Dear Rabbi:

Whenever I drink a cup of wine, I get excruciating pain in my abdomen. Usually lasts only 15 minutes, but real torture. I know it’s a mitzvah to drink all four cups at the Passover Seder, but is there a way to get around the pain?


What you’re describing is a common reaction. Ask around and you’ll find many people with the same problem. It seems to occur principally with sweet wines, grape juice and apple juice.

The best explanation I’ve come across is that the pain is caused by a spasm of the sphincter of Oddi. That’s a muscular ring around the bile duct that’s supposed to open during a meal—but if it spasms, bile and pancreatic secretions back up and stretch the bile duct(s). That stretching is the pain you’re feeling.

The best solution is to use a dry or semi-dry wine. Try it before Passover to make sure. Most probably, it will solve the problem.

In case it doesn’t, or if you’re stuck at a Seder where there’s only sweet wine—well, you still need to drink those four cups, as long as it’s not causing any real harm. So try this:

First off, you only need to drink most of a three ounce cup. That means your cup has to hold at least three ounces (2.9 to be precise) but you only need to drink a little more than half of that. (For a regular Shabbat or Yom Tov kiddush, you need to drink only one and a half ounces, irregardless of the size of the cup—although drinking most of the cup is always optimal.) I haven't seen three ounce cups on the shelves, but four ounce cups are plentiful. So fill a four ounce cup and drink a little more than half the cup.

Another solution: Peppermint has long been known to relieve abdominal spasms, and there is anecdotal evidence that it helps with this syndrome as well. Prepare a super-strong brew of (kosher for Passover) peppermint tea beforehand, and drink it down right after the wine. Then wait a bit before eating or drinking anything more.

The peppermint brew may help for the first and second cups. For the third and fourth, there is an issue of nullifying the taste of the wine by chasing it with a strong-tasting drink.

Some people tell me that they don't get this pain from grape juice. Others say they find no difference. Grape juice is not optimum for a seder, since it does not represent freedom as wine does, but at least you have fulfilled the basic obligation of four cups. Best, however, if you can add just a little wine to the mix. Discuss the matter with your local Orthodox rabbi (and if it persists, your doctor as well).