Jewish and Sober

Would quitting alcohol get in the way of my religion?

Benya Clark
Feb 27 · 3 min read
Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

Today was Purim, one of many Jewish holidays associated with drinking alcohol. Growing up, I often felt as if wine was an essential part of my religion. When I first got sober, I worried about how abstinence might interfere with my Judaism.

I’m not the most observant Jew (as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this on Shabbat), but I still celebrate the major holidays.

When I decided to quit drinking, I wondered what would happen during all of the many Jewish events which incorporate alcohol in one way or another. What would I do during the kiddush, the blessing over the wine? What about on Passover, when four ritual cups of wine are traditionally drunk?

The solution was easy and straightforward: I drank grape juice instead. The same thing that I had done as a kid, and the same thing that plenty of other Jews do during these blessings. There’s always been grape juice at every Jewish event I’ve been to, because it’s what the young kids drink instead of wine.

A major part of my concern was how other people would react to me not drinking wine, but the truth is that in the past four years of sobriety, nobody has ever reacted to it at any Jewish event. Literally not even one time.

I always used to brace myself for comments or questions. I was especially worried at big family gatherings, seeing distant cousins of cousins who might not know that I had stopped drinking. However, no comments ever came.

I don’t know whether people haven’t noticed that I’m drinking grape juice, whether they notice but don’t think twice, or whether they realize I’m sober and are keeping their mouths shut. It’s probably a mix of all three.

When I was still drinking regularly, and just starting to think about sobriety, I often overestimated how much other people care about alcohol. It was on my mind all the time, so I assumed it was on everyone else’s mind too.

Since getting sober, it’s become clear to me just how little the average person cares. Most of the people who obsess about whether other people are drinking alcohol do so because they’ve got their own problems with the substance. Non-addicts generally don’t even notice when others aren’t drinking.

Overall, Judaism and sobriety have gone fine together. It hasn’t presented any of the problems I worried about, and I’ve known several other Jews who gave up drinking too.

Like most of my pre-sobriety concerns, I think that worrying about how it would affect my religion was really just another excuse for continuing to drink. I was grasping at straws trying to justify my addiction.

Of course, getting sober was difficult, but being Jewish didn’t really compound that difficulty in any way.

I’ve met sober people from just about every religion, culture, and background you can think of. Addiction is an equal-opportunity affliction, but sobriety is an equal-opportunity solution.

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Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

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