three tests that are performed today to test for drunkenness, which includes standing on one leg. We are told that if one has consumed some quantity of wine but can still speak lucidly in the presence of a king, he is considered to be clear-headed enough in his thinking. If someone is so disoriented that he would not be able to speak intelligently to a king, he is considered smashed. Of course, the fallacy of this sobriety test is that it does not account for the sober among us who might be too intimated to speak up before a king.
We are told that walking one mil which is a brisk 20-minute walk or sleeping even a minimal amount will allow one to overcome the effects of drunkenness provided he has not consumed more than a quarter-log of wine, which is about 2.6 fluid ounces. Otherwise, the walking or sleeping cure will not help overcome having imbibed too much, because the former will result in exhaustion and the later in further confusion. These “cures” may be in the category of giving coffee to someone who is intoxicated, which just results in a wide-awake drunk.
We also learn that Italian wine is especially potent and that as a result Rabbi Gamliel found it necessary to walk not one mil, but three in order to become sober after partaking of it. In another example of piercing through the fourth wall, we are told “the Gemara resumes the narrative,” and if one makes a vow while under the influence, he must first become sober before he is able to unwind what he has previously done. Rabbi Elai came before Rabbi Gamliel and asked if he could dissolve a vow. Upon being questioned by the Rabbi he admitted that the vow was made after he drank a quarter-log of Italian wine. Gamliel’s decision was to advise Elai to walk until the effect of the wine was dissipated, after which the fate of the regretted vow would be deliberated.
Along with drunkenness often comes regret; there is remorse for one’s actions when he was under the influence and deep grief for actions that may not be able to be undone. The Gemara examines two Rabbinic perspectives on regrettable actions: one may dissolve one’s vows based on regret alone, or alternatively, one must have a well-articulated reason for doing so. The later supposition requires a thorough analysis that is “performed free of distractions” and while “seated”and presumably sober.
We all know the myth. Jews do not drink. They do not have fancy bars set up in their homes with an assortment of alcoholic beverages. They do not return from work and pour themselves a gin and tonic or an expensive whiskey. They do not sit in pubs drinking multiple rounds of beer. I have read that their tight-knit families shield them from alcoholism or that there is DNA evidence that they have genes that protect them from addiction. And yet, I have known alcoholism and addiction in my traditional Jewish family. I have sat in Al-Anon meetings where I am sure I was the only Jew present. Is my family unusual or are there many other Jewish families living silently with denial and regret?
Alcoholism is a family disease. Today’s Daf Yomi provides some context in its own indirect way of alcoholism in the Jewish community. It takes a lot more than long walks and a good night’s sleep. Facing up to one’s regrets is certainly a start on the road to recovery.