Grape Juice for the Arba Kosot by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In preparation for Pesach and in keeping with the Gemara's (Pesachim 6a) teaching that one should begin studying the Halachot of Pesach thirty days prior to Pesach, we will begin  a series of essays discussing various halachic issues relating to Pesach.  This week we will focus on a commonly asked question - may one use grape juice for the Arba Kosot.  We will base our discussion on this issue on an essay written by Rabbi Menachem Genack, which was published in the 1998 edition of Kol Leil Pesach by the Beit Hamedrash of Bergen County.


The question of whether one may use grape juice for the "Arba Kosot" was not dealt with in the halachic literature until the twentieth century.  Although the Gemara (Baba Batra 97b and see Shulchan Orach Chaim 272:2) rule that one may use grape juice for "Kiddush," the Poskim did not discuss this issue until recent decades.  The reason for this appears to be that grape juice was simply unavailable at Pesach time.  After harvesting in the autumn, grapes would either be made into wine or they would spoil during storage.  Only in recent decades has mankind learned how to preserve grape juice to last and be available year round.  This is an important point to bear in mind as we discuss this issue.

The Opinions

Modern day "Poskim" have presented differing views regarding this topic.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by his son Rav David Feinstein in Hagadot Kol Dodi 3:8) and Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Mikraei Kodesh Pesach 2:35) believe that grape juice is unacceptable for "Arba Kosot."  Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Genack and Rav Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav p.185) believes that one who does not enjoy wine may use grape juice for the "Arba Kosot."  The Seder Ha-Aruch (p.112) cites Rav Chaim Kanievsky who relates that the Chazon Ish drank grape juice for the "Arba Kosot."  Similarly, Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot V'hanhagot Orach Chaim 243) relates that Rav Dov Berish Weidenfeld (the Tchebiner Rav) used grape juice for the "Arba Kosot."

The Basis of the Arguments

Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Feinstein base their arguments on the same source.  The Gemara (Pesachim 108b) states that one who uses undiluted wine for the "Arba Kosot" fulfills his obligation to drink wine, but not his obligation to commemorate and celebrate his freedom ("Cheirut").  Rashbam (ad.loc. s.v. Y'dei) explains that the one who uses undiluted wine has failed to fulfill the Mitzva of "Arba Kosot" in the fullest sense, because "only diluted wine is prestigious" ("Chashuv").  The Rashbam further notes that only the wine in Talmudic times required dilution since it was exceptionally potent.

We see that wine used for "Arba Kosot" must be "Chashuv."  Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that grape juice is simply not "Chashuv" (if drinking wine will seriously damage one's health, even Rav Feinstein would agree that grape juice would suffice, see Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:172).  Rav Soloveitchik, on the other hand, argues that for someone who does not enjoy drinking wine, grape juice is "Chashuv" and wine is, in turn, not "Chashuv".

Rav Feinstein's Proof

Rav Feinstein cites the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim Chapter 10) which relates that Rav Yona drank the four cups at the Seder and had a headache until Shavuot.  It is also told in this source that Rav Yehuda the son of Rav Hai drank the four cups of wine at the Seder and had a headache until Sukkot.  Rav Feinstein infers from this passage that grape juice is unacceptable for the "Arba Kosot."  Had grape juice been acceptable, these rabbis would have drunk grape juice in order to avoid experiencing a headache for such an inordinate amount of time.

Rav David Willig related (in a shiur delivered at Yeshiva University in 1979) that when this argument was presented to Rav Soloveitchik, the Rav responded that obviously grape juice was not available to the rabbis mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. 

It turns out that Rav Soloveitchik's intuition was indeed correct.  Rav Genack confirmed with Mr. Fievish Herzog of Kedem wines that in pre-modern times grape juice was unavailable during Pesach time as we mentioned at the beginning of our discussion.  When Rav Genack presented this point to Rav David Feinstein, the latter conceded that one cannot deduce from the passage in the Jerusalem Talmud that grape juice is unacceptable for the "Arba Kosot."

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank's Argument

Rav Zvi Pesach argues that grape juice is unacceptable because it is non-alcoholic and thus cannot be "M'sameach" (make one happy).  The Rashbam (Pesachim 108b s.v. Y'dei Yayin) indicates that a key aspect of the "Arba Kosot" is to bring about "Simcha".  The Sefer Hamichtam also presents the Mitzva of "Arba Kosot" as a Mitzva instituted by Chazal with intention to promote rejoicing.  This point is emphasized by Tosafot (Pesachim 108b s.v. Y'dei Yayin) and the Ran (23b in the pages of the Rif to Pesachim s.v. Mah) as well.

Rav Zvi Pesach seeks to demonstrate that grape juice does not promote "Simcha" from the fact that the Gemara (Ta'anit 30a) permits drinking freshly pressed wine at the Tisha B'av eve "Seudah Hamafseket."  Moreover, Rashi (Bava Metzia 66b s.v. L'lakuchei) seems to indicate that wine's special character is derived from the fact that it bring "Simcha" through its alcoholic content.

One could respond to these arguments in a number of ways.  Yehuda Kranzler suggests that if one puts a few drops of wine in the grape juice, even though the wine is technically speaking "Bateil" (nullified, wine is nullified in six times its volume), nevertheless it is still somewhat intoxicating and will cause a certain degree of "Simcha."  Second, Rashi (Taanit 30a s.v. Yayin) explains that freshly squeezed wine may be used at the Seuda Hamafseket because it is "new, sweet, inferior to aged wine, causes stomach disorders, and is harmful".  Today's grape juice is therefore hardly comparable to the Talmud's freshly squeezed wine.  In addition, Rav Genack presents an intriguing proof that grape juice does promote "Simcha" (see his essay, pg. 11).

Rav Soloveitchik's Practice

Rav Soloveitchik used grape juice for the last three cups at his Seder because he did not enjoy wine.  However, he used wine for the first cup because it was his practice to follow the opinion of the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 29:14) that cooked wine is unacceptable for Kiddush.  This is because cooked wine would not be accepted for use for "Nesachim" on the "Mizbeach" in the Beit Hamikdash (Baba Batra 97a).  One cannot extrapolate from the fact that the Gemara permits grape juice for Kiddush, because our grape juice is cooked and not "fresh off the press" as described in the Gemara.

Common practice is to regard "cooked wine," generally speaking, as acceptable for Kiddush (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 272.8 and Tosafot Baba Batra 97a s.v. Ileima).  It is also worthwhile to see the possibility raised by Rav Soloveitchik that even if one wishes to be strict for the Rambam's opinion regarding cooked wine for Kiddush, perhaps the participants at the Seder (other then the one who recites Kiddush) can use cooked wine for their first cup (see Nefesh Harav pg. 185).  It should also be noted that Rav Soloveitchik followed the Rambam's opinion that one should not use wine for Kiddush that has had sugar added to it.

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