Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 19 March 2016 / 9 Adar II 5776

Praying While Intoxicated?

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Every year when Adar approaches we anxiously await the Purim celebration. Unlike the rest of the Jewish calendar, on this special holiday there is a unusual halacha requiring one to drink wine (Rashi on Megillah 7b) until he does not know the difference between “Arur Haman u’baruch Mordechai” — “Cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2)

Many Rabbis follow a conservative approach to this ruling, advising to drink (a little) more than one is accustomed to, and then to take a nap. Since while sleeping one is not in control of the mind, it is considered as though one reaches the point of not knowing the difference between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. (Rambam Laws of Megillah 2:16; Rema and Mishna Berura Orach Chaim 695:2; Yalkut Yosef, Laws of the Purim Meal 14)

Others take a more literal approach to this law. As a result, many have the custom to become quite intoxicated on Purim (Shulchan Aruch, Kaf Ha’Chaim in the name of Eliya Rabbah). However, the Chayei Adam (155:30) advises that one should refrain from becoming intoxicated if it prevents him from performing mitzvot, such as making blessings and birkat ha’mazon properly, or if he will not be able to pray; or if he will act improperly. Whichever approach one chooses, the question whether one can pray while intoxicated is likely to arise, since even according to the first opinion one drinks more than usual.

According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 99:1) ideally one should not pray if he drank enough alcohol so that he is affected by it. Instead, he should wait until the effects have worn off. If, however, he will miss out on praying by waiting, he can pray as long as he is not intoxicated to the point that he cannot speak before a king or someone of similar stature without stuttering or slurring his speech (Rashal; Rema; Taz; Mishna Berura). Rabbi David Yosef explains that Rabbi Yosef Karo also agrees to this ruling. (Halacha Berura sif katan 3)

One who cannot speak before a king is not permitted to pray even if he will miss out on prayer. However, he can make it up at the next prayer, since he is considered as one that accidently missed prayer. If one prays in such an intoxicated state, his prayer is considered an abomination and he needs to pray again when he sobers up. (Tur; Shulchan Aruch)

Some explain based on the Rema (halacha 3 and in the Darchei Moshe) that if one is able to pray from a Siddur without “messing up”, he is considered as one who is able to speak before a king even if he is (a little) intoxicated (See Piskei Teshuva). However, the Mishna Berura is stringent regarding this point, explaining that it is not proper. (Pri Megadim)

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