Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Iyyar
Halachic Rulings after Drinking
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In the Torah portion of Shemini we find the law that a Kohen may not serve in the Mishkan or Beit HaMikdash after drinking wine, as the Torah says (Levit. 10:9), “Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Ohel Moed… This is a law for all time throughout the ages.”
The Torah goes on to say that this rule also applies to rendering Halachic rulings, as the verse says (ibid 11), “And to instruct the Children of Israel regarding all the statutes which the L-rd has spoken to them through Moses.” Rashi explains this verse (based on Torah Kohanim), “From here we learn that an intoxicated person is prohibited to render halachic decisions.”
No Halacha Class on Yom Tov
As such the Talmud (Keritut 13b) relates that Rav, an early Babylonian Amora, did not teach halacha on Yom Tov days after his meal since he would drink wine during his se’udah.
In the Words of the Rambam
Based on this verse, the Rambam writes (Bi’at HaMikdash 1:4), “Just as a kohen is forbidden to enter the Temple while intoxicated, so too, it is forbidden for any person, whether a kohen or non-kohen, to render a halachic ruling when he is intoxicated. Even if he [merely] ate dates or drank milk and his mind became somewhat confused [possibly from the sugar rush], he should not issue a ruling, as the Torah says, ‘And to give instruction to the Children of Israel.’ If, however, he may five a ruling concerning a matter that is explicitly stated in the Torah to the extent that it is known even by the Sadducees. For example, if he ruled that a crawling animal (sheretz) is impure and a frog is pure (i.e., one who touches a dead frog does not become tamei), or that blood is forbidden (to drink), or the like.”
Although the punishment of a kohen who serves in the Beit HaMikdash when inebriated is death by the hands of Heaven, there is no punishment (in this world) for one who renders a Halachic ruling while inebriated (Rashi ibid).
Only for Rulings
The Talmud (Keritut 13b) writes that one may not render halachic rulings when intoxicated but one may teach Torah (though not halacha) in such a state. In the (paraphrased) words of the Talmud, “One might have thought that it is prohibited to teach even Mishna after drinking wine. Therefore, the verse states: ‘And that you may instruct,’ indicating that the prohibition is limited to material that provides practical halachic instruction [whereas one does not derive practical rulings from the Mishna].”
As such the Rambam (ibid) writes, “It is permitted for a person who is intoxicated to teach Torah, even Torah law and the interpretation of verses, provided he does not deliver a ruling. If he was a sage who delivers rulings on a regular basis, he should not teach, for his teaching constitutes the delivery of a ruling.” This last ruling of the Rambam is based on the fact quoted above that Rav did not give his lesson after drinking wine.
No Wasted Words
The commentaries point out (Orchot Chaim, quoted in the Metivta Shas, Aliba Dhilcheta) that Rav never wasted his words (see Rambam, De’ot 2:4). As such his students would learn halachot from every move he made and every expression he used. For example, the Talmud in Chullin 111b derives a halachic opinion from a passing comment that Rav made about the taste of his food. This is why he did not give a class after drinking wine since his every word would be used as a source of halacha.
Learning for Halacha
The Chatam Sofer wrote that the optimal way to study Torah is to study every topic in depth until one knows what the halacha is in any given case relating to that topic. If one later gets a halachic question on that topic, one can (and should) answer without hesitation as the matter is already clarified in his mind.
One who studies in this manner should not even study after drinking wine or other alcohol as this can lead to him later giving an incorrect ruling (VeDerashta VeChakarta quoted in the Aliba DeHilcheta of the Metivta Shas) .
Rashi (on Keritut ibid), however, is of the opinion that even a sage who delivers rulings on a regular basis may teach a class as long as he does not answer questions that are posed for practical application. The reason Rav did not give the class after drinking wine (according to Rashi D. H. Lo Sagi) is that his classes were always interrupted by people asking practical halachic questions.
The Taz (Y.D. 242:3) gives the following examples of laws that seem simple but that one may not rule on after drinking.
- The fact that non-kosher food is nullified 1 in 60.
- The fact that a bad-tasting non-kosher flavor does not render a food non-kosher.
How Much Wine? And How Much Time?
The Rambam writes (quoted in Shach Y.D. 242:19) that if one drank a revi’it (approximately 3 ozs. of wine), he may not rule halacha unless he takes a brief nap or walks for a mil (approximately a kilometer). One who is not walking should wait the amount of time it takes to walk three mil. (See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 99:3 regarding riding a wagon. It would seem that if one is sitting all agree that the time span of 3 mil is necessary.) [There are various opinions as to how long it takes to walk a mil. Some say 18 minutes, some say 22.5 minutes and some say 24 minutes.]
More Wine – More Time
One who drank a larger amount of wine than a revi’it must wait (or sleep) until he feels that the effects of the wine have completely dissipated.
If one drinks other alcoholic beverages, there is no specific amount of time given as to how long he should wait before giving halachic rulings. As such, it would seem that one should follow the protocol above and wait until one feels that the effects of the alcohol are gone.
The Shach (ibid) writes that if one drank a large amount of wine, one should not render halachic rulings until the next day. This is based on the fact that Rav would wait until the day after Yom Tov to give halachic rulings (see above). Although this is advisable, if one is sure that the effects of the wine have dissipated, he may give rulings even on the same day.
The Bach writes (quoted by the Shach ibid and based on the Jerusalem Talmud) that if one is upset about something, he should not render a halachic ruling at that time (as his thinking may be clouded). This is alluded to in the verse that says, “When in pain, don’t teach.” (See hagahot vehe’arot on the Friedman Edition of the Shulchan Aruch that this verse is not found in the Tanach and that most likely it comes from the book of Ben Sira.)
In addition, there are other factors that may distract a person and make it difficult for him to concentrate. When one of these factors is present, it is best not to render Halachic rulings, but it is not actually forbidden to do so (Bach based on Eiruvin 64a). Such factors might include:
- On the day that one got angry
- On the day one arrived from traveling by foot
- If there is a distracting smell such as fermenting beer.
Rendering Monetary Rulings
Some say that one may render Halachic rulings regarding monetary matters (i.e., as a dayan in a beit din) even when inebriated (see Choshen Mishpat 7:5).
Since the halachot of monetary matters are not easy, the opinion that one may render such rulings when inebriated is difficult to understand.
The Tumin (quoted in Yalkut Biurim on the Metivta Shas) writes that since a beit dinmust have three judges, if the other two (sober) judges realize that the third is too drunk to rule, they will tell him so and not take his opinion into account.
Another answer is given by the Pit’chei Mishpat (quoted in ibid). Regarding monetary matters, the litigants may accept judges who are not qualified to be their judge since it’s “only” money that is at stake. As such, if the judges accept a judge despite his being tipsy, they have the right to do so and we accept the decision of that judge.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!