Alcoholism experts constantly claim that traditionally low-alcoholism groups — such as the Jews — are actually secret alcoholics. A new museum exhibit sponsored by Seagram describes eons of Jewish and middle eastern drinking. Watch out, Jews, they're trying to lull you into becoming even more alcoholic!

Further Reading

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, September 14, 2000

Watch out Jews — the booze is going to get you!

Stanton Peele


Traditionally, Jews have remarkably low levels of alcoholism. Indeed, one founder of the modern disease movement — Mark Keller (a long-time colleague of Jellinek's) — wrote an article analyzing this lack of susceptibility to alcoholism that for the most part characterizes Jews. Tracing Jewish moderate drinking back to biblical times, Keller found that even the bible described the Jews as level-headed imbibers compared with the other middle eastern tribes with whom they dealt.

Sociologists Barry Glassner and Bruce Berg found that Jews avoid alcohol problems by relying on several cognitive techniques both associated with their Jewish identity and independent of it:

  1. thinking of alcohol abuse as a problem that non-Jews have ("people like us don't do that")
  2. learning moderate-drinking habits from childhood on through religious and nonreligious rituals
  3. associating primarily with other moderate drinkers
  4. developing techniques to avoid drinking excessively under social pressure

As a group, Jews don't believe that alcohol makes people lose control. On the contrary, they believe that people are responsible for their behavior, whether or not they are drinking. Moreover, the role of alcohol in rituals like the Passover Seder and Sabbath candle-lighting ceremony gives drinking social and spiritual meanings that insulate Jews against antisocial drinking.

Now, what happens when these Jewish traditions run up against the modern disease theory of alcoholism? I had one client who was forced into alcoholism treatment because of one incident in which she had a slightly elevated blood alcohol level when she was tested at work. In treatment, she could never accept the basic precepts of the disease theory. A counselor analyzed her problem, "Jews are too ashamed to admit they are alcoholics." The counselor insisted that this woman was not responsible for her drinking behavior since she had a disease. This was a bizarre idea to her — she had been taught to recognize when she had done wrong, accept responsibility, and correct her own misbehavior. When she expressed such feelings and beliefs in treatment, she was told to "stop intellectualizing" because critical thinking interfered with "recovery concepts." As a result of her "denial," she was sentenced to perpetual aftercare — which might be some Jews' idea of hell!

In the meantime, Seagram & Sons is sponsoring (7/30/00 - 11/5/00) an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City (it was originally organized by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem) entitled, "Drink and Be Merry: Wine and Beer in Ancient Times." According to the New York Times, "This is a show that would please Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility." The exhibit examines alcohol production and drinking customs in the eastern Mediterranean and Near East going back 5,000 years. Included are sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls dealing with the ancient Jewish festival for new wine — and other tributes to millennia of Jewish involvement with alcohol.

I can imagine critics of alcohol — a large group in the U.S. — citing Seagram's sponsorship by way of seeing this as a plot to induce Jews to drink by pointing out its ancient association with Hebrew traditions. I thought that I would suggest that protestors make placards to display outside the Jewish Museum — "Don't Snooze, Jews—Fight Booze!", "You Don't Hear Much About Babylonia and Assyria These Days," and "That Was Grape Juice at the Last Supper."


Glassner, B., & Berg, B. How Jews avoid alcohol problems. American Sociological Review 45:647-664, 1980.

Glassner, B. "Jewish sobriety." In: Pittman, D.J., White, H.R. (Eds.), Society, Culture, and Drinking Patterns Reexamined. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1991, pp. 311-326.

Keller, M. The great Jewish drink mystery. British Journal of Addiction, 46:470-477, 1970.