Forever DRUNK by Liel Leibovitz

Kicking-off LABA’s 10th anniversary with our celebration, DRUNK: an evening filled with feasting, sipping and studying. Throughout the night, this year’s LABA fellows will be giving us an intoxicating  taste of their projects, and LABA’s lead teacher Liel Leibovitz and LABA’s resident scholar Ruby Namdar will be enticing the guests into the mysterious eternal fermentation of ancient Jewish texts. For those looking for a first taste right now, here’s Liel Leibovitz exhorting us to drink as much as wine gladdens the heart.

When the wise man drinks wine, he drinks only enough to accompany the food in his innards. Anyone who becomes drunk is a sinner, is disgraced, and loses his wisdom. And if he becomes inebriated before the unlearned, he has desecrated the Divine Name. It is forbidden to drink in the afternoon, even a small amount, except as part of a meal, as drink which accompanies a meal does not intoxicate. Thus, scholars are only careful to refrain from wine after the meal.

These words of warning come to us courtesy of Maimonides, the 12th century giant of Jewish law and philosophy. As much as I revere the wise rabbi, permit me to raise a toast in defiance: We—Jews, scholars, artists—are the people who drink.

It says so right in the Talmud, which teaches us, in Tractate Pesachim, that “there is no joy but that which is accompanied by wine”:  ‫אֵין שִׂמְחָה אֶלָּא בַיַּיִן.

Psalm 104 adds that “wine gladdens the heart.”

On Passover, we’re commanded four cups of it; on Purim, many more.

What are we to make of these mixed messages? Should we heed the Rambam and refrain, or imbibe joyfully?

The answer is yes to both. Drink, like love, like all other things powerful and pleasurable and terribly intense, must only be engaged in with the purest of intentions. Abuse it, and it will destroy you. Reject it, and your life will be the poorer for it. But enjoy it with your mind and your heart both open, and you will know a joy like no other. So tonight we drink, and the rest is commentary.