Shots On Shabbat
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Q - My daughter, a freshman on a large college campus, was invited to the home of a local rabbi for Friday night dinner. The rabbi is nontrivial affiliated with Hillel or any synagogue, but has gotten deeply involved in college life and invites groups of students to his home nearly every week. The kids seem to really enjoy it. Last weekend I found out one reason. The liquid refreshment flows freely, and I'm not just talking about Kiddush wine. On the one hand I'm glad my kid is doing something Jewish, but serving liquor to minors scares me. My child tells me to "chill," but I am thinking of reporting this to the authorities.

Should I?

A –  First, I would confront the rabbi directly. If the practice persists, then go to the police.

Serving alcohol to underage students is a criminal offense. More to the point, it’s dangerous, especially when those students then have to take an inebriated late night trek back to campus. Recently, attention has been drawn to alleged Chabad involvement in this practice, on Shabbat and especially on Purim. But it is not exclusive to Chabad. In an obsessive desire to attract young Jews to their programs by appearing “cool,” organizations resort to the allure of drinking. Even when the practice is legal and the targets are all over 21, it’s a cheap and self destructive path that subverts what might be an otherwise worthy goal.

True, Judaism and alcohol go way back together, especially when it comes to the production and consumption of wine. The Talmud exemplifies a sort of love-hate relationship, with dueling aphorisms like “Avoid wine, avoid sin” (Berakhot 29a) and “The Levites only sing when wine is poured” (Berahhot 35b). The same rabbis who state plainly that one cannot experience true joy on festivals without wine (Pesachim 109a) also state that nothing brings lamentation to the human race like wine (Brachot 40a). Add to this a widespread association of alcohol with spiritual highs, plus the connections to Jewish ritual, and one could see how rabbis might justify offering students a little sip from time to time. But there’s a big difference between a little syrupy Kiddush wine and offering shots. The commandment to sanctify the Sabbath can just as easily be fulfilled with grape juice.

Plus, Jewish law states clearly that Jewish law must comply with the law of the land. So tell your kid to let the rabbi know that he is disobeying Jewish law by serving alcohol to minors.

The facts tell us that binge drinking is up on college campuses. More than 25,000 lives have been saved in the U.S. thanks to the 21 Minimum Drinking Age.

There are better ways to attract Jewish youth to the beauties of our tradition than by lowering ourselves to the mentality of a Bud Light commercial. Given the dangers, it is time to blow the whistle on whetting the whistle of underage students.

Last Update:

07/07/2011 - 14:31

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With reference to “Shots on Shabbat” I want to commend the parent who was concerned that his/her underage, college student daughter was being offered wine, by an off-campus rabbi, well beyond the sacramental amounts. So many of us believe that “a little wine can’t hurt.” All adults, parents as well as religious leaders, need to be aware that underage drinking (the legal drinking age in New York State is 21) is not only illegal, it’s dangerous. In 2007, it cost New York State $3.5 billion due to work loss and medical care and other problems related to young people using alcohol. Underage drinkers account for 17 percent of New York’s alcohol market which makes underage drinking a serious problem. The same adults who would never consider offering a young person an illegal drug, think nothing of offering a 19 year old a glass or two or three of wine. Education is the key. Parents, religious leaders and our young people must be made aware of the dangers of underage use of alcohol.


Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is Chairman of the Assembly’s Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee and represents Brooklyn’s 45th Assembly District.

I take issue with the good Rabbi's thesis. First, I went through 10 years of college and graduate school and have considerable knowledge of how college students act. If a student wants to drink he does not have to go to a Shabbos dinner to do it. He either gets an older friend to buy it for him or he goes to someone's party where the alcohol flows freely, College kids do not learn to drink by having one or two L.Chaims at a Shabbos dinner. As a matter of fact, my experience shows that those who go to Shabbos dinners where alcohol is served are those who know how to handle alcohol better than those who have had no experience with alcohol before they get to college.

Second I think the Rabbi;s statement that serving alcohol to minors is a violation of Jewish law is simply wrong. Dina D' Malchuse Dina applies to certain situations, but it does not apply to making Kiddush on Shabbos.

I tend to agree with the student that the parents should" chill out". At the very least they should make it a point to attend one of the Shabbos dinners and see if it really is as bad as they are making it seem.

Dear Rabbi Hammerman,

Well said, and it is about time that a common covert practice is brought into the sunlight and to the attention of parents who send their youth to university campuses, often far from home and parental support.

Above all, we as Rabbis must be consistent in preaching and teaching the next generation that as citizens of a country or state or locality we are all obliged to obey the law, which includes the prohibition of serving alcohol to minors - for any reason.

I would share only two additional thoughts:

(1) Regarding Chabad, in the face of increasing challenges of alcoholism, I believe that the late Rebbe urged his Hassidim to practice more self-discipline and avoid too many "l'chayims." All the more so I would imagine if it is illegal to invite minors to imbibe.

(2) To celebrate Shabbat with maximal sensitivity and sensibilities, it also makes more sense to me that we should keep our senses fully aware and alert rather than blunt them with alcohol.

We should reach our collegians who are the height of their intellectual and spiritual searching by raising them up, by opening their minds and hearts to the best of our tradition rather than pander to the lowest common denominator of substance abuse.

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

I doubt college kids are first learning to drink at Chabad houses.
Colleges are obviously complicit in permitting underage drinking
(by ignoring it). Going after the rabbis isn't going to solve that problem.
To suggest the rabbi be arrested is absurd. First arrest the college

I'd rather my son be drinking at the rabbi's home on Friday night
than at his rugby house.

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