Worry not, Dry January needn’t apply for Jews

Abstaining would ruin Shabbat. And would the whisky bores talk about?

January 11, 2024 13:09

Dry January? Really?

Who on earth came up with the idea of going booze-free for a whole month – a whole month?

Clearly it’s not a Jewish invention. It can’t be. For even by my lame reckoning, there are four days of Shabbat in January. Abstaining from alcohol for an entire month would mean having to suffer four days of rest without indulging in so much as a whiff of the Palwin No 10.

Of course, there are Jews who take an abstemious approach to the drink’s cabinet all year round. For them, there is never any need — even on Shabbat — to touch alcohol (they badge a bit of grape juice at kiddush as a tokenistic nod to weekend hedonism). But such Jews appear to be in the minority. Most of the people I know — time-poor, weary, middle-aged — live for the booze-flushed hours of our sabbath. Safe in the knowledge they can indulge in a tipple or two since the most that will be demanded of them is staying awake until desert on Friday night.

For me, a restorative vodka alongside a piping hot bowl of golden chicken soup is the panacea for all the stresses of the preceding six days.

In fact, it’s precisely because drink doesn’t work for me during the week — no time to weather the morning-after headache — that Shabbat presents a get-out-of-jail card. Plus, like all good things, it’s worth the wait.

Sure, observing Shabbat might, for some, seem like a day of onerous ritualistic restriction. Certainly, many of my non-Jewish colleagues balk at the idea of going without gadgets for 25 hours (“And you don`t even look at WhatsApp??”)

But I’d always trade Shabbat’s digital detox for the promise of a cup that runneth over (well, it is in Psalm 23:5). Be it the therapeutic G&T that follows the flare of the match and the lighting of the candles as Shabbat begins. Or a few cheeky liqueurs at the end of the evening when everyone is as pickled as a jar of Mrs Elswood.

Indeed I’d wager that Shabbat is impossible to fully enjoy without alcohol. On Friday night, of course, we turn our heads from awful news and instead drunkenly gossip over roast chicken.

But what also of all those Shabbat morning kiddushim? Sure, clouds of herring breath or the sight of stubby fingers foraging in communal bowls of peanuts are an easy pleasure to resist. But not a tot of whisky or glass of wine as we stumble out of the service, ready to schmooze and booze among the scrum for kichels and conversation? Especially when it’s a fancy simchah and the crowd-pleasing host and hostess replace basic entry-level alcohol with fancy selections of flavoured spirits and more.

Jews, of course, are not traditionally known for their excessive drinking. In fact, previous research actually came up with a genetic reason why Jewish people typically have fewer alcohol problems than non-Jews.

A study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that that a single gene mutation carried by more than a fifth of all Jews seems to protect them against alcoholism The mutation, called ADH2*2, is a variation of a gene that helps control how alcohol is broken down in the bloodstream. It seems that people with the gene mutation were far less likely to have suffered alcohol dependence, were likely to consume less alcohol, or to suffer worse side effects if they did.

The research, of course, may not have extended to the cohorts of Jewish men who drone for Great Britain about their knowledge of Scotch, Bourbon and more. Offer them a drink over the Shabbat table and these whisky bores will bat back your pleasant enquiry with questions about whether you have anything peaty in stock. Such aficionados certainly know how to put it away — as much in the name of prestige as enjoyment.

But it’s rare to see Jews falling out of pubs at closing time. In fact, I remember non-Jewish friends at my wedding observing how the free bar wasn’t exactly over-patronised. Yet there wasn’t a scrap of food left in the hall.

As we make our way through January, experts will continue to lecture on the value of a month-long abstinence from even modest amounts of alcohol. Not only for general health but as an antidote to the Bacchanalian temptation of the festive season.

To which I say, if it works for you then, here’s to your good health. May you endure, sorry, enjoy, a month of self-regulating sobriety.

You’ll never, however, tempt me to join you. Dry January, for all its noble intentions, will never drag this Jew away from her Shabbat fix.


January 11, 2024 13:09

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