Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Can You Trust a Guy Who Doesn’t Drink?


The Hebrew Bible includes both praise for and warnings about alcohol. Even a Nazirite has to bring a sacrifice at the end of his vow period (which includes a prohibition against wine) to atone for having given up a legitimate worldly pleasure. In Jewish observance, you really can’t be fully part of the program if you abstain. Maimonides includes drinking wine as a required feature of festival observance, for men, not only on Passover with its required four cups. Chabad Chasidic custom leans toward vodka, as do I.
I thought of this in light of yesterday’s beer summit at the White House. As I was driving home from work, a caller to the Michael Savage show (which I find myself increasingly enjoying, to my surprise) noted that at the Obama-sponsored meeting between Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, only Crowley appeared to be drinking his beer. Obama and Gates each sipped delicately or not at all from a light beer. Biden had a low-alcohol brew, and appeared to disdain even that. At least this is how things went before the press was escorted away.


I obviously understand if someone, like President Bush, had a drinking problem and overcame it by giving up the stuff entirely. But a man who just never enjoyed it at all? To me, frankly, that raises questions. Just questions, that’s all. Especially if he goes around with a bit of a sour lemon look on his face. Psychologists including William James and Carl Jung saw a link between alcohol and spirituality. Booze can be a cheap substitute. It can also be an enhancer. It takes the edge off a world that is objectively harsh. If you don’t see that the world is that way, or if it doesn’t affect you, well I find that curious.
To a small extent, this may even apply to women. When I was single and took a girl out for dinner, I always knew it wasn’t going anywhere if she ordered a water to drink. Or am I unfairly prejudiced?
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posted July 31, 2009 at 7:55 am

You say beer can be an enhancer. Some people don’t view it that way. Some people view it as diminishing their hold on objective reality. I seem to recall a study that intensive meditation or prayer seemed to have a similar effect of enhancing one’s view of reality. If you can connect sloer to God or Truth or Ultimate Reality without having to use external catalysts, then why not use that?

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posted July 31, 2009 at 7:57 am

And besides, do you really think it would be a good idea to have Biden’s tongue looser than it usually is?

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Gil Student

posted July 31, 2009 at 8:30 am

Everyone has different tastes. I personally find beer to taste like dirt and prefer the occasional shot of liquor.

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Anton C.

posted July 31, 2009 at 8:52 am

Here is a good post. Thoughtful, informative, brief and to the point. Well done.

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posted July 31, 2009 at 10:05 am

Can You Trust a Guy Who Doesn’t Drink?
In general, I’d say no! 😉
In fairness to Biden though, he is a teetotaler because his father was a very bad alcoholic who was often out of work, and there was a pattern of alcoholism on both sides of his family. The impressions he got of drinking were very negative, and I believe he once said that he feared he might be genetically predisposed to alcoholism himself, so that he never drank. I would say that in situations like this one is completely justified in abstinence.

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posted July 31, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I trust a teetotaller more than someone who drinks Bud Light!
Seriously though, I had a good Baptist mother who never had a drop of alcohol in her life, yet is one of the most thoughtful and godly people I know. So I can’t say that I agree when it comes to women.
Harvey Mansfield wrote something interesting in his book Manliness though. He said that men need small vices (drinks, cigars, etc) in order to learn to control their vice. Perhaps a man who can’t enjoy a drink can’t trust himself?

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Katie Angel

posted July 31, 2009 at 4:35 pm

My father gave up drinking over 25 years ago – in support of a chemically dependent relative who was trying to get straight – and has never looked back. I trust him more than just about anyone else in the world – whether someone drinks or not has no bearing on their trustworthiness, their spirituality or anything else.
There are plenty of serious things to take away from yesterday’s event without looking for useless trivia and taking pot shots at people you don’t like.

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posted July 31, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Here I am, a pagan and libertine agreeing with David on something! I tend not to trust people who are hardline anti-drinkers without good reason (ie addictions). I have found these people are invariable control freaks, and that very soon they try to extert control over me.

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posted July 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I don’t drink for one reason: I don’t like the taste of alcohol. My father drank in college, then cut down afterwards. I think he’s had about 5 beers in my presence my entire life, and I’m 28. I’m not hardline about it. I’ve bought alcohol for others and have no problem being around people while they drink. It just doesn’t appeal to me.

