Dressing up in costumes. Giving mishloach manot. Reading the story of Esther. These are all the different customs of Purim, a holiday celebrating the eradication of Haman’s evil decree by hidden miracles. But there’s another annual tradition that should not be kept by any underage teenager: getting drunk to celebrate Purim.
The Gemara Megillah (7b) says that “a person is obligated to drink and get intoxicated on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai.’” This may seem to enable alcoholics who could use this mitzvah as a “righteous” excuse to overdrink. However, the Gemara follows by saying “One whose nature is weak, or who knows that if he overindulges he will likely come to treat some mitzvah, bracha or tefilla lightly, or one who knows he will behave inappropriately, should not drink so much. By not drinking, all of his actions will be considered for the sake of Heaven.”
Many teenagers, with reckless temptations, will ignore the second half of the ruling altogether that permits staying sober. From an anonymous survey conducted among 110 boys and girls from Jewish high schools across Los Angeles, twelve percent said they’ve been heavily intoxicated on Purim or another Jewish holiday to celebrate and party.
“I mean, everyone else does it,” said a teenage boy who asked to not be named. “Why shouldn’t I?”
This rhetoric is deeply flawed. Drinking underage is harmful and dangerous. Actually, allowing your friend to act recklessly and intoxicated on Purim is actually a sin, as the Torah states in Vayikra: “לא תעמד על־דם רעך,” which means you should not stand by while your friend is being hurt or lies in harm’s way. Reckless drinking while intoxicated certainly qualifies as harm, as according to information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2011. It states, “alcohol accounts for approximately 5,000 individuals’ deaths under the age of 21.”
This high-school drinking, even on Purim, will actually give teens terrible lifelong effects. Studies such as one by The National Institute of Health in January 2006 titled “Why Do Adolescents Drink, What Are the Risks, and How Can Underage Drinking Be Prevented?” found that underage drinking can lead to significant negative effects for a person’s long-term memory, learning abilities, liver health, hormone levels, and overall physical maturation.
If one cannot celebrate Simchat Purim without becoming overly intoxicated, they should re-examine their faith. No holiday should require people to get drunk, and if someone is underage, he or she can still celebrate sober.