American Reform Responsa
47. Fermented Wine Not Required for Sacramental Purposes
(Vol. XXX, 1920, pp. 108-112)QUESTION: With the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the law prohibiting the use, manufacture, or sale of wine, beer, or alcoholic beverage in any form went into effect. And while the Law expressly permits the use of sacramental wine, there is so much inconvenience connected with the obtaining of some wine that I have been asked for an opinion to the following questions: I. Is it absolutely necessary to use fermented wine for: a. Kiddush (Blessing on eve of Sabbath or Holiday)? b. Havdala (Blessing at the close of Sabbath or Holiday)? c. Grace after meals? d. Berit Mila (Circumcision) e. Four Cups (on the Passover Eve) f. Marriage Ceremony? II. Assuming that fermented wine is not essential, is it necessary to use any beverage at all? I rendered the opinion given below.ANSWER: A. The custom among Jews to use wine in connection with certain religious ceremonies is a very old one. Its origin reaches back to hoary antiquity. In a land like that of the ancient Hebrews, preeminently known as “a land of wine and vineyards” (Deut. 7:8; II Kings 18:32), it was but natural that the use of wine should be universal. Also it is but reasonable that the primitive Hebrew would offer his Deity the same fare he himself enjoyed so much. In the earliest stages of the Temple ritual we find, therefore, that a libation of wine was the regular concomitant of the daily burnt offering and the numerous other offerings: a half of a hin of wine with a ram, a third of a hin with a bullock, and a fourth of a hin with a lamb (Num. 28:14; 15:5; Ben Sira 50:4; Josephus, Ant. 3, 9.4). The pouring out of the wine upon the base of the altar was the signal for the choir of the Levites to begin their chanting of the Psalm for the day (Rosh Hashana 31). The practice of reciting hymns with the offering of wine is, according to Samuel b. Nachman (third century), already indicated in the Biblical words “Wine which cheereth God and man” (Judges 19:13). How could God be cheered with wine? Only when hymns are recited at its offering. Hence, the rule: “Ein omerim shira ela al hayayin,” “No anthem should be sung without wine” (T. Ber. 35, Arachin 11). Hence also the rule: “Ein mekadeshin ve-ein mevarechin ela al hayayin,” “No Kiddush and no Grace are proper without wine” (T. Pes. 107; B. Batra 97; Men. 87). Some of the teachers, indeed, imagined they could find a reference to the use of wine for Kiddush implied in the words of the Bible: “Zachor et yom hashabbat lekadesho,” “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (Ex. 20:8). “It is evident,” they argue, “that lekadesho refers to Kiddush, while “Zachor can only have reference to wine, as it is said: zichro, his remembering, is like wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:8). Or as it also is said: “Nazkira,” “We remember thy love in wine” (Song of Songs, 1:4; see T. Pes. 106). Thus, it may be seen that the practice of using wine for sacramental purposes is a very old custom. For Kiddush and Havdala, we are told, the custom of using wine was established by the Men of the Great Assembly (Ber. 33), while wine for “Grace” and the “Four Cups” is mentioned in the Mishna (Ber. 8.1; Pes. 10.1) and spoken of as something firmly established long ago. The effort at a later age, however, to trace the Kiddush back to Biblical rule was never meant seriously. Already Rashi (1040-1105) and the Tosafists declare it to be mere Atmachta, homiletical (Pardes, Hil. Shab. 112; Tos., Pes. 106, voce “Zochrehu”; Nazir 4, voce “Mai”; Sefer Ha-itim 181). Using wine in connection with Berit Mila is first mentioned by Mordecai B. Hillel (d. 1295; see Be-er Hagola to Yoreh De-a 265). As for the practice of using wine at wedding ceremonies, it was known already to the compiler of the Tractate of Soferim (cf. l9.11)–about the eighth century–where such custom is first mentioned. In the Talmud, however, where all the benedictions of the marriage ritual are enumerated in proper order (Ket. 8), no mention whatsoever is made of wine as yet. Only six benedictions are enumerated there. In fact, we are