Social Drinking

Although not widely known, it is actually forbidden to drink wine, beer, whiskey, and other alcoholic beverages[1] in a non-Jewish establishment or environment.[2] This is true even if the drinks are completely kosher and, regarding wine, even if the wine is mevushal. The ban on drinking with non-Jews is a decree that was enacted by the sages in order to prevent overly social relations and, by extension, intermarriage.[3] As such, although it may be permitted to enter a bar to purchase a beer one should preferably consume the drink off the premises.[4]

The ban on drinking in a non-Jewish establishment only applies if it is done regularly and in a formal setting. As such, it is permitted to occasionally have a quick drink in a non-Jewish establishment. This is true even in the home of a non-Jew.[5] Similarly, one may have a drink in a bar or other non-Jewish venue as long as one does not linger in the bar and if it is done only on occasion.[6] Furthermore, it is completely permitted to drink in a hotel bar or restaurant that one is staying in when travelling.[7] It is also permitted to drink with non-Jews or in a non-Jewish establishment when the majority of those present are Jewish.[8]

Although some authorities, including the Rema, rule that the ban on drinking in a non-Jewish environment does not truly need to be observed, most other authorities disagree. Therefore, one should endeavor to comply with these rules whenever possible.[9] Some say the ban on drinking in non-Jewish environments only applies to more common drinks but that expensive and uncommon drinks were not included in the ban.[10]

According to many authorities, the ban on drinking in non-Jewish establishments extends to drinking coffee in a coffee shop, as well. As the Birkei Yosef says, “It is forbidden [to drink coffee in the coffee shops] due to a concern for intermarriage…One who separates himself from this [ruling] is as if he separates himself from death to life.”[11] Gathering together to drink coffee with non-Jews is also cited as an act of “moshav leitzim” – a gathering of scoffers. There was once a decree in some communities that “no person should make a habit of going to non-Jewish establishments. And one who makes a practice of drinking there is an empty, low person. He cannot be given the title of rabbi and may not hold any position in the community.”[12]

Other authorities rule that it is permitted to drink coffee with non-Jews or in a non-Jewish establishment.[13] They say that the ban on drinking in non-Jewish establishments only applies to alcoholic beverages. It is argued that the concern for over-socialization and intermarriage is only relevant when getting intoxicated with non-Jews. [14] According to this approach, there is no problem with drinking coffee in a coffee shop, even with non-Jews.[15] It would also seem that the common practice of meeting friends for coffee in a coffee shop is further justified when the majority of such friends are Jewish. This renders one’s gathering, occupying one or more tables, to be a “Jewish environment” even though the rest of the coffee shop is otherwise a “non-Jewish environment.”[16] It is noted that in Baghdad, and presumably in other Arab lands, it was customary for Jews and non-Jews to drink coffee together.[17]

According to all authorities, however, it is best to avoid drinking coffee with non-Jews and to keep it to a minimum whenever possible.[18] Indeed, even though it is permitted to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew, it does not permit one to use coffee as a medium for unnecessary socializing with non-Jews.[19] There are documented cases of social drinking and socializing with non-Jews that led to intermarriage and other impropriety.[20] Nevertheless, one should always be civil and cordial with one’s non-Jewish neighbors, and periodic socializing is sometimes in order.[21] One should be sure not to come across as arrogant or exclusionary over this issue.[22]

[1] Shach, YD 114:3.

[2] YD 114:4. For a comprehensive discussion on the history of this enactment see Aruch Hashulchan, YD 114:1-10.

[3] Avoda Zara 31b; Rambam, Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 17:9-10; YD 114:4.

[4] YD 114:1.

[5] YD 114.

[6] YD 114:1.; Pri Chadash 114:4.

[7] YD 114:1; Levush 114:1; Chochmat Adam 66:14.

[8] Rambam, Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 17:10. See Bach, YD 112.

[9] Biur Hagra, YD 114:8; Pri Chadash, YD 114:6; Chochmat Adam 66:14.

[10] YD 114:3; Aruch Hashulchan 114:11; Darkei Teshuva 114:7.

[11] Birkei Yosef, OC 325:2.

[12] Darkei Teshuva, YD 114:2.

[13] Pri Chadash, YD 114; Chayei Halevi, YD 4:53.

[14] Y.D. 113:3, Chochmas Adom 66:14, Rivevos Ephraim 6:79. See Chai Ha’Levi 4:53:6-7.

[15] Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 2:16; Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:12.

[16] Aruch Hashulchan, YD 114:6.

[17] Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:12.

[18] Radbaz 3:637; Maharikash, YD 114; She’ilat Yaavetz 2:142.

[19] Radbaz 3:637; Maharikash, YD 114; Chochmat Adam 66:14; Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 2:16.

[20] Darkei Teshuva, YD 114:2; Chochmat Adam 66:14.

[21] Pitchei Teshuva, YD 114:1; Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:12.

[22] Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:14.