Kosher Wine

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have asked this question and have not had a satisfactory answer from anyone. If grapes (or apples, or any other fruit) are kosher, and if grapes are left to ferment, with nothing added and become wine, why isn’t the wine kosher? I have been told that the people who make the wine are not Jews and therefore, the finished product is not kosher. That, in my opinion is nonsense. If cows are kosher, and the milk that comes from them is kosher, does this mean that if the farmer is not a Jew, the milk is not kosher? There are about 60,000 Jews in the Dallas area who are not affiliated with a synagogue (I am one of them) and answers like this are only causing them (and me) to just give up on Judaism as the answers to common questions like this are meaningless. I am very confused and frustrated.

Jeff

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Dear Jeff,

I understand your frustration and admire you for not giving up and continuing to seek a better grasp on the laws which govern our lives as Jews. 

To do justice to your question need to acuire a deep understanding of the system of “Rabbinical Decrees.” To attempt to fully grasp this law without the complete system is like trying to enjoy the icing before the cake; sometimes it just gets all over you instead of it enhancing the taste of the cake. 

The Torah commanded the Sages to enact decrees to protect the Laws of the Torah, or “erect safeguards for My laws.” These early Rabbis, with a profound feeling of responsibility for the Jewish people and G-d’s laws, enacted rabbinical decrees for each generation based upon its needs and the needs of future generations. These decrees are found in the rabbinic literature, such as the Mishna and Talmud. 

There are a number of categories of “unkosher.” 

  • Some items are prohibited explicitly by the Torah.
  • Others are forbidden rabbinically due to them containing a small amount of non-kosher material. 
  • There are foods that are not technically “unkosher” in that they contain a Torah-forbidden ingredient. The “unkosher” status of these foods emanates, rather, from a rabbinical decree. 

Wine prepared by a non-Jew comes under this last category. The Talmud explains that wine is an item that brings people together in a very intimate way. When a man and a woman drink wine together, they become much closer than drinking a soft drink together, in a way which could, and often would, lead to their eventually marrying. 

The Jewish people in the Diaspora are in a very fragile condition regarding the issue of intermarriage. It is, as we well know, quite difficult to be living in a non-Jewish world, doing business and being friendly with our non-Jewish neighbors, and at the same time not marry them. The rabbis saw the need to create virtual “fences,” boundaries,  around the Jewish people to ensure our stability and integrity. These boundaries enhance our ability to be together, yet stay apart. Hence, the Rabbis forbade wine prepared by non-Jews, to create an invisible barrier not to step over the line from friendship to intimacy. 

I hope this helps you in your understanding, and look forward to hearing more of your questions.   

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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