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Pirke Avot chapter three, verse 14: midday wine

R. Dosa b. Harkinas said: Morning sleep and midday wine and children’s talk and sitting in the meeting houses of the ignorant people put a man out of the world.

Important to note, here, that wine is a Good Thing almost throughout the history of the Jews. Wine-drinking is required by custom or statute for almost every holiday, including the Sabbath. It took a while, in fact, for Orthodox Rabbis to accept that alcoholics should be allowed to forego ritual wine-drinking as a matter of health, although of course lots of Jews have done without for whatever reasons. Of course drunkenness, or at least excessive, frequent drunkenness is a Bad Thing, but the Rabbis are not teetotalers, nor do they expect anyone else to be.

It is midday wine that R. Dosa says puts a man out of the world. This is a clear match to the first leg (of four, which is odd and I should think about) where sleep (a good thing) done at shacharit time (a good time) is bad, or at least puts a man out of the world. Here wine is a good thing, just not at midday. And I’m inclined to think that the first leg is a symptom of a particular kind of trouble (depression), and the second leg is also a symptom of a particular kind of trouble, alcoholism. It is (to R. Dosa) when you have wine in the middle of the day, rather than in the evening, that you are using it to put yourself out of the world.

The commentary on the verse is (from my quick perusal) focused on the idea that if you drink at midday, you become incapable of using the afternoon hours for either productive work or study. They connect the two legs as the frittering away of daylight hours, and that is certainly the straightforward and correct interpretation. But I think that viewing them in the light of symptoms of deeper problems is a more powerful, and in fact a scarier way of looking at the verse. More useful, past the first reading.

YHB is not a heavy drinker. A glass of wine with dinner, sometimes two. Maybe once a week I will have a third. Of course, my midday is different from R. Dosa ben Harkinas; when the sun goes down in the great green field, I just turn on the electric light and keep working. Or at least, as much working as I ever do. The hours between 2100 and 2300 are the most potentially productive for Torah study or writing, and the ones that my wine-with-dinner habit would most likely affect. But then, I’m not actually doing Torah study during those hours, I’m watching bad BBC corset series. Which is puts me out of the world in a different way, but is not (I hope) a symptom of some deeper problem.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


It is a personal opinion (and I'm sure annoying rhetorical stance) of mine that television is an addictive activity, and that addictions are bad. May I suggest that the rabbi is perhaps talking about addictive activities, here?

Mind you, I haven't read parts 3 and 4, yet. Maybe you get to that.


I think the idea of addictive activities is a useful one with this verse. Or, at least, I think that keeping that idea in mind, together with the examples in the verse, is useful in examining my own life for things that put me out of the world. Not midday wine for me, but perhaps miniseries. The internet, certainly. Not that the internet is a Bad Thing (any more than wine or sleep) but that it is addictive, and it is the addiction that puts me out of the world.


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