During Prohibition, it was against the law to make alcoholic beverages unless it was necessary for sacramental purposes. So the churches made wine for their sacraments and the Jews made wine for Kiddush, Havdalah, and the arba kosos.
But Louis Ginzberg, who taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, massered to the government. He had learned in Slobodka, and on the first page of his sefarim is written “dor shmini l’haGra – eighth generation from the Vilna Gaon.” He used to sit and learn b’gilui rosh [without a yarmulke]. And he told the government it’s not true – that Jews don’t have to make wine, they can be yotzi with grape juice.
When he said that, some of the rabbanim opposed him openly and called him the rosh lakara’im. They spelled the second word with an ayin [kera – tear] because he was from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Conservatives were ripping apart Judaism.
So they said grape juice is not acceptable. What about the Gemara that says you can squeeze out a cluster of grapes on Erev Shabbos and make Kiddush on Shabbos? They said that’s only if you didn’t treat the grape juice chemically to prevent it from fermenting. But our grape juice is treated chemically in such a way that it can never become wine. So they held that the beracha on modern-day grape juice is not borei pri hagafen, but shehakol. It’s like apple juice and orange juice.
The first real Orthodox rabbi who agreed with Louis Ginzberg that grape juice is good for Kiddush and Havdalah was Rav Moshe Feinstein. But even Rav Moshe held it’s no good for arba kosos. Arba kosos have to be a toast, he said, and a toast has to include alcohol. If it doesn’t, it’s no good. And he brought a raayah from the Yerushalmi, which says that Reb Yehuda HaNasi would be sick from Pesach until Shavuos because he drank arba kosos. You don’t get sick if you drink grape juice, so it’s a raayah that he drank wine and that you have to have wine.
The owner of Kedem, Mr. Herzog, pointed out that in the time of the Tanna’im, the grape season was in September, and if you made grape juice, it would ferment and become wine by Pesach because they didn’t know how to treat grape chemically like we do today. So he said, in his humble opinion, that Rav Moshe’s raayah from the Yerusahlami is not a raayah.
Rav Soloveitchik thought that the rabbanim who disagreed with Rav Moshe who held that grape juice is shehakol had a point. But Rabbi Soloveitchik himself, when he was an old man and couldn’t take wine, used grape juice for arba kosos and said if a person doesn’t enjoy wine, it’s preferable to use grape juice because the Rambam says, based on the Gemara, that arba kosos should be pleasant-tasting, “shtiya areiva.” So if you don’t enjoy wine, it’s a mitzvah min hamuvchar to use grape juice.