Peninei Halakha

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07. The Wine

The Sages stated (Pesaḥim 108b) that in order to fulfill the mitzva of the four cups properly, one must dilute the wine with water, because otherwise it will be too strong and heavy and will cause intoxication. Though the alcohol in such wine gives one pleasure, the mitzva is to drink the wine in the manner of free people, that is, like wealthy people who have control of their own time and permit themselves to drink the best wine, making sure it is diluted properly so that one can enjoy it without getting drunk. Today’s wine is not as hard and strong, and there is no obligation to dilute it. Only one for whom diluting the wine improves its taste and effects has a mitzva to dilute it. (See MB 472:29; some have the custom of diluting the wine to enhance the mitzva.)

Instead, nowadays we enhance the expression of our freedom by purchasing fine wine that is strong enough to intoxicate, because such wine causes a sense of joy, liberation, and freedom. However, one must be careful not to use a wine so strong that it disrupts one’s ability to concentrate on the Hagada and to fulfill the mitzvot of the Seder night. One must therefore drink four cups of wine in a manner that brings joy and does not cause drowsiness or intoxication. A person for whom drinking a full cup of wine is hard or might hinder him from fulfilling the mitzvot of the Seder properly should mix his wine with water, grape juice, or both, as long as water is not the majority. This will allow him to drink wine that intoxicates, on one hand, but on the other hand, will bring him to a state of joy in which he can properly fulfill all the mitzvot of the Seder night. One may also use wine with very low alcohol content.

Even though, be-di’avad, one can fulfill the obligation with grape juice, one must know that when the Sages instituted the four cups, they did not imagine that one would fulfill this mitzva with grape juice, as in their day there was no way to preserve the juice without it turning into vinegar. Even one who did not enjoy the taste of wine or who got a headache from drinking wine was obligated to drink four cups. In fact, the Gemara recounts that R. Yehuda b. Ilai had to wrap his head in a kerchief from Pesaḥ until Shavu’ot due to a headache caused by drinking four cups of wine. Only one who wine caused to become ill and bedridden was exempt from the mitzva (Nedarim 49b; SA 472:10; MB ad loc. 35). The Sages intended for us to recite the Hagada and tell the Exodus story while drinking wine that enhances enjoyment. One who uses grape juice does not fulfill the mitzva in the way the Sages enacted it. However, now that grape juice is available, one who suffers from the effects of wine – for example, it gives him a headache – may fulfill his obligation using grape juice.

Women are also commanded to drink four cups of wine, just as they are commanded to fulfill all of the mitzvot of the Seder night (SA 472:14). The mitzva is to drink wine that enhances joy.[3]

There is a mitzva to embellish this obligation and choose a fine wine that brings joy to use for the four cups. In addition, red wine is considered preferable. However, fine white wine is preferred over red wine that is not as fine. Be-di’avad, any wine is adequate, even cheap white wine (SA 472:11).

[3]. In the past, it was only possible to obtain grape juice during the grape harvest. Since last season’s wine would have already been used up and it would take another forty days to prepare wine from the new crop, the Sages permitted making kiddush on grape juice (Bava Batra 97b; SA 272:2). This is be-di’avad, especially when it comes to the Seder, where reciting the Hagada joyfully is an integral part of the institution. So states Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:35, although in the notes on p. 130 (of Harerei Kodesh) the author defends the practice of many women to use grape juice. He argues that the reason for using intoxicating wine is to fulfill the mitzva of rejoicing on Yom Tov, and Pesaḥim 109a states: “Every person must rejoice during the festival…men with what is appropriate for them – with wine, and women…in Babylonia with dyed clothing and in Eretz Yisrael with pressed linen clothing.” SA 529:2 and BHL ad loc. rule that, indeed, the joy of wine relates primarily to men. Nevertheless, it is clear that women, too, have a mitzva to rejoice on the festivals with wine, in accordance with the view of the tanna kama (Pesaḥim, ibid.), as explained in Peninei Halakha: Festivals (1:9-10, n. 5). Moreover, women are obligated to drink four cups of wine just like men, as “they too participated in that miracle” (Pesaḥim 108b). Until recent generations, this was the common practice of women. Nevertheless, intoxication is more disgraceful for women than for men (Ketubot 65a), so women concerned about intoxication may mix more grape juice into their wine.

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Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman