Which wine?

Avodah Zara (5) | Shmoiki Berkowitz | 16 years ago

A prominent issue discussed in the final perek of Avodah Zarah is the scope of the prohibition against gaining benefit from wine that was used for the purposes of idolatry.

The Rambam writes (Ma’achalot Assurot 11:1) that the prohibition against material benefit (in addition to consumption) from wine used for idolatry is scripturally based and therefore subject to the punishment of lashes. The Radbaz cites the Rambam’s source as a Gemara in Avodah Zarah (29b) where the prohibition is learnt from a hekesh (scriptural juxtaposition). The position of the Rambam is reiterated in Sefer HaMitzvot, where he counts this prohibition as one of the 613 commandments in the Torah (Prohibition 194). The Ramban, however, rejects the assertion that a halacha derived from a hekesh can be regarded as a base commandment. The Sefer HaChinnuch (Mitzvah 111) comments that apart from the scriptural source, this prohibition serves as a mechanism to prevent exposure and interaction with idolatry and idol worshippers.

Using this scriptural prohibition as a platform, Chazal prohibited deriving benefit from all wine belonging to non-Jews and wine belonging to Jews which has been handled by a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 123:1). The Tur (Yoreh Deah 123) explains that Chazal initially prohibited benefit from wine belonging to a non-Jew as a way to negate assimilation, and subsequently extended this prohibition to wine belonging to a Jew that was touched by a non-Jew. Moreover, the rabbinic prohibition carries the same stringencies as the scriptural prohibition.

The Rambam presents a leniency (Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 12:5) in the event where a non-Jew inadvertently came into contact with wine belonging to a Jew whereby it is permissible to gain material benefit from the wine, however, remains prohibited to consume. The Tur (Yoreh Deah, 123) presents the opinion of the Rashbam citing Rashi, who is more lenient. According to the Rashbam, a non-Jew who willingly handles wine belonging to a Jew does not prohibit the wine from gaining any benefit, as he is no longer familiar with the ritual idolatry practices involving wine. In addition, the Rashbam maintains that any practices performed in a way which may resemble idolatry are not performed with intention for idolatry.

The Rama (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 123:1) cites the leniency of the Rashbam and extends it to include wine belonging to a non-Jew. However, the Rama imposes a restriction on this leniency, in that one may not willingly seek financial gain from these wines.

A common solution to avoid the prohibition of wine handled by a non-Jew is to use boiled wine, which may be consumed even if handled by a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 123:3). This halacha is also written in the Tur, and the Bet Yosef, in his commentary on the Tur, encounters a difficulty with this ruling. As the rabbinic expansion of the scriptural prohibition was introduced to prevent assimilation, there should be no difference whether the wine was boiled. The Bet Yosef offers the solution that since boiled wine is uncommon practice, it is not bound by the rabbinic prohibition, which only prohibits wines produced under normal wine-making conditions. The Taz, in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch refers to the question of the Bet Yosef and presents an alternative answer. The Taz suggests that since boiled wine is of inferior quality to regular wine, it is not wine appropriate for idolatry practices. The rabbinic prohibition to prevent assimilation was only against wines that are similar to the wines that are scripturally prohibited. In view of the fact that boiled wine would not be used for the purposes of idolatry it is not subject to the rabbinic sanction.


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