June 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Kiddush Wine, Whisky, Beer, Coffee, Tea, Milk, Soda, Water: Chamar Medinah

Pesachim 107a

Just because God has given us a weekly, lifetime subscription to paradise, that does not mean that we may take the Shabbat for granted. No gift should go unacknowledged and no giver should go forgotten. “Zachor et yom haShabbat l’kadsho, Remember the Shabbat and bless it.” We bless the Giver by reciting Kiddush and Havdalah, and we remember the Shabbat by drinking wine, which in Scripture is the beverage of fond memories. Like us, the Shabbat guest wants to be welcomed when she arrives and missed when she leaves.

But you are vacationing in Cape Cod and the local liquor store does not carry “kosher” wine! And the next Shabbat morning, back in town, you hover over the synagogue bar mitzvah kiddush table and are about to recite Kiddush. And you wonder: “the whiskey or the wine?”

In determining whether there is any acceptable alternative to wine, the rabbis differentiate between Kiddush on Friday night, Havdalah on Motzei Shabbat and Kiddush on Shabbat morning. In view of the fact that Friday night Kiddush is a biblical requirement, the only alternative to Kiddush wine on Friday night is to recite Kiddush over bread. The connection between the Shabbat and the Mishkan, the Sanctuary, which defines the 39 prohibited melachot on Shabbat, may also explain why only wine and bread are acceptable. Both wine and bread were used in the Temple sacrifices. When reciting Kiddush over bread in the absence of wine on Friday night, the following procedure is followed: One washes one’s hands, covers the two loaves of bread with a cloth, places one’s hands on the cloth and recites Vayechulu. One then removes the cloth, places one’s hands on the challot and recites the blessing for bread, “Hamotzi,” instead of the blessing for wine. The blessing for wine, which would otherwise precede the Kiddush blessing, is replaced by the blessing for bread.

Havdalah is, according to most opinions, of rabbinic origin, and accordingly the rabbis have a more flexible approach. The preferred beverage for Havdalah is still wine. Nevertheless, if one finds oneself without wine, one may use other beverages that qualify as chamar medinah, which, loosely translated, means the “popular beverage of the location.” The precise meaning of chamar medinah, which beverages qualify as chamar medinah and under what circumstances they may be used instead of wine is the subject of animated halachic debate.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, all drinks except water qualify as chamar medinah. According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, what sets chamar medinah apart from other beverages is that it is principally a social drink rather than a thirst-quenching drink. Accordingly, soda and water, which people do not drink as a rule unless they are thirsty, do not qualify as chamar medinah and cannot be used for Havdalah. Conversely, whiskey, beer, tea, coffee and perhaps even milk do qualify as chamar medinah, in as much as people might drink them for social reasons even when they are not thirsty. These drinks may therefore be used for Havdalah. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, however, vehemently disagrees. A drink is not considered chamar medinah, he claims, unless it is both bitter in taste and intoxicating. The only reason, he argues, that one is allowed to drink non-alcoholic beverages before Kiddush on Shabbat morning is precisely because they are not considered “drinks” for the purpose of Kiddush. It follows, therefore, that they do not qualify for Kiddush or Havdalah. And the debate continues regarding the circumstances that justify using chamar medinah for Havdalah. According to most opinions, chamar medinah may only be used if wine is totally unavailable, at any price, in town or a distance of one day’s journey from town. According to the Rambam, however, once a drink qualifies as chamar medinah it may be used for Havdalah even if wine is available in town.

The situation with Shabbat morning is the most lenient of the three. This is because it is of rabbinic origin and the Kiddush that welcomed Shabbat has already been made on Friday night. Accordingly, the accepted practice is to allow chamar medinah for Shabbat morning Kiddush, where wine, although available, is either not easily accessible or too expensive. And on Shabbat morning, whiskey is in a category all of its own. Unlike other beverages that qualify as chamar medina, whiskey can be chosen over wine even where the two bottles are standing side by side. According to the Mishnah Berurah, however, one would have to use a wine-size Kiddush cup, which holds between 3-6 ounces, and drink most of it in one shot. According to other authorities, a small whiskey glass is sufficient.


Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received smichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’’l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” available for purchase at www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X, and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed” available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Eyal-Guide-Shabbat-Festivals-Seder/dp/0615118992. Questions for the author can be sent to [email protected].

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