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A Little Kosher Whine

In planning our new (improved?) kosher home, we looked at everything that went into our mouths – from dairy to diet soda; meat to mints, chocolate to cheese. One area I hadn’t thought about until Rabbi SpiceRock brought it up was wines.

I’m happy to say that I’m not hung up with the thought that “kosher wine” is synonymous with “diabetes-inducing sweetness”. So the wine needs a hekshur. OK.

“Uh, no there’s something else”. The good Rabbi offered. “It’s called mevushal, which just means “cooked” in Hebrew and…”

“Hold the phone, Reb,” I cut in. “COOKED wine? Are we talking about mulled cider kind of cooked, or that I can only drink sherry and marsala or…”

“It means,” he said, taking control of the conversation before I got out of hand, “that the wine has been heated. It used to be up to boiling, but these days it just has to get up to 180 degrees. Basically it needs to be pasteurized.”

“And where in Torah exactly does it say to do this?”

“It… doesn’t,” he admitted.

So why, I demanded to know, would  I allow this abomination to be performed to an innocent and unsuspecting bottle of Chardonnay? The answer lies (like so many things, and especially with the laws of kashrut) in Talmud. It seems our old buddies Akiva, Hillel, Gamliel and the rest of the gang were concerned about idolatrous waiters (the scourge of every dinner party I’ve ever been to. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience.). They worried that they would open a bottle in the back room, make a quick toast to Zeus or Baal or Uma Thurman and then serve the rest of the bottle to the (Jewish) guests. Thus, unwittingly, would the guests participate in idolatry themselves.

The solution, reasoned the Rabbis (who clearly developed their wine palate by chewing on rock salt) was to boil any wine that Jews would consume but might be handled by non-Jews. Because no idol-worshipper would use BOILED wine in a libation to Loki. Logical, no?

The result was an explosion of interest in home wine-making by every Jew on the planet (including the esteemed Talmud commentator Rashi who grew  a whole freakin’ vineyard)  and the coining of the term “BYOB”.

After Rabbi Spicerock left for the evening, I thought about the ramifications of this new information. I am not at all a oenophile (wine fanatic, and yeah I had to look that one up too). But there are statements about the world that go along with concept of mevushal that made me uncomfortable, beyond the idea of pre-percolated Port.

Here is the decision I arrived at: Bjorn isn’t standing by the waiter station popping the top on a ’95 cab-sav and saying “here’s to you Thor. You rock!”

I just can’t buy into the view of my world – my home town, my work, my day-to-day experience – where anyone is making idolatrous libations any more. And certainly not with my wine.

So, for now at least, my wine choices will not include “flame broiled”.


About EdibleTorah

The EdibleTorah is dedicated to building vibrant Jewish communities by helping people set up their own Potluck Shabbat experience with family and friends.

3 responses »

  1. Well, you KNOW I can’t let this one slide….

    I just heard from our Rav, quoting Rambam, that we don’t get to change the rules of Chazal (the Rabbis of the Talmud), even if the reason for the rules have changed – unless a Beis Din (Rabbinical court) of greater stature says so. And since there is not Beis Din greater than the Rabbis of the Talmud (despite what the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism or the Central Conference of American Rabbis, or whatever they are calling themselves these days), we must adhere to those rules.

    It is important to note that any non-Jew – not just true idol worshipers – is covered by this ruling. And if a non-Jew handles non-Mevushal wine, it is no longer suitable for Jews to drink. That’s the rule. Got non-Jews at your Shabbos table? Better have mevushal wine, or you can’t drink it if they handle the bottle.

    If you are sure that no non-Jews will handle your bottles, then you are perfectly welcome to drink only non-mevushal wine. And you would not be alone.

    But it is not necessary to cast this in a confrontational light. You don’t like mevushal wine? Join the oenophile club. But don’t rail about the rationale of Chazal – none of us alive today is in a position to do so.

    Na’aseh v’Nishmah – Do first, understand second.

  2. First, the Central Conference of American Rabbis is calling itself the Central Conference of American Rabbis these days, based on a faulty assumption by its Gadol that it would represent Minhag America, rather than one of many expressions of contemporary Judaism. Whether its not changing its name, as did its partner the Union for Reform Judaism (ne’ Union of American Hebrew Congregations, is inertia, politics, or a sentimental respect for the past, I don’t know.

    What I do know is that its t’shuvot are as binding on me as are those of Mr. Setnik’s Rav,channeling Rambam and Chazal, on him.

    Thus I do not need to worry who will handle my wine bottle, and I’m totally comfortable with the posuk rendered by Edible Torah.

    P.S. The rabbi who heads the CCAR wouldn’t be permitted in the room during a meeting of the Rabbinical Council of American Men, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days.

  3. Pingback: The Edible Torah » Blog Archive » VIDEO: Early Shabbat

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