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Twenty Twenty

posted July 31, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Looking at the whole episode…
To me it’s about being real.
Obama, he seems not to have a clue about “real”, including his real self.
The man hollering “racist”, again just lost in his mind.
The cop, probably the most real man in the case. His LIFE was on the line, he was responding to DATA…
Obama, and the man hollering “racist”, both to me seem to be much more lost than real.
Bringing it back to “the beer”. The beer is real. How much are they enjoying it?
Mr. Twenty Twenty
That guy who changed his name to the number of perfect vision because you living your vision matters.

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Daniel Weiner

posted July 31, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Find myself surprisingly in agreement with you on this (I guess similar to your surprise at liking Michael Weiner’s bilious screed passing as a talk show)…commented on it from another perspective on my blog, also on beliefnet community journal under “radbam”…

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posted August 1, 2009 at 9:02 am

When I turned 21, I tried drinking a few times. Just didn’t really care for it. Of course, when I go out, I usually drive myself home, so drinking would be irresponsible.
No, I don’t think drinking is a “sin”. And I’m not out to spoil anyone’s good time. I just don’t like the stuff.

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posted August 1, 2009 at 10:16 am

I think that drinking, in moderation, is ok for all adults except for those who don’t drink for medical reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with giving children a little bit of wine, for religious celebrations.
Some religions forbid drinking.

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posted August 1, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I am a Christian minister who frequently reads this blog.
The Bible in general teaches moderation, rather than a abstention when it comes to the use of alcohol.
The first public miracle that Rabbi Jesus did was to turn water into wine. He was also accused of being a wine dinker (Luke 7:34).
I just can’t handle fundamentalists who sees everything in black or white!

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Diane Snyder

posted August 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm

I’m with you 100% in AZ.

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Your Name

posted August 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm

What a stupid and unresearched statement. I had the benefit of both a Catholic and Jewish upbringing. Alcoholism is an illness not a weakness…..and it has no racial barriers. I have been sober with the help of AA for more than 26 years. People since the beginning of mankind had to drink wine or beer because water was unfit to drink! As for the man who thought water-drinking women would be a no-no, maybe women only think him interesting when they are drunk, should change his style!

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posted August 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm

You said, “When I was single and took a girl out for dinner, I always knew it wasn’t going anywhere if she ordered a water to drink. Or am I unfairly prejudiced?”
Alcoholism has been around since Noah, who drank himself into a stupor, and his sons enabled him by literally covering up the problem. I wonder what Mrs. Noah thought about it. Doesn’t matter because she wasn’t even considered important enough to have a name.
I think you answered your own question about prejudice. Did you marry your wife because she tossed back a few? Do you expect her to belt them down now? Maybe she’d rather, if she has to cope with your opinions, as well as five kids.

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Mr. X

posted August 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Obama/Biden, they are on duty, whatever you think of there service is not important, they are on duty. Biden has foot and mouth disease and he cannot be loosening his tounge with alcohol. And Obama is also not gifted in saying just the right things eitehr. They do not have to put themselves at a disadvantage. And Gates might ruin his law suit if he imbibes too strongly and makes admisions against his interest. Crowley, he might be more accustomed to beer, might have less to hide, and since he walked into this unfriendly trap, more naive.

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Shikker iz a Goy

posted August 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Mr. Klinghoffer can do a public service by writing about the many Jewish alcoholics and addicts in recovery.

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posted August 1, 2009 at 8:17 pm

The cop, probably the most real man in the case. His LIFE was on the line, he was responding to DATA…

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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 1, 2009 at 9:17 pm

The officer’s life was *not* on the line.
Crowley’s magic cop psychic powers told him that the two men reported breaking into the house were not burglars, but a Harvard professor and a limo driver, and so when he got there he already knew what the score was and that there was no possibility of any danger.
And when it became apparent that the professor was indeed in his own home after he provided identification to support that fact, that should have been the end of the issue.
Except that Gates chose to berate a cop, loudly and in public view, accusing him of being racist merely for asking Gates to show his ID. Gates chose not to let it be “the end of the issue”.

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posted August 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm

These days a lot of people take medication that is incompatible with alcohol–antihistamines or antidepressants or whatever. My husband and I are both under MD orders not to drink. So we have several bottles of liquor, some of them unopened, and I can’t even offer them on Freecycle, because everything there has to be “suitable for all ages.” Anyway, don’t go jumping to conclusions.

