Drinking with non-Jews: What is forbidden and where?

The prohibition against wine of non-Jews is more severe than the ban on bread and cooked food, and even the touch of a non-Jew renders it forbidden. Our Sages also forbade drinking alcoholic beverages with a non-Jew, even when drinking alone

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 13:46

Judaism מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

The Prohibition of Wine Touched by a Non-Jew

Our Sages set restrictions on foods of non-Jews, in order to distance Jews from the fear of assimilation. Therefore they forbade eating pat (bread) and tavshelei goyim (cooked food of non-Jews).

And regarding yayin (wine), which makes one happy and feel more casual, our Sages set more severe restrictions, and also forbade the wine of a Jew touched by a non-Jew. If the person who touched it is an oved avodah zarah (idolater), the wine is forbidden b’hana’ah (all types of benefit), comparable to the law of wine that was offered to idols. If he is not an idolater, the wine that he touches is forbidden b’shtiyah (to drink), but permitted b’hana’ah, i.e., it can be sold to a non-Jew.

Drinking Alcohol with a Non-Jew

Following the Sages prohibition of wine, bread, and the cooked foods of non-Jews, the Amora’im added another restriction to prevent assimilation, namely, prohibiting Jews from drinking alcohol at the home of a non-Jew, in his store, his coffee shop, or any other place he owns. The prohibition includes all alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, arak, vodka, liqueur, beer, and the like. The prohibition is even when the Jew drinks it alone without the non-Jew since the drink is liable to damage the appropriate barrier intended to separate a Jew.

Such a prohibition was unnecessary in the days of the Tannaim because they drank mainly wine, upon which they ruled severe gezerot (decrees), but in Babylon where the custom was to drink other types of alcoholic beverages, it was necessary for them to forbid such drinks as well (Aruch Ha’Shulchan 114:6).

The Differences between Alcohol, and Bread and Cooked Foods

The prohibition against eating pat and tavshelei goyim applies to bread and cooked foods prepared by non-Jews, and are forbidden to be eaten even in a Jew’s house. However, regarding alcoholic drinks, the prohibition is not on the drink itself, but rather on drinking it with a non-Jew. Therefore, if the non-Jew prepared an alcoholic drink containing no forbidden ingredients, it is permissible for a Jew to drink it in his house, since the prohibition of tavshelei goyim does not apply to it because it is essentially water. On the other hand, even if a Jew brought an alcoholic drink to the non-Jew’s home, it is forbidden for him to drink it there, even if he drinks it alone (S. A. 114: 1).

However, if a Jew needs to drink a bit of an alcoholic beverage in order to strengthen himself, or to prevent a headache, he is allowed to enter a non-Jew’s store, buy a drink, drink it, and leave. And if he is temporarily at the home of a non-Jew for some other purpose and is offered a drink which he is particularly in need of, he is permitted to have one drink in his house, provided they do not sit together to drink (S. A. 114: 1).

And if he had to drink on two different occasions, he should not drink a third time, even if necessary, for this has gone from the category of temporary drinking to substantial drinking, and the fear arises that it will result in an overly close relationship (Knesset HaGedolah, Pri Chadash 4, Kaf HaChaim 6).

Staying in a Non-Jew’s House

Someone who takes a trip and stays at the home of a non-Jew, whether for pay or for free, may bring an alcoholic drink with him and drink it at the non-Jew’s house, for at that time the non-Jew’s home is considered his home. And if the host offers him a little alcohol, he is allowed to drink a bit, in order not to create animosity between them. But there is no heter (permission) to eat even a little pat or tavshelei goyim to prevent animosity (Tosafot Avodah Zarah 31b, S. A., 114: 1, Shach 2).

Drinking at a Gathering of Non-Jews

Similarly, it is forbidden for a Jew to have even a little alcoholic drink at a gathering of non-Jews for a toast, even in a neutral place that is not the home of the non-Jew. And even drinking an alcoholic beverage that the Jew brought with him from home is forbidden, since drinking at a gathering of non-Jews is liable to breach the fixed barrier necessary against assimilation.

But eating light refreshments served there is permitted, provided it is kosher. And if this is a gathering of Jews, even if there were non-Jews present, since the majority of participants are Jewish, and the atmosphere is of a Jewish nature, it is permissible to drink an alcoholic beverage (according to Rambam, from the Laws of Forbidden Foods 17: 10).

It is forbidden to Eat at a Party of Non-Jews

When it comes to a party of non-Jews, such as a wedding or welcoming home party, let alone a holiday, such as New Year’s, Christmas, or the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) – seeing as the meal is more important, not only is it forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages, but even eating kosher food there is forbidden. And this is a Torah prohibition, as many have written (Rosh, Ritva, Yam Shel Shlomo, Taz, Aruch HaShulchan, Netziv).

There are two reasons for the prohibition.

One is that the meal brings hearts closer, and thus, the fear of assimilation increases.

The second reason is that if the non-Jew is an oved avodah zarah (idolater), participating in his meal constitutes support for his avodah zarah.

And even if the non-Jew sets aside a table for the Jews and serves mehedrin kosher food, it is forbidden to eat there. For indeed, we have learned in the Torah that it is forbidden to participate in the meals of non-Jews on account of these two fears, as it is written: “Be careful that you not make a treaty with the people who live in the land. When they practice their religion and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will end up eating their sacrifice (their meal). You will then allow their daughters to marry your sons, and when their daughters worship their gods, they will lead your sons to follow their religion” (Exodus 34: 15-16).

