July 18, 2024
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Four Reasons to Choose Israeli Wine

With a dazzling array of kosher wine choices from more than a dozen countries, I believe Israeli wines should be our preference. We present four arguments for Israeli wine (consumed by adults moderately and responsibly) in honor of Shavuot.

Argument #1: Living the Tanach

Yaakov Avinu on his deathbed (Bereishit 49:11) blesses Yehuda “oseri lagefen iro.” Rashi explains that Yaakov prophesies that Yehuda’s portion in Eretz Yisrael will be gushing forth bountiful amounts of wine like a spring. How thrilling it is to see the fulfillment of this prophecy in our time with so many wineries from Yehuda’s land (such as the Gush Etzion winery)!

Moreover, the Navi Amos (9:14) presents lush vineyards as a poignant expression of the future rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael. “I will return my people Israel to its land where they will rebuild desolate cities, and they will plant vineyards and drink its wine and plant orchards and consume its fruit.”

In 1867 the famous author Mark Twain visited the land of Israel and described it (“Innocents Abroad,” page 485) as “barren,” “unsightly deserts tinged with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent” and “a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.”

In the early days of Medinat Yisrael, struggling to recover from destructive Arab attacks and coping with a flood of refugees from Arab countries and European displaced person’s camps, food had to be rationed. Only 70 years later, Israel is, with Hashem’s help, awash with unending varieties of luscious wine that earns endless international acclaim.

How fortunate is our generation to witness the words of Amos come to life before our very eyes!

Argument # 2: Imitating Hashem

Kosher winemakers throughout the world adhere to a rigorous regimen to produce kosher wine. However, kosher winemakers in Israel must also adhere to the many special halachot governing Eretz Yisrael produce. The mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz relevant to winemaking include separating terumot and ma’aserot, refraining from orlah and kilayim, as well as steep shemitah restrictions.

The Torah exhorts us “Acharei Hashem Elokeichem telechu” (Devarim 13:5). This principle obligates us to imitate Hashem’s actions. Chazal (Sotah 14a) offer such examples as “Just as Hashem visits the sick, we too should visit the sick” and “Just as Hashem buries the dead, we too should bury the dead.”

I suggest that, following this principle, just as Hashem rewards Israeli viticulturists who observe the mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz, so too we, the consumer, should reward Israeli kosher winemakers with our purchase.

Argument #3: Countering BDS

We can learn from our enemies what we need to strengthen. If our enemies call for boycotts for Israeli products, then purchasing Israel lobbying groups must be essential. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74b) teaches that we are not to change even arakta d’mesana, the strap of a sandal, during times of persecution.

There was a Jewish custom concerning sandal straps. If the gentile authorities were to decree that Jews must change their practice and wear sandal straps like those worn by the gentiles, one would be obligated to give up his life rather than veer from the accepted custom (explication is from the William Davidson translation of the Talmud posted at www.sefaria.org).

Ask the commentaries, why do we make an issue of sandal straps? They answer that if our enemies target the sandal straps, our wearing must be of critical importance. BDS proponents, in turn, teach us to purchase Israeli products whenever possible.

Argument #4: Love of Eretz Yisrael

Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (Navardok, 1829-1908), in his Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 648:29), strongly emphasizes the importance of using an etrog grown in Eretz Yisrael when such an etrog is available. He insists that it would be a grave insult to our land to select an etrog grown outside the land. In sharp and biting language that is very uncharacteristic for the Aruch HaShulchan, Rav Epstein writes:

How could we not be ashamed and embarrassed to ignore an etrog from our Holy Land? Woe is to the shame; woe is the embarrassment! Regarding a choice to spurn Eretz Yisrael, it is written (Tehillim 106:24, in the context of describing the chet hameraglim!): “and they have
despised the wonderful land.” Therefore we must make every effort to purchase an etrog from Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Epstein’s fiery words regarding etrog selection apply with equal force to wine selection. During his lifetime, etrogim were the only Eretz Yisrael product available for purchase in faraway lands. One can only imagine how Rav Epstein would marvel at the wide variety of world-class Israeli goods available in our stores.

It is interesting to note that Rav Epstein was not an enthusiastic supporter of the Zionist movement (see Rav Eitam Henkin’s nuanced explication of Rav Epstein’s approach to Zionism in his landmark work “Ta’aroch Lefanai Shulchan”). One need not be a fervent Zionist to harbor great love for Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion

Finally, what would our great-great-grandparents, who pined for Eretz Yisrael in whatever countries they lived, have selected for Yom Tov if they had the opportunity to purchase a product from Eretz Yisrael. I think the answer is quite apparent to us.

Let us make the choice that our ancestors would have made. We must never take Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael for granted.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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