Yayin Mevushal and Non-Observant Seder Guests by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
This week we shall complete our discussion of wine related issues with a review of the status of Yayin Mevushal (cooked wine). This is quite relevant for those of us who invite non-observant relatives and/or friends to the Seder. The question as to whether wine touched by a non-observant Jew is rendered non-kosher is subject to considerable debate and merits a full essay. The commonly accepted approach was articulated by Rav Hershel Schachter, who felt that we should follow Rav Zvi Pesach Frank’s strict opinion (Teshuvot Har Zvi Yoreh Deah 105) regarding this isuue (for further discussion see Teshuvot Yabia Omer 1:11,2:10, and 5:10 and Techumin 25:381-391). Thus, if non-observant Jews will attend one’s Seder, then all the wine served should be Mevushal. Rav Schachter made this comment at a recent Orthodox Union seminar on grape juice and wine that we have been citing in the past few weeks and shall continue to cite in this essay.
Many are familiar with the rule that we can be more lenient regarding wine touched by a Nochri or non-observant Jew if the wine is Mevushal. In this essay, we will explore the source of this Halacha, its parameters, and its application to the contemporary setting. We shall particularly stress the vigorous debate among contemporary Poskim as to whether pasteurizing wine renders it Yayin Mevushal.
Yayin Mevushal – Tamudic Background
The Gemara (Avoda Zara 30a) cites Rava, who believes that the restrictions concerning Nochrim touching wine do not apply if the wine is cooked. The Gemara (ibid.) quotes a striking anecdote that demonstrates the application of this Halacha. The Gemara relates that Shmuel and a Nochri named Avlet were sitting together and cooked wine was served to them. Avlet took his hand away from the wine so as not to render it forbidden to Shmuel. Shmuel thereupon told Avlet that he need not worry, as the wine was Mevushal. Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Harei Amru) writes that this Gemara teaches that we may drink Yayin Mevushal that was touched by a Nochri. Tosafot (ad. loc. s.v. Yayin Mevushal) add that this constitutes normative Halacha. Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 11:9) and Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 123:3) codify this rule as well.
The Rosh (Avoda Zara 2:13) wonders why the fact that the wine is cooked eliminates the prohibition of wine touched by a Nochri. After all, he explains, the reason Chazal instituted this prohibition was to prevent intermarriage (see Avoda Zara 36b and Tosafot, Avoda Zara 29b s.v. Yayin). Why should cooking the wine eliminate concern for intermarriage? The Rosh suggests that since cooked wine is relatively uncommon, Chazal did not apply their edict to an unusual circumstance. Indeed, we find in many places in the Gemara that Chazal do not issue edicts regarding highly unusual circumstances (see, for example, Bava Metzia 46b). Not surprisingly, the seemingly ubiquitous nature of Yayin Mevushal today has led many to question whether this leniency continues to apply in the contemporary setting.
The Parameters of the Yayin Mevushal Leniency
Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Zvi Y.D. 111) notes that the Rambam (ad. loc.), Tur (Y.D. 123), and Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.) clearly indicate that the leniency of Yayin Mevushal applies only to wine owned by a Jew that is touched by a Nochri. However, this leniency does not apply to wine owned by a Nochri. Thus, Rav Frank forbids drinking cooked wine that was produced by a Nochri owned company, despite the fact that the wine making process is entirely automated and no Nochri ever touches the grapes after they are placed in the machinery. Rav Hershel Schachter stated at the OU grape juice and wine seminar that Rav Frank’s ruling is accepted as normative. We should note that Rav Akiva Eiger’s comments to Y.D. 123:3 (s.v. DeAf Al Gav) seem to strongly support Rav Frank’s ruling.
