Jewish Journal

Why Jews, in theory, don’t drink

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 27, 2008 | 7:55 pm

Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;

let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Surprisingly, those lines can be found in the 31st Proverb. Surprising because we all know the misery isn’t gone. Surprising, too, because drunkenness iss not a virtue to the Christian or the Muslim or the Jew.

Of course, sinners sin.

There is an old Yiddish saying—“a shicker is a goy”—that condemns the presumed gentile propensity to drink. The implicit belief among many Jews was that drunkards were uneducated louses, too busy imbibing for self improvement and social advancement. (This is one reason it’s so hard for Jewish addicts to seek help.) But it turns out there may be another reason Yids pass on the fermented punch, outside, let’s not forget, Purim:

Slivovitz, the Yid’s liquor

There is a biochemical basis for Jewish abstinence. Many Jews—fifty per cent, in one estimate—carry a variant gene for alcohol dehydrogenase. Therefore, they, like the East Asians, have a low tolerance for alcohol.

That appears in an interesting article about the history of hangovers from this week’s New Yorker. What the “biochemical basis” means is that Jews don’t hold their liquor well. They quickly flush and, if the recently developed Hebrew word for “hungover”—hamarmoret—is any indication, have some nasty intestinal disruptions.

Makes me wonder: Why would a wedding in Cana need 120 to 180 gallons of miracle wine?

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