told that when Levi b. Sissi (second century) attended the wedding of Simon, son of Judah I, only five benedictions were recited, while when R. Assi attended the wedding of Tabyomi, son of R. Ashi (end of fifth century) he used six benedictions (ibid.). Of the seven wedding benedictions in our ritual, the first–which is supposed to be said over a cup of wine–seems as yet unknown. Maimonides in his Code, as well as Joseph Caro in Shulchan Aruch, still speak of and enumerate only the six mentioned in the Talmud, as stated above (see Yad, Hil. Ishut X, 3:iii, 4; Even Ha-ezer, 62.1). However, both Maimonides and Caro know already of the custom, and they observe: “It is customary to arrange these benedictions so as to say first a blessing over a cup of wine [adding the significant remark:] if wine is at hand.” (Yad, ibid., Even Ha-ezer 34.2; 62.1). The popular number seven in the Jewish ritual seemed to have gained in favor from the time of the Geonim onward (see Asheri, Ket. I.12; Rashi, Ket. 8, voce “Sos tasis”; Tos., Pes. 102, voce “She-ein”, 104, voce “Chuts”). The mystic number seven was also seized upon by the Kabbalists, who declared that seven benedictions are to be recited, as the number is symbolical of the seven canopies which God made for Adam and Eve in Paradise (Zohar, Ex. 169). We might make mention here also that in the procession, when the bride is led to the home of her future husband, “a cup of good cheer”–Kos shel besora–was carried before the procession (Ket. 16b). This, however, had no connection with the wedding ceremony.B. And now, having established the origin of the practice for using wine for sacramental purposes as being, on the one hand, reminiscent of the libations of the ancient sacrificial cult in the Temple of old, and, on the other hand, grounded in the daily habits of the wine-growing Hebrews in Palestine, we may approach the solution of the question: “Is it absolutely necessary to use fermented wine in the Jewish ceremonial for Kiddush, Havdala, Grace, and Berit Mila?” Our answer to this must be in the negative. Fermented wine is not essential, especially if wine is not easily obtainable. In fact, the following principle was established by the teachers: “One may press out the juice of grapes and use it immediately for Kiddush” (8. Batra 97b). This ruling was adopted by the Geonim MarAmram (d. 875), Chai (939-1038), and Samuel Ibn Nagdelo (993-1055) (see Sefer Ha-itim, pp. 203, 206), as well as by Maimonides (Yad, Hil. Shab. 29.17) and Asheri (B. Batra 6.10), and so decided by Joseph Caro (Orach Chayim 272.2). And thus, the rule may be safely followed that one may use the following for Kiddush, Havdala, Grace, and Berit Mila instead of fermented wine: (1) grape juice (or Must), or (2) raisin wine (yein tsimukin). Moreover, as to the question, “Is it necessary to use some kind of beverage at all?”–to this we must also reply in the negative. It is not necessary to use any beverage at all. Many of the teachers expressly state about Grace that “Einah te-una kos,” no cup of wine is necessary for it (Ber. 52; Orach Chayim 182). And as to Kiddush, we may surely rely upon Abba Arecha (d. 247), who “at times used wine and at other times used bread for Kiddush” (“Zimnin mekadesh arifta”) (Pes. 106b). Hence, such authorities as the Geonim Mar Amram, Mar Zemach, and Natronai (all of the ninth century; see Sefer Ha-itim, pp. 180, 203, 204) and Rashi (1040-1105) (T. Ber. 51b, voce “Shehayayin”; Pes. 114, voce “Mevarech”; Pardes, Hil. Shabbat 112) and Joseph Caro (Orach Chayim 271.4; 272.9)–all agree that instead of wine one may use bread for Kiddush and Havdala. Also, if Yom Tov happens to fall on a Sunday, he may include the ritual for Havdala in the Kiddush while making Kiddush over bread on Saturday night. Again, originally the Men of the Great Assembly instituted that the ritual for Kiddush and Havdala should be included in the evening prayer–“Tefila ikar takanata” (Ber. 33). Moreover, some of the old teachers maintain that “he who includes Havdala in the evening prayer does better than he who recites it over a cup of wine” (ibid.). R. Bun reports that “in our place it is customary that, if wine is not at