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Can Wine Be Holy?

Can Wine Be Holy?

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Question:

I am a Muslim, but I have many Jewish friends. I was recently invited to a Jewish home for a Friday night meal, and was surprised by the "Kiddush" ceremony, which involved saying prayers over a glass of wine. In my religion, wine is forbidden. Does Judaism honestly believe that such a sensual indulgence can be considered holy?

Answer:

Each of us has a body and a soul. Our body is usually only interested in the material pleasures that this world has to offer - a good meal, an entertaining T.V. show, comfort and gratification. The soul has higher aspirations - it seeks true love, meaning, inspiration and a connection to what's holy.

All religions attempt to give us access to our souls. But as long as the body continues to chase the mundane, the soul is trapped. There are two methods to free the soul offered by different religions:

1) Suppression. By suppressing our bodily desires we can allow the soul to shine through. This means a life of ascetism and abstinence, avoiding the pleasures of this world.

2) Refinement. Alternatively, we can find spirituality within the mundane itself, by being involved with the physical world in a holy and refined way. Then the body no longer opposes the soul; on the contrary, it serves as a vehicle to express the soul's needs.

Judaism insists on the second approach. Rather than suppress the body, refine it. Don't be celibate - but save sexuality for marriage. Don't fast all day - but only eat foods that are spiritually pure. Work with the body, not against it.

The path of refinement is a challenging one, but it is possible.

Just look at wine.

Wine has a unique property that demonstrates the fact that we need not afflict our bodies in order to tap in to our souls.

Wine improves with age.

Most foods decompose as time goes on. In fact, all physical things do - buildings crumble, clothes wear out, our bodies age. This is because anything physical is ephemeral - it doesn't last; while the world of the spirit is eternal, and gets stronger with time. The one exception is wine. Wine, although it is also physical, has the spiritual property of improving with age. It is wine that testifies that even the physical can be refined.

Wine represents what Judaism is all about: the fusing of the holy and the mundane, the spiritual and physical, the body and soul.

What could be more holy than that?

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Otto Sydney, Australia September 4, 2009

I am doing some research to present to a Christian friend who has recently sworn off wine as not being part of G-d's plan. He claims that the Torah essentially proscribes alcoholic beverages. Part of his evidence is that the Greek word used in Christian origins of the Bible is "oinos" which means juice from the grape, and is not clear as to being alcoholic or not.

There is also the belief that G-d could never condone the consumption of any alcohol, as that would be inherently evil. (Hence the USA Prohibition.)

I am very refreshed to see here and other places that not only is it not prohibited but prescribed and celebrated in ancient Jewish custom. (Moderation is always emphasised, but that also applies to indulging in everything that is nice, to avoid things such as gluttony.)

I already suspected as much when asking various Jewish friends who looked at me quizzically when I asked if Passover wine was alcoholic or not.

Thank you. Reply

Ryan February 19, 2009

Just don't get drunk and you're fine. And, don't drive afterwards.

If you want a good wine to start with, try the Manischewitz brand Blackberry Passover Wine. It's my favorite. It's very sweet and fruity, like dessert. It is good paired with red meat or vegitable stews like ratatouille. Reply

Anonymous February 3, 2009

I am a Christian try to understand more about the drinking of wine especially in Jewish history. I read "Can wine be Holy" That makes sense. What about casual drinking? Is it OK to drink casualy or should it be reserved for special holidays? Reply

shmuel lewis Sparta, NJ May 17, 2007

Although I agree with the general idea by the author would have to disagree about the aging of wine. All (perhaps most) Physical things start off getting better but then begin the process of dying. A person is a prime example. A child gets stronger and stronger but as he gets older he begins to weaken. The same holds true of wine. There are many types of wine. With some the period of getting better is short lived and for some it can be many years. But at some point - like all physical things they all begin to weaken. In addition once a bottle is opened and in contact with too much oxygen it begins to deteriorate very quickly. This is one of the reasons given why the British invented Port (named after where it is made in Oporto, Portugal). The British sailors needed wine that lasted once opened and in contact with oxygen. So they added Brandy (distilled wine) to the wine. The high alcoholic content makes the life of the opened bottle much longer. Reply

Rox August 11, 2006

I'm not Jewish, but I'd also like to defend some points in the article. Wine also has the mind-affecting effects, via alcohol, that cheese does not. From what I understand in Judaism, this can be used to the soul's benefit. I've tasted many pleasant cheeses but I've never had my mind or physicality very affected by them.

