The Abstemious Jew
To the Editor:
Nathan Glazer’s article “Why Jews Stay Sober” (February 1952) was both enlightening on the work done so far in this area and disturbing in some of its own interpretations.
I cite the following points:
- The question of whether R. F. Bales’s “ritual” interpretation of Jewish moderation in drink will hold for the “Hasidim who get drunk on wine and God together.” Another sect of mystics, the Sufis of Persia, used similar figurative language to express the nature of ultimate communion with the divine. But even granting that the Hasidim did use wine to attain a numinous state of mind, they still remain a decided minority in the Jewish population.
- The brief made for the idea that the “state of siege” under which Jews live in Western society explains their tendency to abstemiousness. This does not hold when we apply it to white-collar crime and other illegal activities such as gambling. A brief acquaintance with recent headlines shows that for some Jews the “state of the siege” has been raised here in America. . . .
- The idea that because “drinking affects the mind—dulls the brain,” Jews are inhibited from excess. This idea may perhaps appeal to the Jewish intellectual, but how about the intellectually indifferent Jews who are often indistinguishable from their Gentile counterparts? Surely, they don’t resist the temptation of alcoholic excess out of consideration for impairment of those faculties committed to earning a living driving taxis, selling shoes, or working at a garment machine.
- The statement that the Negro has not been a great drinker. If Mr. Glazer can obtain the facts from major distilleries he will find that in large Northern cities Negroes constitute a large, if not the single largest, market for the sale of alcoholic beverages. According to Malzberg (Social and Biological Aspects of Mental Disease) Negroes had a standardized rate of first admissions for alcoholic psychoses of 22.2 per 100,000 population, compared with a rate of 6.5 among the whites. . . .
Apart from these brief criticisms, Mr. Glazer has admirably summarized some leading hypotheses directed to the explanation of the marked reserve of Jews toward alcoholic beverages. Such articles do much to recommend COMMENTARY to the general reader.
Frederic C. Berezin
State Teachers College
Cortland, New York