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posted August 2, 2009 at 1:39 am

Biden has alcoholics in his Irish family (his brother and an uncle and several more) so he never really drank at all. Obama has had a beer at other times (basketball game) so no doubt he enjoys it now and then. Could have been the tense situation that made them not enjoy their beverages.
I am diabetic and can’t drink much (lowers your blood sugar and you can pass out).

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YF Redux

posted August 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

Wow, Dave, that’s pretty ignorant. You don’t trust somebody ’cause they don’t drink alcohol? As previous posters pointed out there are dozens of good reasons not to drink. Health reasons, history of addiction, drunk driving laws, lowered inhibitions, etc etc. And yet you think there’s something suspicious about it? So you only associate with people who drink alcohol? Wow, sounds like all the alcoholics I’ve ever known. They can’t stand to be sober and misery loves company.

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posted August 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Wow. I the world that I live in, nobody ever got hurt by staying sober. But kids get beat up, innocent people get killed on the highway, and paychecks go down the drain when there is too much drinking going on. Real men don’t have to drink. I recently got an email fowarded to me that shows a photo of President Obama coming down the steps, and behind him, the police officer is helping the Professor down the steps. The author of the email said that this was “proof” that the President does not care about anyone but himself. For me, it showed that the President had the sense to stay out of the way so those two men could interact with each other, not him. Your column seems to me like the same sort of criticism – I wonder, if the situation had been different, would you be criticizing him for swigging down a big old beer while the free world hangs on his shoulders? I will admit that I often disagree with you, but this time, you really left me shaking my head.

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posted August 2, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I avoid alcohol because it doesn’t make me feel good at all. I don’t particularly enjoy the taste, and my body seems to bypass any good effects other people talk about: I wind up sick, sad, or sleepy every time, unless I drink such a small amount it has less of an effect on me than Coca-Cola. And I think Coke tastes better, so why bother with alcohol? Just call me when you need a Designated Driver!

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posted August 3, 2009 at 11:55 am

I saw the title of your post and was immediately intrigued because it’s something my wife and I say jokingly all the time. While there are lots of good reasons not to drink I think it’s also important to remember that in moderation, it can be a wonderful addition to your life. It was Ben Franklin who said, “Beer is proof that G-d loves us and wants us to be happy.” I couldn’t agree more.

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posted August 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Even though Judaism encourages drinking wine, abstaining is a perfectly legitimate choice for Jews. Grape juice is considered a kind of wine. Wine is preferred for Purim and Pesach, but even then, if alcohol is harmful to someone, it is forbidden. (And one can nap instead of drink on Purim.)
There are many people who have negative reactions to alcohol; it makes them feel tired or sick or anxious, or even a small amount makes them sick or hungover the next day (often making davening impossible), or makes them prone to staring lewdly at women. So if anyone notices they have predictably negative effects from alcohol, it is very good to abstain.
While small amounts of alcohol can be spiritually valuable, it can also be spiritual valuable to abstain, since being dependent on or negatively influenced by an intoxicating substance is surely bad for spirituality overall. Some Breslover rabbis, like R’ Shalom Arush, only drink alcohol twice a year, and then devote many minutes of prayer beforehand to ensure it is done in complete holiness and has no negative effects. This is in accordance with the views of Rebbe Nachman and several other Chassidic tzaddikim, who recommended drinking alcohol only when it was required halachically (there are a few posts on asimplejew on this general topic). Reb Natan’s Likutei Tefilot includes prayers to keep one from ever becoming intoxicated, and to ensure one only drinks “a very small amount, enough to expand my mind in holiness.” (Likutei Tefilot 41).

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posted August 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Reb David, I really am disappointed. Given your personal convictions, I could at least begin to understand your rather bizarre stance against male homosexuality. Likewise, given the centrality of G-d in your worldview, I can even understand how your adherence to creation mythology gives your spiritual comfort and how you would like to share this perspective.
This column, however, is irresponsible.
I sincerely hope that you do not present yourself as a member of a helping profession.

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David Klinghoffer

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Stuthehistoryguy, re your last sentence, unless you consider journalism a “helping profession,” and I would guess few people do, you needn’t worry.

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posted August 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

Thank you, sir. I didn’t know what your career was beyond this blog and your work with Creationism/Intelligent Design.

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