By Raphael Grunfeld, November 30, 2009
Bava Batra 97b
Just because G-d has given us a weekly, lifetime subscription to paradise, that does not mean that we may take the Shabbat for granted. No gift should go unacknowledged and no giver should go forgotten. “Remember the Shabbat and bless it”, Zachor et Yom Hashabat Lekadsho.” We bless the Giver by reciting Kiddush and Havdalah, and we remember the Shabbat by drinking wine, which in Scripture, is the beverage of fond memories. Like us, the Shabbat guest wants to be welcomed when she arrives and missed when she leaves.
But you are vacationing in Cape Cod and the local liquor store does not carry “Kosher” wine! And the next Shabbat morning, back in town, you hover over the synagogue, Bar Mitzva Kiddush table, and are about to recite Kiddush. And you wonder. “The whisky, or the wine” ?
In determining whether there is any acceptable alternative to wine, the Rabbis differentiate between Kiddush on Friday night, Havdalah on Motzei Shabbat and Kiddush on Shabbat morning. In view of the fact that Friday night Kiddush is a Biblical requirement, the only alternative to Kiddush wine on Friday night, is to recite Kiddush over bread. The connection between the Shabbat and the Mishkan, (Sanctuary) which defines the 39 prohibited Melachot on Shabbat, may also explain why only wine and bread are acceptable. Both wine and bread were used in the Temple sacrifices. When reciting Kiddush over bread in the absence of wine on Friday night, the following procedure is followed. One washes one’s hands, covers the two loaves of bread with a cloth, places one’s hands on the cloth and recites Vayechulu. The blessing for wine which would otherwise precede the Kiddush blessing, is replaced by the blessing for bread.
Havdalah, is, according to most opinions, of Rabbinic origin, and accordingly, the Rabbis have a more flexible approach. The preferred beverage for Havdalah is still wine. Nevertheless, if one finds oneself, without wine, one may use other beverages which qualify as “Chamar Medinah”, which, loosely translated, means, the “popular beverage of the location”. The precise meaning of “Chamar Medina”, which beverages qualify as Chamar Medina, and under what circumstances they may be used instead of wine, is the subject of animated Halachic debate.
According to the Shulchan Aruch, all drinks, except water, qualify as Chamar Medina. According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, what sets Chamar Medina apart from other beverages is that it is principally a social drink rather than a thirst-quenching drink. Accordingly, soda and water, which people do not drink as a rule, unless they are thirsty, do not qualify as Chamar Medinah and cannot be used for Havdalah. Conversely, whisky, beer, tea, coffee and perhaps even milk, do qualify as Chamar Medina, in as much as people might drink them for social reasons, even when they are not thirsty. These drinks may therefore be used for Havdalah. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, however, vehemently disagrees. A drink is not considered Chamar Medina, he claims, unless it is both bitter in taste and intoxicating. The only reason, he argues, that one is allowed to drink non-alcoholic beverages before Kiddush on Shabbat morning, is precisely because they are not considered “drinks” for the purpose of Kiddush. It follows therefore, that they do not qualify for Kiddush or Havdalah. And the debate continues regarding the circumstances which justify using Chamar Medina for Havdalah. According to most opinions, Chamar Medina may only be used if wine is totally unavailable, at any price, in town or a distance of one day’s journey from town. According to the Rambam, however, once a drink qualifies as Chamar Medina, it may be used for Havdalah even if wine is available in town.
The situation with Shabbat morning is the most lenient of the three. This is because it is of Rabbinic origin and the Kiddush that welcomed Shabbat has already been made Friday night. Accordingly, the accepted practice is to allow Chamar Medina for Shabbat morning Kiddush, where wine, although available, is either not easily accessible, or too expensive. And on Shabbat morning, whisky is in a category all of its own. Unlike other beverages that qualify as Chamar Medina, whisky can be chosen over wine, even where the two bottles are standing side by side. According to the Mishna Berura, however, one would have to use a wine-size Kiddush cup which holds between 3-6 ounces and drink most of it in one shot. According to other authorities, a small whisky glass is sufficient.
Raphael Grunfeld’s book, Ner Eyal on Seder Moed is available now at OU.org and at your local Judaic bookstore. His new book, Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin will be available shortly. You can reach Raphael at firstname.lastname@example.org.