Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Many mixed marriages begin with mixed drinking. Our sages knew very well that nothing helps so much to drop the barrier between people and to create intimacy which may finally lead to intermarriage as the drinking of wine together.

Accordingly, our rabbis prohibit a Jew to drink the wine of a non-Jew. Wine of a non-Jew is referred to in halacha as stam yeinam. The prohibition against drinking stam yeinam extends not only to wine manufactured by a non-Jew but also to wine manufactured by a Jew but touched by a non-Jew.

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There is a difference of opinion among halachic authorities as to whether the prohibition against stam yeinam applies only to shetiah, drinking non-Jewish wine, or extends to hana’ah, deriving any benefit from it. Tosafot and the Shulchan Aruch are of the opinion that the prohibition covers both shetiah and hana’ah. They maintain that the rabbis legislated one decree, equating stam yeinam with yayin nesech, wine used in the ancient idolatrous rite of libations.

According to Tosafot, the rabbis were concerned that if one would be allowed to benefit from non-Jewish wine at all, it might lead to participation in these idolatrous practices. Because of this concern, the rabbis decreed that stam yeinam should have all the restrictions of yayin nesech. According to Tosafot and its followers, even though the practice of idol worship is no longer prevalent today, because the concern of intermarriage remains, the decree survives and a Jew is not only prohibited from drinking stam yeinam but, as with yayin nesech, he is also prohibited from deriving any benefit from it. He may not even be in the business of selling stam yeinam to non-Jews.

The Rashbam and the Rema take the view that the rabbis did not issue just one decree equating stam yeinam with yayin nesech. Rather, they enacted two separate decrees. The first decree was enacted against drinking stam yeinam in order to discourage fraternization and it continues to apply today. The second decree against deriving any benefit from stam yeinam was enacted out of the explicit concern that drinking non-Jewish wine would lead to idolatrous practices.

Because idolatry is no longer prevalent today, the second decree against deriving any benefit from stam yeinam no longer applies and has been automatically rescinded. Only the first decree against drinking stam yeinam survives. The accepted view today is in accordance with the opinion of the Rashba and the Rema, so that the prohibition against stam yeinam does not extend to hana’ah but only to shetiah.

The prohibition against drinking stam yeinam does not apply to yayin mevushal, non-Jewish wine that has undergone a process of cooking. Several explanations are offered for the exemption of yayin mevushal. According to the Rambam, the reason is that yayin mevushal was never used for idol worship purposes. The Rosh rejects Rambam’s explanation and argues that since the main reason for the prohibition against drinking stam yeinam is out of the concern of intermarriage, not because of past idol worship practices, the prohibition ought to apply to yayin mevushal too. In the view of the Rosh, the reason yayin mevushal is permitted is because it is not a popular beverage and because of the rule milta delo shechicha lo gazru ba’rabannan – the rabbis did not enact decrees for rare situations. According to the Rashba, cooked wine is not called wine. It is a different beverage with a different taste and the rabbis did not have it in mind when they prohibited stam yeinam.

There is also a difference of opinion regarding the degree of heat to which wine needs to be heated in order to become yayin mevushal. According to most authorities, yayin stam turns into yayin mevushal only when it reaches boiling point and begins to evaporate. According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, yayin turns to yayin mevushal when it is yad soledet bo, too hot to touch.

This ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein means that many pasteurized wines are permissible because the pasteurization process involves heating wines at least to and sometimes in excess of the temperature of yad soledet bo. Grape juice is also considered yayin mevushal provided the grapes themselves are heated to the required temperature. According to Rabbi Feinstein, heating the juice once it has been extracted from the grapes does not qualify as yayin mevushal.

According to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, yayin becomes yayin mevushal only when it is cooked on the fire in the open. When cooked this way, the alcohol evaporates in a cloud of steam, which ignites like spirit when touched with a flame. What remains is a beverage with less alcohol and a different taste that we call yayin mevushal.

But pasteurized wine is not prepared in the open. It is prepared in sealed pipes from which the vaporous clouds of alcohol have no means of escape and never leave the beverage for good. In the commercial method of pasteurization the wine does not evaporate and it tastes exactly like regular wine. Pasteurized wines are also frequently used as wine and therefore the rational of the Rosh for permitting yayin mevushal does not apply. For all these reasons, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that pasteurized wine and grape juice are subject to the laws of stam yeinam just the same as regular wine.

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