This seems to be another point to Judaism. The Rebbe said that the lower something falls, the higher it can be raised. Alcohol and its "damaging" and inebriating effects can be raised much higher than other drinks which do not contain alcohol.

People are damaged by alcohol ONLY BECAUSE they ALLOW themselves to be damaged by it!

And all this is under the philosophy that REFINEMENT is preferable to ASCETICISM. Did not "anonymous" read that? Reply

Anonymous March 23, 2006

To Anonymous who posted on 3/12/05,

You asked why Judaism would consider wine holy since it is "...something harmful to the body..." ? Several studies have found that wine is beneficial to the body if drunk in moderate amounts. Judaism doesn't encourage drinking to the point of inebriation (except on Purim).

I hope that my post has been helpful. Shalom! Reply

Anonymous March 12, 2005

How come a religion considers something harmful to the body as "HOLY" ? Reply

ben December 19, 2004

I want to respond to points raised in defense of the article.

One. Alcohol, unlike wine, does not intrinsicaly get better through age. Wine regardless of being bottled or not continues to imporve through time unlike other alcoholic beverages.

Two. Lenny says that sometimes the 'simple' answers are not so 'nice' I do not understand your point. 'Reason' in hebrew comes from the same word as 'taste.' Why? because the more understanding and reason, the more tastefull the commandments are.

My point: why stop on the surface. Do not deprive you soul of the powerfull resorces availabletoday for us. Go deeper. Reply

Lenny Brooklyn, NY October 10, 2004

I just want to explain something: many of this Rabbi's answers are only small snippets of reasons for things. There are plain and simple, black and white reasons for each and every act in Jewish life, but not all of the reasons are fluffy and high on the surface- this Rabbi is often times choosing the deeper meanings (or rather one or more of them) over the plain and simple reasons. This is not neccessarily a bad thing, but one should know that the reasons given are not specifically THE reason, but A reason (or rather- a DEEPER meaning...)

I encourage him at his work, but the reader should keep that in mind- the Rabbi is answering with things that are easily understandable and instantly acceptable, while at the same time giving a sort of 'high'. The plain and simple meanings don't always do that at first glanse. Reply

lil mouse September 9, 2004

Cheese MOLDS with age. I should know. Reply

Anonymous September 8, 2004

We bless the bread to symbolize our existance
we bless the wine in order to have happiness in this life
and the lights is all the above and byond

Formula = Bread+wine+light=shabat yom tov
Bread=existance
wine= happiness
light=life,good, wisdom
Simple but this is the logic, nothing more...
Reply

Rachel Highland Park, NJ September 6, 2004

The "wine improves with age" explanation is a poignant but insufficient response to this question. Cheeses improve with age, but I've never heard a cheese-related prayer. Is there a more complete account of the importance of wine? Reply

Anonymous NY, NY September 5, 2004

I really liked the explanation about holiness of the wine, but I think that many other alcoholic beverages do not decompose over the time. (Please correct me if I am wrong). And even become stronger like wine. So, why did Jews choose wine? May be because it's the only ancient beverage? Reply

Gerald M. Dinerman Ramat Aviv, Israel via jewishoreline.org September 5, 2004

If, the Gentleman, was real and actually had Jewish friends, then he must have seen many times the Jewish "Kiddush" for Shabbat. And he must have known that it wasn't the wine that was the focus of the prayer, but it was only a 'tool'!

Does anyone remember the story of the Jewish man who asked his Rabbi if they could say the Shabbat Kiddush using milk? The Rabbi gave him a larger sum of money than his 'Rebittizum' expected he would give.

When she questioned the amount, the Rabbi answered, "When he asked if he could use mik, I knew they didn't have enough to have a Shabbat meal, and so I gave him the extra money!"

It's not the wine but the thought! Reply

Moish Jerusalem, Israel September 5, 2004

bs"d
It's deeply unsettling to read this article that seems right out of a "Jewish Studies" faculty's "Comparative Religion" class. In the language of my forefathers Yiddishkeit reflects the true sense that no other language even Ben-Eliezer's innovation can't. Yiddishkeit is not "A Religion", "keit" is the state of BEING. It's Being Jewish. We don't practice "A Religion" we simply ARE JEWISH. By doing the things we do and Serving our Creator the way we do, we ARE JEWISH. Mistakenly we are described as "religious Jews", well we are not, we are only doing things JEWISH. Reply