Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alcohol and History

The Talmud shiur I participate in on Shabbat afternoons recently passed a Mishna and detailed Gemarah discussion about the buying and selling of wine (Bava Batra page 94b ff). The instructor explained that the wealth of intricate details were an expression of the importance of wine in daily life, since the denizens of pre-modern cities couldn't trust the water supply and generally drank alcohol as their primary liquid.

The same thesis is presented today in the Washington Post, by George F. Will, who most certainly has never studied Bava Batra.

There's also a paragraph exonerating the colonial Europeans for at least some of the responsibility for the drunkenness of native populations they came into contact with, but that's merely an added benefit of an otherwise interesting article.

The Daf Yomi thread, you'll remember, started here.


Anonymous said...


Jews aren't, by nature, drunkards. And, I blame it on the Manischevitz.

It's purile.

The other thing? Jews always serve food. Not so, the goyim.

Today, people don't realize the investment and stock that was put into having a full belly. But, yes. There really was hunger!

So? Food became the staple item available at simchas. Even when some went so far as to make "mock" shrimp ... I always wondered "if you never ate shrimp" what it would take to make something "mock."

Mock, not. In today's world, we're getting much too healthy about food; and I think this spells trouble. But, hold the Manischevitz. The reason it's sweet, is so that you wouldn't confuse it with motor oil.

Lydia McGrew said...

Something I never get about these statements about not trusting the water supply is this: If it's hot, and you are sweating, you _have to_ have water _rather than_ wine, or else you just get thirstier. Is this not true? It's certainly what I've read about water rationing on shipboard. If they have casks of wine and are low on water they tell the sailors not to drink the wine because it will increase their dehydration. What am I missing here? Is it that in the ancient world they just used to water the heck out of the wine, and the relatively small proportion of alcohol in the mix killed the germs in the water?