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The Jewish Ethicist: Is

The Jewish Ethicist: Is "Cheers" Ethical?

Is there anything wrong with being an owner of a pub?


Q. Is it okay to be a proprietor of bar or pub? Can I put in poker machines too? GS

A. A look at some distinctive Jewish names may give us a hint to Judaism's attitude towards this line of business. Common names like Schenker (bartender), Kretschmer (tavern keeper), Bronfman (whiskey seller), Breuer (brewer) and others testify to the long history of Jews in the liquor business.

Of course Jewish tradition recognizes that alcohol is a two-edged sword. Drinking alone has been a harbinger of tragedy ever since the disastrous experiences of Noach (Genesis 9:21) and Lot (Genesis 19:33); but drinking together has served to promote fellowship ever since the auspicious experience of Yosef and his brothers (Genesis 43:34) and the joyous time of the pilgrimage to the Temple (Deuteronomy 14:26). Jewish law even recognizes a special blessing on drinking wine, which is said only when people drink together in fellowship – never when they drink alone.

A bar or pub most often serves as a place for people to meet and relax, and so it provides a valuable service and doesn't involve any ethical problems. Of course Jewish values would affirm the obligation imposed by today's secular law to make sure that no patron endangers himself or others as a result of his drinking.

It's true that when Jews were so involved in the liquor business in Europe in past generations the taverns were mostly for men, while today most are mixed. But there is nothing wrong with providing a place for men and women to meet as long as your establishment is not set up as a place for immoral liaisons.

But gambling presents a serious ethical problem. Because of the danger of victimization, Jewish law demands a very high level of informed consent for gambling operations. The basic requirement is that patrons have a clear idea of their odds of winning and that they put up the money up front, so that they are fully cognizant of what they are risking.

While poker machines generally meet these conditions, there is another difficulty. Compulsive gamblers cannot be said to have true “informed consent”, and machines have been shown to be a particularly addictive form of gambling. Since it would be almost impossible, practically and financially, for you to monitor the use of poker machines by those unable to afford the loss, it is advisable to avoid these installations.

While we have explained that there is no inherent ethical problem with running a pub (without gambling), there are many halakhic obstacles, for details of Jewish law restrict the menu, clientele and opening hours of such an institution. For instance, it goes without saying that a pub owned by a Jewish person should not serve unkosher items or be open on Jewish holy days. These subjects require the advice of an experienced local Rabbi.

May your establishment be one where “Wine gladdens the heart of man” (Psalms 104:14), and not one where drunkenness causes “woe, strife, quarrels and wounds” (Proverbs 23:29).

SOURCES: Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 175:4, Choshen Mishpat 207:13.

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

September 22, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Yehoshua Leiman, September 25, 2001 12:00 AM


The response on bars is concise and pithy, and accurate. Thank you.

(1) Michael Vaughan, September 23, 2001 12:00 AM

You seem to be beating around the "Bush".

I'm not throwing any rocks as I drink a little too much tequila myself but...
Alcohol has killed more human beings through drunk drivers' demonic egos than all the wars throughout history combined. I'm a musician and play in several bars here in Lexington, KY. I'm well aware how lonely, broken hearted people seek friendship and love through the inhibition lowering effects of alcohol, and it works well for awhile. In a more peaceful world without our evil inclinations it might be able to be condoned. But as can be seen from the massive attack from the liquor and beer industry on our young people, through the commercials, ads, movies, billboards, and peer pressure, something more sinister must be at work here. One thing you can bet your life on........
G-d's not involved in any aspect of the entire deal, except to send his angels to escort the slaughtered over to the other side, after the evil side has had its turn at the wheel.
He didn't get so angry with Noah for no reason you know?

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