Raisin Juice and Wine

While traveling to Egypt, what could Yaakov and his family have used for kiddush and havdalah…

Raisin Juice and Wine

Question: Traveling Kiddush

“Is there a simple way to make wine for kiddush when I travel in the Orient, where there is no kosher wine to be had?”

Answer

Every special event – kiddush, havdalah, weddings, sheva brochos, brisin, pidyon haben, the seder – includes wine. And halachah mentions the special role of wine in celebrating Yom Tov. Our question is whether there is a simple way to produce wine for kiddush and havdalah when you are traveling in a place that has no readily-available kosher wine. I believe I have found a simple solution, other than carrying along small bottles of wine in your luggage.

One option that a friend of mine uses when traveling is to go to a local fruit market or grocery, purchase a couple of pounds of grapes, squeeze them into juice, filter the finished product through a freshly laundered handkerchief, and use some of the juice for kiddush Friday night, some for Shabbos morning and the remainder for havdalah. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, this juice is preferable even to commercially-produced grape juice.

For those of us who do not see ourselves squeezing our own grape juice, halachah presents other options when grape wine is not available. One of the preferred choices is to use a product called yein tzemukim, which literally translates as “raisin wine.” Extensive literature on the subject indicates that raisin wine was often substituted as a practical alternative to grape wine.

Commercial use of raisin juice and wine

While researching this topic, I discovered that the non-Jewish world uses both raisin juice and raisin wine as specialty products. I also discovered that non-alcoholic raisin juice and alcoholic raisin wine are used in very different ways.

Raisin juice is rarely sold retail, although one might find it in a health food or other specialty store. It is used predominantly in the bakery and condiment industries as a sweetener, but since raisins contain significant levels of propionic acid, their juice functions also as a natural, mild preservative. Raisin juice can serve also as both a colorant and a humectant, which means that it helps keep the product moist. Thus, there are many different reasons why raisin juice might be added to a product, particularly since the manufacturer is not required to list on the label that humectants, preservatives, colors or flavors were added.

Raisin wine has an ancient history as an alcoholic beverage. Indeed, raisins contain all the ingredients to make wine that grapes have, except for water, which one can usually supply easily. Since the skins contain the yeasts that naturally convert sugar into alcohol, and approximately 2/3 of the weight of raisins is natural sugar, raisin juice can be fermented easily into alcohol. Production of raisin wine involves soaking the raisins in water with a few other winemaking ingredients and then allowing the product to age. Specialty and boutique raisin wine producers, like grape winemakers, prefer to kill off the natural yeasts and then inoculate with their own yeast to produce a more predictable product, but the other basic ingredients for producing wine are all in the raisins. Quality raisin wines are usually aged for years before they are drunk.

Both raisin wine and raisin juice can be made either by steeping the raisins in water until it absorbs the raisins’ flavor or by cooking the raisins. By the way, both raisin juice and raisin wine produced by non-Jews will involve the prohibition of stam yeinam, a topic I have discussed in other articles.

Is it grapy enough?

Both raisin juice and raisin wine are specialty – almost boutique – products, and therefore quality is usually the main consideration, not price. In contrast, the halachic authorities discussed a situation where, for the most part, people were more concerned with finding an inexpensive way to fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush than they were with product quality. From the extensive literature on the subject, it appears that yein tzemukim was often used as an economical alternative to costly wine. One of the main issues was whether there is enough grape in the final product for it to be considered wine. This means that much of the halachic literature about yein tzemukim discusses a product that is qualitatively different from what is sold today as raisin juice or raisin wine. Nevertheless, there is much germane halachah to be learned here, and its application arises in surprising circumstances, as we will soon see.

Halachic ramifications of yein tzemukim

The halachic authorities discuss yein tzemukim in the following specific contexts:

  1. Which brocha does one recite before and after drinking it?
  2. Can one use it for the mitzvah of kiddush?
  3. May one use it to manufacture non-seder matzoh (matzoh ashirah) for Pesach? (Ashkenazim follow the practice of using matzoh ashirah only for the elderly, ill and children, so it would be germane for them in these matters. Space considerations do not allow us to discuss this particular topic in this article.)
  4. Is it non-kosher if a gentile handles it? I examined this topic in a different article, entitled The Kashrus of Raisin Juice and Wine.
  5. Does pouring it on the mizbeiach fulfill the mitzvah of nisuch hayayin, pouring wine on the altar?