There is considerable debate regarding how much the wine must be cooked in order for it to be categorized as Yayin Mevushal. The Rosh (ad. loc.) writes that once the wine is heated it is classified as Yayin Mevushal. The Rosh cites the Raavad, who writes that this was the opinion of the Geonim. The Rashba (Torat HaBayit 5:3, citing Ramban) and the Ran (Avoda Zara 10a in the pages of the Rif s.v. Yayin Mevushal, also citing the Ramban) write that wine is not considered Mevushal until some of the wine is lost in the heating process. The Encyclopedia Talmudit (24:367) cites a number of other dissenting opinions among the Rishonim regarding this matter.
The Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.) rules in accordance with the Rosh and the Geonim, while the Shach (Y.D. 123:7) rules in accordance with the Rashba and the Ran. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:52 and see 3:31) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 8:Y.D. 15) rule that the wine need not be boiled in order to be defined as Mevushal. They believe that if the wine is heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (or 80 degrees Celsius) it is certainly regarded as Mevushal. On the other hand, the Tzelemer Rav is often quoted as requiring wine to be boiled in order to be classified as Mevushal. This ruling seems to be based on the opinions cited in the Darkei Teshuva (123:15) and the Gilyon Maharsha (Y.D. 116:1).
Is Pasteurized Wine Classified as Yayin Mevushal?
Three major Israeli Poskim argue that pasteurized wine is not considered Mevushal. Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv (Kovetz Teshuvot 1:75) rules that, based on the information provided to him, pasteurizing wine is a standard procedure in contemporary winemaking. Accordingly, he rules that the Yayin Mevushal leniency does not apply to pasteurized wine. This is based on the aforementioned comment of the Rosh that the basis of the Yayin Mevushal leniency is the fact that cooked wine is an unusual commodity. Chazal, Rav Eliashiv argues, did not establish the Yayin Mevushal exception when such cooking is common practice.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:25) argues that the cooking involved in the pasteurization process qualitatively differs from the cooking of wine discussed in the Gemara, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch. In the traditional process, the wine was cooked in open vats, thereby causing alcohol to evaporate and the wine’s taste to be noticeably changed. However, pasteurization involves a momentary heating of wine (or grape juice) in sealed pipes that causes little noticeable change in the taste of the product. Seemingly, the sole purpose of the pasteurization is to eliminate bacteria.
Rav Shlomo Zalman argues that although wine that is pasteurized is technically considered cooked, since it is heated and some wine does evaporate (although it returns to the wine since the process occurs in sealed pipes), it cannot be considered Mevushal, because the taste is not noticeably changed. Rav Shlomo Zalman cites the Rashba (Teshuvot 4:149 and Torat HaBayit and Mishmeret HaBayit 5:3), Meiri (Avoda Zara 29b and 30a), Knesset HaGedolah (123, Haghot Beit Yosef number 16) and Sedei Chemed (Maarechet Yayin Nesech) who all state that the leniency regarding Yayin Mevushal stems from the fact that the taste of the wine is altered by the cooking process.
Rav Shlomo Zalman notes that there were those who responded to him that wine experts can in fact tell the difference between pasteurized wines and non-pasteurized wines, which is why wineries in France do not permit their products to be pasteurized (except for wine marketed to Kosher consumers who specifically want Yayin Mevushal). Rav Shlomo Zalman responds that the Halacha regarding this matter is determined by what most people discern, not by experts. Indeed, we find that in general the Halacha is determined by the perception and abilities of most people and not of experts. For example, the Gemara (Shabbat 74b and see Tosafot ad. loc. s.v. Chochmah Yeteirah) teaches that spinning wool while it is yet on a goat’s back constitutes an unusual activity (a Shinui) and therefore does not constitute a Biblical violation, despite the fact that this is a routine activity for a number of extraordinarily talented people.
In a more modern application, Rav Hershel Schachter reports that he once told a dentist that his Tefillin were sufficiently square since they appeared square and a simple measurement indicated that they were square. Despite the dentist’s protest that based on his experience with fillings that must be perfectly square he knows that his Tefillin are not perfectly square, Rav Schachter told him that the latter’s eyesight is the equivalent of a precision instrument, and the status of Tefillin as square is determined by what most people perceive and measure. Similarly, Rav Shlomo Zalman believes that the inability of non-experts to distinguish between pasteurized and non-pasteurized wine is the only relevant consideration (also see TABC’s Bikkurei Shabbat pp.15-16).