Regarding this, our Sages said: “Jews who reside outside of the Land of Israel serve idols though in pure innocence. How? If, for example, an idolater gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews in his town, then, even though they eat of their own, and drink of their own, and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols (sacrifices of avodah zarah)” (Avodah Zarah 8a).

Our Sages also said that in the days of Ahasuerus, the Jews sinned in that they enjoyed the meal of that wicked person, and some say that because of this, they were deserving of extermination (Megillah 12a).

When there is a Fear of Animosity

When there is a fear that abstaining from participating in a wedding or a party of non-Jews will cause animosity, the poskim disagree whether it is permitted to participate in the party and to taste the kosher foods. Some poskim say it is forbidden since the main concern is that this will lead to marriage and assimilation, and consequently the fear of animosity does not nullify this – on the contrary – it is good that distance is created between them (Taz, Y.D. 152:1).

Other poskim say that it is permissible, since the entire participation is only on account of the animosity that may result, and therefore it clearly does not come to strengthen their religion, or to become overly close (Nikudot HaKesef, ibid). Some poskim rule leniently b’shaat dachak (in times of distress). Nevertheless, even according to the lenient poskim, it is absolutely clear that it is forbidden to drink any alcoholic beverages there.

A Jew who Publicly Desecrates Shabbat

The attitude towards the desecration of Shabbat is especially severe, to the point where our Sages said it is forbidden to accept a korban (sacrificial offering) of a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat, and that his ritual slaughter is not kosher (Chulin 5a; Eruvin 69b). According to this, Rambam wrote (Laws of Shabbat 30:15): “The observance of Shabbat and the prohibition against worshiping false deities are each equivalent to the observance of all the mitzvot of the Torah." 

And Shabbat is the eternal sign between the Holy One, blessed be He, and us. For this reason, whoever transgresses the other mitzvot is considered to be one of the wicked of Israel, but a person who violates Shabbat is considered as an idolater. Both of them are considered to be equivalent to gentiles in all regards.”

The Status of a Shabbat Desecrater Today

According to this some Rishonim wrote that wine touched by a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat is forbidden, and has the same halakhic status as wine touched by a non-Jew who is not an oved avodah zarah, which is forbidden to drink and permitted b’hana’ah (Bahag, Rabbeinu Yona, Eshkol, Rivash, and others).

Nevertheless, this din (law) is not mentioned in the Gemara, and even many Rishonim did not mention it, therefore, some poskim are of the opinion that halakhically there is no prohibition of wine that has been touched by a public desecrater of Shabbat. However, the vast majority of Achronim agreed that wine touched by a public desecrater of Shabbat is forbidden to drink.

For many generations, this was the custom, because indeed, Shabbat was the clearest expression of Jewish identity and anyone who dared to publicly desecrate Shabbat thereby drastically defied the faith of Israel, and explicitly declared that he does not identify with Judaism.

However, in recent generations, many Jews were influenced by non-Jews, to the point where Shabbat was no longer the expression of Jewish identity.

Moreover, if in the past protesting against Shabbat desecraters helped prevent them from leaving Torah and mitzvot, in recent generations, protesting sometimes distances them even more. Consequently, when necessary, many of the latter poskim were lenient, instructing that only someone who flagrantly desecrates Shabbat in order to anger and defy Jewish tradition is considered similar to a non-Jew, but someone who honors Shabbat by making Kiddush or by lighting candles is not considered similar to a non-Jew.

Moreover, if he is a Jew who has not received Torah education, he is similar to a tinok shenishba bein ha’goyim (an infant captured [and consequently raised] among non-Jews) who does not understand the severity of desecrating Shabbat. And even if a person grew up in a religious home, sometimes the secular influence is so strong that he is close to being considered shogeg (sinning unwittingly) and anus(coerced), not being able to resist the winds of the times (Binyan Tziyon Chadashot 23; Melamed L’Ho’il, O.C. 29; Iggrot Rayah, Vol. 1, pg.138). Moreover, there is a fear that being stringent in this matter will cause insults and disagreements in families and communities (Rabbi Yosef Mashash, Otzer Ha’Michtavim, Vol. 2 Aleph, 302).

Question to Readers

I am currently involved in writing the halachot of yayin nesech (wine poured in the service of idolatry) and alcoholic beverages, and I have a question. In practice, most of the restrictions that our Sages set against assimilation and the abandoning of Torah and mitzvot are ineffective today, since the majority of gezerot (decrees) were decreed on the wine of non-Jews, whereas today, many people consume other types of alcoholic drinks. The decrees regarding non-Jews are also ineffective since the assimilation process occurs through the transition to secular society.

The question is whether from all the halakhot and their reasons, is it possible to determine that it is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages at secular parties, such as in pubs, night-clubs, and parties whose secular character derives from foreign cultures; or is it preferable to write only that it is correct to refrain from such activity so as not to fall spiritually, as our Sages especially warned against drinking alcohol in a way of wild behavior and clowning, and instructed to drink and rejoice only in groups that gather for the joy of a mitzvah?

I would like to ask the readers, especially young people familiar with the social dynamics of such events, to express their opinions and arguments – what is appropriate and effective to limit, and should this limitation be defined as halakha, or as guidance.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.