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ALCOHOL INDUCED HOMICIDE: THE CASE OF RABBA & RABBI ZEIRA

March 4th, 2020

The Talmud (Megilla 7b) records the opinion of Rava, who directs us to become so inebriated on Purim that we are unable to tell the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai’, in other words clueless regarding the villain and hero of the Purim story.

Immediately afterward, the Talmud shares the story of Rabba and Rabbi Zeira, two senior and distinguished sages, who shared a Purim feast together. Rabba became so drunk, the Talmud says, that he murdered Rabbi Zeira. Miraculously he was able to revive him, but the following year, when he invited Rabbi Zeira to come back to him for a Purim feast, Rabbi Zeira politely declined, with the comment “miracles don’t happen twice!”

What is the opinion of the Torah and the Talmud on getting blind drunk? Is it frowned upon, or is it encouraged? And what are we to make of this very strange story about Rabba and Rabbi Zeira? Is it true? If it is, how is it possible that these two great rabbis got themselves into such a dreadful situation? And if it is not true, or at least not literal, why is it included in the Talmud? What does it actually mean?

Rabbi Dunner explores a wide range of options from across centuries of rabbinic opinion, and offers a broad perspective on this startling narrative.

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