hand, the reader includes the Kiddush in the evening prayer–“Omer beracha achat me-ein sheva” (T. Ber. 10.17). We may, therefore, safely rule that where wine is not easily obtainable, the recital of the words of the ritual without any beverage is sufficient, to be embodied either in the evening prayer or as a separate formula (see also Rashi, Pes. 105, voce “Shema,” 106, voce “dechaviba”; Sefer Ha-itim, 203, 204; Yad, Hil. Shab. 29.1; Orach Chayim, 296.7).C. As to the wine for the “Four Cups” of Passover Eve, the Mishna enjoins it upon the poorest of the poor to make every effort to obtain it “even if he receives his support from the Tamchui (charity bowl)” (Pes. 10.1; Yad, Hil. Matzah 6.7, Orach Chayim 472.13). Yet it is but reasonable to state that if, as we have seen, one may use unfermented wine for Kiddush, which some teachers regard as a Biblical ordinance, he may certainly use unfermented wine for the “Four Cups” of Passover. Such, indeed, is the ruling of good authorities like Amram Gaon, who stated that “if wine is not obtainable, one may press out the juice of grapes or soak raisins and use the juice for the four cups” (Sefer Ha-itim, 203). This decision was adopted by R. David b. Samuel in his Turei Zahav (see Orach Chayim 472.12) and Judah Ashkenazi in his Ba-er Heitev (ibid.). Again, if grape juice or raisin wine is not obtainable, one may use bread (that is, Matzot) for the first cup, which is for Kiddush, while the mere words of the ritual are sufficient instead of the other three cups. Such is the opinion of Zemach Gaon (Sefer Ha-itim, 204), of Rashi Pes. 114, voce “Mevarech”), of Asheri (Pes. 10.36), and of Joseph Caro (Orach Chayim 483.1). According to Judah Ashkenazi, we may use apple cider (Ba-er Heitev to O. Ch. 483.4), while Moses Isserles rules, “Mead is as good as wine” (Rema to O. Ch. 483). Accordingly, we have the choice of using the following for the “Four Cups,” instead of fermented wine: (1) grape juice; (2) raisin wine; (3) mead; (4) apple cider; (5) Matzot (for the first cup); and (6) words of the ritual (for the other three cups).D. As to wine for the marriage ceremony: There are two formulas of benedictions used in the marriage ceremony–the “Benediction of Betrothal,” Birkat Erusin, which in olden times was said perhaps months before the second, and the “Benedictions of Nuptial,” Birchot Nisu-in, recited at the consummation of the actual marriage, on the wedding day. The former was recited in the house of the bride, the latter in the house of the groom. In modern times both are recited at the same time, on the wedding day. In reference to the Benediction of Betrothal–Erusin–Joseph Caro, in his code (Even Ha-ezer 34.2), quoting verbatim the words of Maimonides, (Yad, Hil. Ishut 3.24), lays down the following rule: The custom prevails now to recite the Benediction [of Betrothal] after having said a blessing over a cup of wine first, “if there is wine at hand; but if there is no wine there, he recites the Benediction alone, that is, without the wine.” Regarding the second formula, Benediction of Nuptial–Nisu-in–Joseph Caro (Even Ha-ezer 62.1), quoting again verbatim the words of Maimonides (Yad, Hil. Ishut 10.3), rules as follows: The Benedictions of Nuptial (Maimonides here enumerates them in consecutive order) should be recited immediately before the nuptials. In all, there are Six Benedictions, and “if there is wine at hand, one says first the blessing over a cup of wine, so that there may be altogether seven benedictions. But if there is no wine [or beer] the six benedictions are recited without wine (see Ba-er Heitev of Judah Ashkenazi to Even Ha-ezer 62.1), as wine is not essential.” However, Asheri (Ket. 1:16) and his son, R. Jacob (Tur, Even Ha-ezer 62), decide that if fermented wine is not at hand, one should use raisin wine. We may, therefore, safely state that for the marriage ceremony, if no wine can be had, one may use: (1) raisin wine, (2) grape juice, (3) apple cider, or (4) the words of the ritual without any beverage whatsoever.Julius RappaportSee also:S.B. Freehof, “A Seder Without Wine,” Current Reform Responsa, pp. 43ff.
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