One might respond, though, that Rav Shlomo Zalman’s assertion regarding the perception of non-experts might be valid only regarding Israelis in the 1980’s (when Rav Shlomo Zalman published his Teshuva). Today, however, many people have developed sophisticated appreciation for wine and it seems that many “amateur” wine drinkers readily perceive the difference between pasteurized and non-pasteurized wine, and will specifically choose a “non-Mevushal” wine when they wish to drink a fine wine.
A major Sephardic Poseik, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (Teshuvot Ohr LeTzion 2:20:19), also rules that pasteurized wine is not considered “Mevushal”. He reasons that because the evaporated wine returns to it (since the pasteurization occurs in a sealed vat), it fails to meet the Shach’s definition of “Mevushal”. Rav Ovadia Yosef responds that the evaporated portion of the wine that returns has lost its status of wine and it is no longer considered wine when it returns. Thus, technically speaking, the quantity of wine has been reduced in the pasteurization process (we noted earlier that even Rav Shlomo Zalman essentially concedes this point).
Defending Common Practice to Regard Pasteurized Wines as Yayin Mevushal
Rav Hershel Schachter noted at the OU seminar that the prevailing custom in America is to be lenient about his matter, following the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein (ad. loc.) and other major Poskim in America. Indeed, Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that common practice in Israel is also to be lenient about this matter. In fact, even Rav Shlomo Zalman acknowledges that many are lenient regarding this issue. Although he expresses some hesitancy about it, Dayan Weisz (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 7:61) endorses the common practice to be lenient “since this has become the prevailing practice with the consent of eminent Halachic authorities.”
Dayan Weisz and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Rav Shlomo Zalman also concedes this point) do not share Rav Eliashiv’s aforementioned concern that pasteurized wine has become common practice. They believe that even though “cooking” wine today is commonplace, it is irrelevant. When Chazal established these Halachot, they reason, cooking wine was uncommon, and we are not authorized to enact new rules (see Rosh, Shabbat 2:15 and Teshuvot Yechave Daat 2:49) or alter Chazal’s edicts. Moreover, Rav Ovadia notes that the Rosh cited by Rav Eliashiv does not appear to constitute normative Halacha, as indicated by the Taz (Y.D. 123:3) and Rav Akiva Eiger (ad. loc.). Most importantly, Rav Eliashiv specifically writes that his ruling applies only if the information provided to him was accurate. Rav Shmuel David (Techumin 14:421) notes that Rav Eliashiv’s ruling needs to be revisited, since many wineries outside of Israel do not pasteurize their wines. Indeed, kosher wine expert Mr. Feivish Herzog of Kedem wines stated at the OU seminar that Rav Eliashiv was indeed provided with inaccurate information. He explained that wine does not have to be pasteurized for health reasons (the alcohol eliminates concern for bacteria), and usually only Kosher wines are pasteurized to create Yayin Mevushal. For example, Mr. Herzog explained, Gallo and Taylor wines (these are popular non-kosher wines) do not pasteurize their wines except in the case of a bad grape harvest. Accordingly, cooking wine appears to be uncommon even today, and even according to the Rosh’s explanation of the Yayin Mevushal, the leniency remains applicable.
The common practice to regard pasteurized wines as Mevushal is based on the rulings of many of the twentieth century’s leading Poskim. Moreover, Rav Shlomo Zalman’s strict ruling appears to emerge from a reality that has changed since the time that he wrote his Teshuva, and Rav Eliashiv’s strict ruling seems to stem from incorrect information provided to him. Furthermore, Rav Weisz notes, one may be lenient regarding non-observant Jews, since there is considerable debate as to whether a non-observant Jew touching wine renders it non-kosher. Accordingly, it seems that one may invite non-observant relatives and friends to the Seder without concern regarding the wine, as long as the wine is marked as Mevushal.