Is alcoholism on the rise in the Orthodox community?

By Miriam Shaviv
August 4, 2008

Newsweek is running a piece on the supposed rise of alcoholism among American Jews, particularly Jewish ones.

The assertion is unsupported by any real figures - numbers about "Israelis younger than 33" do nothing to shed light on trends in the Orthodox community in the diaspora - but anecdotally, I can believe there probably has been such a rise (no word on whether there is a similar trend in the UK).

In addition, while the article goes some way to explaining why alcohol addiction among Jews has traditionally been low, it never really even attempts to explain why that might be changing now.

Doing a little research on the web, I was fascinated to come across this piece from Time magazine in 1958, about a Yale study asking why there is so little alcoholism in the Jewish community. It includes the following strange theory, which I have never heard before:

...A more convincing theory, [Yale Sociology Professor Charles R.] Snyder believes, is the Jewish emphasis on food, "so that 'compulsive' eating is more likely to be selected as a means of alleviating psychic tensions [than] addictive drinking." He cites one psychological study showing that Jewish mothers' anxiety about their children's eating often causes the Jewish child to remain an infant, "so far as taking food is concerned, much later than other children.

Could the much lamented death of the Jewish mother -- and the diet culture -- be responsible for our descent into alcoholism???



Tue, 08/05/2008 - 13:19

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Lisa Miller of Newsweek is right in saying that the Jewish community has traditionally not been inflicted with a major alcohol problem. From what I know in this country alcoholism is not a major issue in either the Orthodox or non-Orthodox communities. But it could be rising. Orthodox Jews don't tend to spend long hours in the pub so their means of getting 'trapped' into drinking habits is from synagogue or yeshivah events, where alcohol is freely available and handed out readily for Shabbat and religious 'celebrations'. The danger is that this cheap way of immersing with ones' peers develops into an undetected and socially acceptable drinking habit; one which is all the more hidden as it is led by older members who are secure in their intake. Young Orthodox men often face very high behavioural expectations set by their family and community, so drinking in a supposed secure environment is a danger, but it is far less a problem that the intake of drugs which is -I believe - far more widespread in the Orthodox/Yeshivah world than the drink culture.

Helen Feld

Wed, 08/06/2008 - 23:02

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When we lived in Carmel College, one saw a clear difference between Jewish and non-Jewish social functions. At non-Jewish staff parties, by the end all the alcohol had gone, but food was left; at Jewish functions food disappeared and alcohol in large amounts was left over! This year a Kosher family pub opened in Hendon. The food moves constantly, the alcohol is more like a decorative feature. I don't see any epidemic of Orthodox or non-Orthodox alcoholism.


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