Friday, June 24, 2011

Shots on Shabbat: Hammerman on Ethics

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 not 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.


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