The last question is mentioned briefly in the Gemara, where it states that, lechatchilah, one should not use yein tzemukim for nisuch hayayin, but one who did so has fulfilled the mitzvah. We will soon discuss the first two issues in more detail. But first, let us trace the background of these questions from their initial sources.

Juice from marc

The earliest halachic reference to a raisin juice product is in the Mishnah (Maasros 5:6), which discusses whether one who creates a form of raisin juice, called temed, by soaking the residue of the grape crush (called marc in English) is required to separate maasros from the resultant product. Halachah requires separating maasros (of produce grown in or near Eretz Yisroel) only when the fruit is ready for consumption, which, in the case of wine grapes, means that they have been crushed, aged and filtered. Thus, maasros on wine grapes are usually separated from the completed juice or wine and not taken from the marc, which is a byproduct. The Mishnah’s question is whether the product created by soaking the marc in water and stirring the mixture until it becomes drinkable is considered wine, requiring the separating of maasros.

Wine from sediment

A passage of Gemara (Bava Basra 96b) quotes a dispute concerning when and whether one recites hagafen prior to drinking a different type of temed, in this case made by steeping wine sediment in water. When the yield is no greater than the amount of water initially used to soak the sediment, the brocha is shehakol, because there is insufficient grape product in the beverage. When the yield is four units for every three units of water used initially, then the temed is considered a grape product, and its brocha is hagafen. The Gemara states that when the resultant beverage contained less than four but more than three units per every three units of water used originally, there is a dispute among the tana’im as to which brocha one should recite. The first opinion rules that the percentage of grape product soaked out of the sediment is insignificant and considered nullified in the water. Therefore, the brocha is shehakol. The second opinion considers the grape presence significant in this instance; therefore, the brocha is hagafen. The halachic conclusion follows the first opinion – the brocha on this product is shehakol (Tosafos ad loc. s.v. Ein; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 204:5, 6).

Remember that this passage of Gemara was discussing temed made from soaking wine sediment. Tosafos (ad locum) discusses what is the proper brocha on wine produced by fermenting marc (the residue of the grape crush) and concludes that no distinction should be made between marc temed and sediment temed – unless the finished product contains four units for every three units of water supplied at the beginning, the brocha is shehakol.

Marc brandy

As a curious aside, it appears that Jews were not the only people interested in producing spirits from marc. According to my desktop dictionary, one of the definitions of “marc” is the brandy produced by distilling the residue of grape skins and seeds after the juice has been expressed. If the dictionary has a word for this beverage, we know that a number of people were producing it, and it does not appear that their interest was to produce a beverage serviceable for kiddush. Interestingly, since this product is distilled and not simply fermented, most authorities rule that its brocha is shehakol, even if the resultant product is four units for every original three units of water.

Types of marc

When the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 204:6) discusses the correct brocha to recite prior to drinking temed, it notes that there is a difference between marc produced in a press and marc produced the old fashioned way – by stepping on the grapes to crush them. It notes that the marc obtained from this latter method retains a high percentage of original grape product. Therefore, the correct brocha for the temed produced by soaking this marc in water is hagafen, even when the yield is no greater than the amount of water originally used.

What about kiddush?

Is temed produced from either marc or wine sediment acceptable for kiddush? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 272:7) rules that when the correct brocha on the temed is hagafen, it may be used for kiddush, and when the correct brocha is shehakol, it cannot.

What constitutes yein tzemukim?

