Q. It is known to all that smoking is bad for you, so Jewish law urges you not to smoke. However, it is also known that excessive alcohol is bad for you, so why do I see so many Orthodox Jews drinking?
A. The Bible says, “Wine gladdens the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15; cf. Judges 9:13, Kohelet 10:19). Everybody knows that Judaism sees wine as a source of Shabbat and festival joy and associates its use with happy life cycle events. So it cannot be said that drinking is totally banned in Judaism, though there is no reason to go overboard as some groups do, especially on Purim and Simchat Torah.
The tradition of drinking on Purim derives from a light-hearted dictum, “On Purim one should mellow himself with wine until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai'” (M’gillah 7b); this, however, is not a license for unbridled excess.
The fact is that Jews have always been regarded as relatively free from drunkenness and alcoholism. Immanuel Kant thought this was because a small, insecure minority group had to keep a clear head. The reason for Jewish sobriety is more likely to be that the Biblical story of No’ach and his vineyard was an object lesson with an obvious message.
Hence, though Judaism has no problem with alcohol in principle, it warns against excessive drinking. The situation is different when it comes to smoking, where the advice would not be moderation but abstinence.