Alcohol and the Jews: A Cultural Study of Drinking and Sobriety

Alcohol and the Jews: A Cultural Study of Drinking and Sobriety

Alcohol and the Jews: A Cultural Study of Drinking and Sobriety

Alcohol and the Jews: A Cultural Study of Drinking and Sobriety

Excerpt

The study of Jewish drinking patterns is best begun by describing the traditional religious rituals and ceremonies in which alcoholic beverages are used. At least two reasons dictate this review before reporting the results of field research. The first has to do with the fact that the vast majority of American Jews are of eastern European origin, having been in this country for only one or two generations. Most of the Jewish men interviewed in New Haven were of eastern European background, as were a majority of the Jewish student respondents in the College Drinking Survey. The countries, such as Poland and Russia, from which these Jews or their recent forebears emigrated were distinguished from the countries of the "emancipated" West (e.g., Germany) as strongholds of Jewish traditionalism and religious orthodoxy. The drinking patterns embodied in the Orthodox religious culture therefore provide an appropriate base line against which to view variations in patterns among American Jews in different degrees and phases of acculturation. The second reason is that the extensive integration of drinking in the rituals of Orthodox Judaism has been seen as the source of normative attitudes thwarting the development of drinking pathologies among Jews (6, 7). Note was taken of these ideas in Chapter 1; to develop their nuances and work out and examine their implications critically is the burden of much of the discussion in the present and later chapters. Before this can be done, content must be given to the traditional drinking patterns themselves, with some reference to the broader religious and cultural context of which they are a part.

The most fruitful way of describing and suggesting the behavioral effects of traditional Jewish drinking patterns is to consider the ways in which culturally defined drinking situations impinge on the Orthodox Jew in the course of life, from the time of birth until death. A threefold classification of drinking occasions into (a) rites de passage, (b) weekly Sabbath observances, and (c) annual holy days and festivals will aid the organization of the materials, although departure from this scheme will sometimes be necessary in following the course of the life cycle. Since the labor of piecing together the occasions for drinking and the norms, ideas and sentiments associated with drinking among recent generations of Ortho-

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