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Mar 1 2012

Why I Won’t Get Wasted on Purim

By at 9:39 am

Getting drunk on purimPurim is just around the corner, so I’m already wondering where I put our blue wigs after last year’s celebration. Yes, I said blue wigs. They have been our family’s signature Purim accessory since well before our girls were born, back when Josh and I would put on some of my old bridesmaid dresses, adorn ourselves with makeup and bling, and wander around our synagogue’s Purim celebration saying, “I’m Estha!” and “No, I’m Estha, you bitch!” in our best Brooklyn accents. We weren’t drunk, but we might as well have been.

Ah yes, the famous mitzvah of Purim. Ask any pre-teen or teenager about this holiday, and they might briefly mention something about costumes before immediately jumping excitedly to the part where you’re supposed to get so drunk you can’t tell the difference between Haman (the bad guy) and Mordechai (the good guy). Given that one of them was basically an aspiring Hitler and the other one was a hero who helped Esther save the Jewish people, that’s pretty damn wasted, if you ask me.

To be honest, I’m struggling with this mitzvah. I understand that we’re honoring the stories of the Megillah, which basically involve jumping from one booze fest to another, but is that level of intoxication really necessary? Sure, a little wine can be nice, but we Jews don’t usually need to down an entire bottle of Schnapps to appreciate the fact that we’re still around—a bagel with a little schmear and some lox usually does the trick for me. It turns out I’m not alone; the Rabbis struggled with this mitzvah as well. In typical Rabbinic style, they’ve come up with all sorts of qualifications and complicated interpretations to get around the idea that we all need to end up passed out in our own vomit on the sanctuary floor. They agreed that this mitzvah doesn’t apply to recovering alcoholics, which is pretty straightforward. But from there, their ideas include something about gematria and just getting tipsy enough that you can’t do complicated math in your head (which works for me, I’m already there without the wine) and the notion that you shouldn’t get so drunk that you can’t remember to complete all of the other mitzvot. (That one might be more relevant to me if I was a halachic Jew, but I’m not.)

Maimonides (gotta love that guy) got right to the point when he said that we should have just enough to drink so that we fall asleep. Welcome to every Friday night in our house, when the combination of a busy week and a little Manischewitz leaves me struggling to keep my eyes open. Now, having just enough wine to nod off on the couch when the girls are already in bed may work, but beyond that, this mitzvah just doesn’t work for me.

Need I remind you (or perhaps more importantly, the Rabbis) that I’m a mother (and that my husband is a father)? Let’s forget about the minor details like driving home from shul drunk, and assume I’m no longer nursing (which I’m not), and focus on the other challenges that would arise if Josh and I were to drink ourselves to oblivion. If I can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, how well do you think I would be able to properly diaper a squirming toddler in such an intoxicated state (me, not the baby)? Assuming I were somehow able to snap up those tiny little crotch snaps on the onesie and lift my preschooler into her crib without falling on my face, what if something were to happen in the middle of the night? Perhaps I’m being an overly anxious Jewish mother, but the reality is that while midnight trips to the ER are rare for us (thank God), they’re not unheard of.

And even if we were to make it through the night without any major issues, the thought of parenting two kids under 4 while nursing a raging hangover sounds about as much fun as the time our family got the stomach flu. For eight days.

Of course, there is another option—Josh and I could take turns hitting the sauce on Purim. (This approach works well for us when we both have terrible colds; we alternate who gets to take NyQuil each night.) But being the only sober one can be kind of a bummer, especially when you know you’re going to be the one chasing the little ankle-biters the next day while your partner pops Advil and moans softly to himself on the couch.

The reality is that I’m not much of a drinker, so not getting wasted on Purim isn’t a big problem for me. But Judaism is usually such a practical religion—we should work hard, but take a day of rest. We should teach our children to swim, and shouldn’t talk behind each other’s backs. For the most part, the rituals and discipline of Judaism make sense and make our lives better, even if we end up in a jam from time to time while trying to explain to our non-Jewish friends why we can’t eat milk and chicken together. But in this particular case, the mitzvah just isn’t an option for us. So, once again this year, we’ll put on our wigs and shake our groggers, and we might even have a little wine, but I’ll go to sleep knowing that Haman is the bad guy, Mordechai’s the good guy, and the diaper tabs go in the back.

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