Question: May one use grape juice for the arba kosos?
Answer: Many years ago the hechsher on grape juice stated that only the “old, sick, or minors” were permitted to use grape juice for kiddush and the arba kosos.
Rav Nissan Telushkin, a great talmid chacham and the author of halachic works on the laws of mikveh, once articulated his halachic qualms regarding manufactured grape juice. He believed that bottled grape juice was qualitatively different than juice squeezed from a cluster of grapes. Juice that has just been squeezed from grapes may yet ferment into wine. However, bottled grape juice – because of the way it’s processed – will never ferment into wine. It will never have alcoholic content.
But why must it have alcoholic content? The basis for this requirement is Pesachim 108b where R. Yehuda states that “it must possess the taste and appearance of wine.” Raba provides the source for R. Yehuda’s statement – Proverbs 23:31: “Look not upon the wine when it is red.” The Rashbam explains that this verse takes it as a given that wine is red. And the redness of wine, writes the Rashbam, implies an alcoholic element to it. What the verse is saying is that the alcoholic content of wine should not be judged by its redness.
Another source for the necessity of wine having alcoholic content is Psalms 106:15, which states, “And wine gladdens the heart of man.” Since wine probably makes people happy because of its alcoholic content, it would appear that wine must have alcohol in it.
Thus, at first glance, it would seem that bottled grape juice, which lacks alcoholic content, cannot be used for kiddush or the arba kosos.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 272:4), however, seems to suggest otherwise. Despite R. Yehuda’s statement in the Gemara that wine must be red, the Shulchan Aruch rules one may use white wine for kiddush.
The Gaon of Vilna (Biur HaGra, O.C. 272:4) suggests that the Shulchan Aruch read R. Yehuda’s statement as a halachic preference rather than a halachic ruling. Moreover, another tanna in Pesachim 108 mentions nothing about wine having to be red, which suggests that he disagrees with R. Yehuda. If so, the Shulchan Aruch is simply ruling like the first tanna against R. Yehuda.
Since the requirement for wine to have alcoholic content stems from the same Gemara that states that wine must be red, it would seem that by ruling that wine need not be red, the Shulchan Aruch is implying that it also need not have alcoholic content. Thus, bottled grape juice would be acceptable for kiddush and the arba kosos.
(It is interesting to note that the Mishnah Berurah (272:10) writes that all authorities believe red wine is preferred lechat’chila. The Mishnah Berurah therefore also likely believes that wine should preferably have alcoholic content.)