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    Kosher wine – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What can be non-kosher in ordinary wine?

    kosher-wineA. Two considerations are relevant.

    The first is that wine was part of worship rites from ancient days. Judaism feared that ordinary wine could have been used or at least made for libations at heathen worship (yayin nesech). Hence, wine for Jewish purposes had to be stringently controlled.

    A second factor is s’tam yeynam, wine made or handled by gentiles. Wine as part of social interaction loosens one’s inhibitions and a Jew who got involved in wine-drinking could find him/herself caught up in non-Jewish ways (Talmud AZ 29b, 36b; Shulchan Aruch YD 124:7). There is a Jewish proverb, nichnas yayin yatza sod, “When wine comes in, discretion goes” (Sanh. 35a, Eruv. 65a).

    For both reasons “kosher” wine was necessary, and it had to be prepared, handled and served by dependable Jewish persons. If, however, the wine is boiled to a temperature of 80 degrees (m’vushal) the prohibition falls away.

    When kosher wine is made, the mashgi’ach (kosher supervisor) plays a crucial role with the professional winemaker guiding the personnel through the pressing and fermenting process.

    To the two considerations we have elaborated was added a third, that wine-making is liable to involve additives that are grain-, blood- or milk-based, and it is obvious what complications these cause. Even inadvertently there can be problems with fruit drinks that can be given a tastier and bulkier consistency by the addition of fruit (e.g. pineapple) pulp which is not necessarily of the same species as the fruit drink itself, so sometimes grape pulp can be used, which raises halachic questions.

    Until a few decades ago there was no guarantee that wines served at otherwise kosher functions would themselves be kosher, but this anomaly has now been corrected. It should be added that there are today a range of high-class kosher wines of world standard. Where once yayin m’vushal was considered inferior, this is no longer the case.

    An apparent paradox is that though wine-drinking is an acceptable feature of a Jewish Sabbath or festival, or of life-cycle events such as a circumcision and wedding, very few Jews are alcoholics. Partly this is because alcohol as a symbol for sin never had a wicked fascination for Jews.

    Jews also took their alcohol in moderation: the Talmud says, “Do not drink to excess, and you will not fall into sin” (Ber. 29b). Like so many other things, this became part of the Jewish mentality, even amongst people who otherwise were not too particular about Jewish observance.

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