Wine has been with us since Creation; the power secreted in the grape emerges via the fermentation process. When imbibing wine, we are similarly affected, releasing emotions that were previously restrained. Our Sages point to the parallel that the Hebrew words yayin, or wine, and sod, secret, have the same gematria (numerical value) of 70. This, they explain, is the reason why “when wine enters, secrets emerge.” This natural phenomenon may be channeled to enhance our relationship with G‑d. It could equally engender within us a dangerous state of mind.

It is not surprising then that the Torah dictates that pourings of wine (libations) accompany most of the sacrifices in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). A cup of wine is also used for Kiddush and Havdalah, at a brit (circumcision), wedding and pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn), not to mention the kos shel berachah, the cup of wine held for the recital of Birkat haMazon. But equally understandable is the prohibition placed upon wine of a gentile, to prevent us from lowering the social barrier that separates the People of Israel and their pagan neighbors. There is also the concern that the gentile may have used the wine (or intended to use it) for idolatrous purposes.

This does not apply to yayin mevushal, boiled wine, which is immune to these concerns because it is disqualified from libation upon the altar in the Beit HaMikdash. As a parallel, our sages understood that such wine would not be used in idol worship. True, the social concerns remain. However, once the idol-worship aspect has been removed from the wine, our Sages totally lifted the restriction upon this wine).

Let us explore some practical examples of where the prohibition of wine handled by a non-Jew come into play.

Fresh Grape Juice

As a “hands-on” learning activity in a school setting, some staff-members suggested having the children squeeze juice from grapes, thereby teaching the youngsters how wine is produced.

However, one must be aware that the Halachic status of “wine” applies as soon as the juice has been separated from the squeezed grapes, even though it has not fermented at all. Now consider how likely it is that this “wine” will be handled by a gentile. This could be a staff member, a visiting professional, or a nanny who brings or collects a child. If it is likely, then that “hands-on” activity should be avoided.

Jews Who Violate Shabbat

Many Poskim maintain that one who brazenly violates Shabbat has the status of a gentile for this purpose, and should he touch wine, it would be prohibited. Consequently, in settings where such people are likely to handle the wine, it is recommended to use only yayin mevushal.

Contemporary halachic authorities discuss the use of wine under the chuppah in the event that the groom is known to violate Shabbat publicly. May officiating rabbi give him sip from the wine and then give the bride to sip from the wine too?

Rav Yaakov Breisch1 finds grounds to permit this. A simple solution, however, would be to use yayin mevushal at such a wedding.

Clinking Glasses

Young Rabbi Meir lives in Paris, and he engages regularly with Jews who are momentarily far from keeping Shabbat. They often meet in high-end kosher restaurants, and their meal is naturally accompanied by choice kosher wines. True, there is a wide range of mevushal varieties, but Meir's people know to appreciate the higher-quality wines, many of which are not mevushal. (Meir sees value in exposing his friends to these boutique wines, thus educating them that keeping kosher need not entail having to settle for lower quality food and wine).

Meir is particular that once a bottle is opened, only he handles the wine. But he has another problem: French etiquette dictates that, when dining and wining in company, one should clink glasses with his fellow diner. Thus, Meir's own glass of wine has been in contact with one that is compared to a gentile.

However, upon careful scrutiny, we see that there is greater leniency in the case of indirect contact.2 Added to this: Meir's contact are not gentiles; they are Jews who have been brought up in error (tinokot shenishb’u) and are certainly not harboring thoughts of idol-worship. These factors combine to allow Rabbi Meir that he may continue with his holy endeavors.

The Chef’s Mistake

I was called on the day before Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Mendel, a Chabad rabbi in California. At his Chabad House, he is hosting a large group of guests for the Yom Tov meals, and he had employed the services of a non-Jewish chef. Late at night, he visited the kitchen and he discovered that the chef had poured wine over the trays of chicken before placing them in the oven to roast. Curiously, that bottle of wine was not mevushal.

Now, this would normally dictate that the wine and the roasted meat be prohibited. However, his contact with the wine was indirect. Add to this that that disposing of the chicken would constitute a major loss. Accordingly, it is permitted, relying on the assumption that the chef had no intentions of idol worship.3

Leaving Wine Alone With Household Help

Coming back to a more familiar setting: I employ the services of a non-Jewish cleaner and I often leave her alone at home while I leave to work. I do have at home unsealed bottles of non-mevushal wine kept in a cupboard. My cleaning lady has no business to be prying in that cupboard. Is it OK that I leave her alone in the house, or do I have to make sure that the wine cupboard is locked?

After the fact, the wine is permitted, because it's very unlikely that the cleaner would have helped herself to a drink of the wine.4 But ideally one should avoid a state where the gentile is left alone with kosher wine. As stated by Rama:5 "Ideally one should never leave at his home neither wine nor vinegar alone with a non-Jew. Yet post-facto the wine is permitted."

Wine Seen by a Gentile

The effect of a gentile upon wine is via physical contact. There is, however, a widely-followed chumra (stringency), quoted in the Sefer Shaloh, to avoid wine that was seen by a gentile in its uncooked state.