Ever wonder why some people can hold their liquor extremely well as where others get drunk from a few glasses? Well, we already explained why some Asians get drunk very fast and why alcoholism is such a big problem among American Indians. Now it’s time to tackle another question: why do Jews hardly drink? It’s a bit of a tough one since we are dealing with both a race and a religion. In practice however both of them in many cases go hand in hand. The holy writings of the Jewish religion (or Judaism) the Torah allows alcohol as long as it’s kosher but demands moderation. Besides that many Jews – like East Asians – genetically have a lower tolerance for alcohol, which makes it impossible to drink like for example Caucasians. The question is now if these two facts are related.
The fact that Jewish people don’t drink is an absolute myth. Just think of the words l’chaim (to life), which is the traditional cheers when Jews raise their glasses together. However they are not really known for their outstanding drinking skills or having major problems with alcohol, depends on how you look at it. Even though wine is also known as ‘the King of Beverages’ and in the Torah is said to “bring joy to God and man”. Wine also plays a part in many traditional Jewish rituals. So why this moderation? The answer possibly lies in both the religion and genes of the Jews.
Let’s start with the Jewish religion. First of all the drinks must be kosher, no matter if it’s wine, whisky or any other drink. The rules on what’s kosher and not are quite difficult, so people are adviced to consult their local rabbi before drinking. Getting drunk on a regular basis is considered absolutely not done here and praying drunk is strictly forbidden. A well known Jewish saying states “a shicker is a goy” which means a drunkard is a non-Jew. The traditional thought behind this saying is that heavy drinking is for uneducated people and that the ones who drink hard and often are not improving themselves. The Torah also speaks of Noah who ‘disgraced himself by excessive wine consumption’. The two sons of Aaron named Nadab and Abihu were consumed by a fire from heaven when they entered a tabernacle drunk to pray. With all this in mind it’s easy to understand how their faith or social pressure keeps many Jews from drinking. In many communities just the reputation of being addicted to alcohol can make one outcast.
And then there is the case of the genes. Always a sensitive topic, especially when speaking of the Jews. However the first one to draw this conclusion based on research was the Israelian epidemiologist from the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem in 1999. With his team of Israelian and American scientists he examined the DNA of 145 men in Jerusalem and concluded that one third of them had a genetic mutation. “One that makes them more sensitive to alcohol. In other words: they get drunk very quickly. In the Jewish Jerusalemites whom we studied, we found that those carrying this expression of the gene were very light drinkers.”
So this raises the old question of the chicken and the egg. Do Jewish people nowadays stand alcohol not as well because they have practiced sobriety for many centuries and is this a case of evolution of the human body? Or is the call for moderation in their religion a direct effect from the fact that a lot of Jews couldn’t handle heavy drinking? We don’t have an answer but both seem plausible. Sorry to leave you with an open ending but at least it leaves the door wide open for discussion. In the end we want to share one promising development with you. For ages the Hebrew language had no word for ‘hangover’ since there was no real use for it. But that changed a few years ago when the Academy of Hebrew Language in Tel Aviv came up with hamarmoret. A clear sign things are changing for the better.
Related articles on Lords of the Drinks:
Taking it up with the super religious freaks (versus Christians who claim it’s a sin to drink)
Euromonitor: Koreans biggest consumers hard liquor