1. Maimonides, Nezirut 1:12 , sees the drunkenness state as being out of rational control and a default of one’s humanity. See also Erubin 65a.
2. Jews are morally bound to help others and not stand idly by when others are in need. Leviticus 19:16 and Sanhedrin 73a. The Talmudic precedent refers to saving a drowning person; therefore we are even required to undergo risk in order to perform effective intervention.
3. It would be proper to get professional help so that intervention is successful. Therefore, medical and social work settings must be sought.
As you might imagine, no specific text talks about this general situation. The traditional way of answering such a question, if it came from a specific individual in specific circumstances, would be to address the constellation of facts, as presented, with specific responsibilities. For instance:
If the drinking poses a health risk, the Biblical requirement to “guard, in the extreme, your self” has been understood to entail a positive commandment to take care of one’s health as well as a prohibition of needlessly endangering one’s health. And, since we Jews are responsible for each other, if we know that someone over whom we exert influence is violating a commandment, we must “certainly admonish your friend.” It might even rise to the level of immediacy where the prohibition of “standing idly by the blood of your brother” is triggered, so that one would be obligated to protect another’s life that is in immediate danger.
Drinking is only healthy in moderation (each of us is on a different scale regarding that definition). Being a drunkard (an addict) is frowned upon by Jewish tradition, certainly, and it would be a great chesed (act of kindness) to help someone overcome such a destructive addiction (destructive of self or even of others who might be victims of drunken rage or killed in drunken driving episodes, for instance), if not a necessity under Jewish law. The specifics depend on the circumstances, but we cannot avoid our responsibilities towards our fellow Jews, other human beings and even property that might be destroyed. We act on God’s behalf in doing the necessary work of helping to heal others who are overcome by their addictions.
Jewish tradition uses alcohol to sanctify our holy occasions; Kiddush for Shabbat and holidays as well as for baby namings and weddings. The Psalmist (Psalm 104:15) lists wine among those things that cheer the human heart. But alcohol can also be a powerful and dangerous substance. The sages in the Talmud taught that one who is drunk should not teach (B. Eruvin 64a) and that overconsumption can lead to violence (B. Sanhedrin 70a).
When alcoholism (or other substance abuse) affects one person in the family it poses a serious challenge to all family members. It is possible to act with love and respect to help when a member of one’s household is abusing alcohol.
First, it is important to remember that this is a disease, not a moral failing and not an act of aggression.Whenever a loved one is ill or in pain you would seek the help of MD’s or other relevant professionals. When one struggles with substance abuse, they are equally in need of help in confronting a condition that is disabling and painful. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, founder of Gateway Rehabilitation Hospital, says:
It must be understood that chemical dependency, whether it involves alcohol, narcotics, cocaine, or other addictive substances, is a malignant condition. Unless arrested, it is like a cancer: progressive, destructive, and lethal. It may claim as its victims not only the user, but the family members as well. Its consequences are far-reaching and devastating.
You are right to ask how one can offer help.
Second, it is important that you, as the family member seeking to offer help, seek advice from reliable sources such as those noted below and that you make sure that you and others in the home are safe. Rabbi Abraham Twerski notes:“Everywhere in Jewish ethics there is a great emphasis on mutual responsibility for one another's actions. No man is an island.”There are many resources available to individuals and family members when confronted with this disease, including JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Spouses/Significant Others www.jacsweb.org/) and the many 12-Step programs like AA. Al-Anon is specifically intended for family members and can offer valuable support and advice.
Finally, recognize that you cannot make another person get sober; they need to decide on their own to begin the hard work of recovery. At the same time family members do not help someone who is abusing substances when they enable or cover up their behavior. One possible motivation for a person to change comes when they see the results of their behavior.
Chemical dependence is a problem found in all parts of the Jewish community. Know that there are professionals and treatment centers that can offer expertise and support groups that can provide guidance. You are not alone.
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