Any kosher (and kosher for Passover) wine may be used for the Seder. However, if there is both white wine and red wine of equal quality available, it is preferable to use red wine, and indeed it is a special “mitzvah” to seek out red wine.

Why? Because in Jewish tradition, red wine is superior. This is seen in the verse “Look not after wine when it is red.”1

Even though the widespread custom is not to specifically seek out red wine for Shabbat and holiday Kiddush, we do so for the Passover Seder.2

Why is this night different from all the other nights?

Red Wine and Christian Hatred

Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488–1575 CE), who lived in the Holy Land while it was under Muslim rule, simply writes in the Code of Jewish Law that “it is a mitzvah to seek red wine.”3

However, for centuries, Jews living in Christendom would actually avoid red wine at the Seder because they feared doing anything that would give fodder to the hatemongers who peddled the false trope that Jews used the blood of Christian children in the baking of matzahs.

Known as “blood libels,” the first of which seems to have been in Norwich, England, in 1144, these incidents of mob action have frequently led to looting, rape and murder—and at times the decimation of entire Jewish communities.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812) writes in his edition of the Code that, “in the present era, when it is common [for non-Jews] to instigate blood libels, the custom has become to refrain from taking red wine for Pesach.”

Far from historical anomalies, these massacres took place across Christian Europe right into the 20th century, culminating with the 1911 framing of Mendel Beilis in Czarist Russia. Accordingly, this caution continued for the duration of the 19th century, as seen in the Mishnah Berurah, which was published as late as the years 1884-1907.

Nowadays, however, since these concerns have subsided, the widespread practice is to use red wine at the Seder.

That said, we can now learn why this is so:

Blood of Suffering

The primary symbolism behind red wine is indeed that it resembles blood. This recalls how (as told in the Midrash) Pharaoh would bathe in the blood of slaughtered Jewish children as a cure for his afflicted skin.4

Some add that it also evokes the first of the 10 plagues G‑d visited upon the Egyptians, the plague of Blood.5

Mitzvah Blood

Our sages relate that when it came time for G‑d to take the Jews out of Egypt, they had no mitzvahs in whose merit they deserved to be redeemed, as the verse states, “But you were naked and bare.”6 Therefore, G‑d gave them two mitzvahs: the circumcision of all males, followed by the Paschal lamb. The red wine commemorates these two mitzvahs, whose blood mingled together, and through which we merited to be redeemed from Egypt.7

The blood of the lamb was also smeared on the doorposts of our ancestors’ homes to protect them during the Death of the Firstborn. The red Seder wine is thus an expression of our prayer that G‑d continue to protect us.8

Red for Redemption

As we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, our thoughts also turn to the final Redemption yet to come. Isaiah declares that on that day we will ask: “Who is this coming from Edom in crimsoned garments . . . Why is Your clothing red, and your attire like [that of] one who trod in a wine press?”9 Thus, the red wine also symbolizes the Divine Judgment that G‑d will pour upon those who persecuted His nation.10 This will usher in the time about which the prophet proclaims “they will beat their swords into plowshares11 ” and universal peace will finally reign. May it be speedily in our days. Amen!