Yein tzemukim is not the same product as marc wine, since raisins contain more grape flavor than marc does (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57). For this reason, most authorities rule that one may recite kiddush on yein tzemukim even when there is no increase in volume (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 462; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:6). One major authority, the Mishkenos Yaakov (Shu’t Orach Chayim #106), disagrees, contending that one recites hagafen only on juice squeezed out of raisins, but not on the wine or juice created by steeping or cooking them. According to this opinion, raisin wine may be used for kiddush only when the liquid that leaves the raisins is at least one quarter of the final product.

How many raisins?

What is the minimum ratio of raisins to water for the finished product to be considered yein tzemukim? I found four opinions on this question. I am listing them from the most lenient to the most stringent.

  1. The most lenient position I found contends that as long as the product has a grapy taste, the brocha is hagafen and it can be used for kiddush (Tashbeitz, mentioned by Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his comments to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:6).
  2. Most opinions hold that the mix must be at least 1/7 raisins by volume – but we then find two widely divergent ways of understanding how we calculate 1/7. The Bechor Shor (comments to Bava Basra 96b) contends that we calculate based on how much the raisins would swell after sitting in the water, which means that the actual ratio is much smaller.
  3. The Yad Efrayim and the Derech Chayim (quoted by Mishnah Berurah 272:16) both contend that the ratio is 1/7 raisins by volume but calculated using the original, dried raisins.
  4. The above-mentioned opinion of the Mishkenos Yaakov that there must be significant juice squeezed out of the raisins. According to this opinion, raisin wine may be used for kiddush only when the liquid that leaves the raisins is at least one quarter of the final product.

How long?

Let us now consider another question: How long must raisins soak for the product to be considered wine?

The Mishnah Berurah (272:15) rules that if you crush the raisins, add water and stir, then after three days you may use the product for kiddush.

If one cooks the mixture of raisin and water, the blending takes place much more quickly, and can produce a halachically acceptable raisin wine immediately (see Chayei Odom 6:7).

Microwave kiddush

Based on the last ruling, I’ll share with you an interesting anecdote. Someone traveling for business who did not want to use challah for kiddush asked me for a suggestion as to what to do. Since he had access to a microwave, we came up with the following solution: He purchased raisins, placed them in a pitcher with water, and microwaved the mixture until it produced a very drinkable juice.

In the locale that he was visiting, insect infestation is a big problem in raisins. To resolve this problem for his raisin juice, he packed along cheesecloth and placed the raisins inside this prior to boiling them. Thus, the flavor of the raisins cooked into the water, but the infestation did not. The use of the cheesecloth had the added advantage of making it very easy to remove the raisins after he had produced the juice. The entire procedure took this very busy businessman only a few seconds to prepare.

Flavored raisin juice

Is there any problem with reciting kiddush on flavored raisin juice or wine? Although this product sounds like a modern creation – the brainchild of some research and development lab – the question was apparently common two hundred years ago. I found the issue discussed by the Tzemach Tzedek, the third rebbe of Lubavitch, in his responsa (Shu’t Orach Chayim #27). After explaining that raisin wine may be used for kiddush, he notes that the standard product available where he lived was seasoned with honey and other spices. He is concerned that this particular flavored product does not qualify as wine, since the flavor may come from the seasonings and not from the grapes. Thus, although raisin wine and yein tzemukim may be used for Kiddush, this is true only as long as its flavor is made by grapes and not some other additive. Even a product labeled “natural grape flavor” may not meet this requirement halachically since “natural grape flavor” does not mean that the flavor comes from grapes, but that the flavor comes from a natural source. If the contribution of the grapes is insufficient, an added boost from a non-grape source does not make this into a beverage on which one can recite hagafen.

Obviously, situations vary and it is not an absolute rule that one cannot use flavored raisin wine for kiddush. However, should kosher, flavored raisin-wine become available, one would be required to ascertain whether the flavor comes from the grapes in the product (in which case the brocha is hagafen and it may be used for kiddush) or from other sources, in which case the brocha is shehakol.

Conclusion

Although many people would prefer to either pack along their wine, locate the nearest Chabad house or make kiddush over bread, I believe the solution, for those who have access to a microwave oven, of packing cheesecloth and purchasing raisins is indeed a solution that some people might find more palatable and convenient.