Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Laws of Kashrut
To dedicate this lesson

The Kashrus of Raisin Juice and Wine

How can two kosher, pareve ingredients combine to become a product that can become non-kosher? A non-Jewish friend of mine makes her own raisin wine. Is this a kashrus issue like grape wine, or is it like cherry wine, which is usually kosher?


Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: Kosher Conundrum
"How can two kosher, pareve ingredients combine to become a product that can become non-kosher?"

Question #2: Are Raisins like Cherries?
"A non-Jewish friend of mine makes her own raisin wine. Is this a kashrus issue like grape wine, or is it like cherry wine, which is usually kosher?"

Commercial use of raisin juice and wine

While researching this topic, I discovered that the non-Jewish world, also, uses both raisin juice and raisin wine as specialty products. I also discovered that the two items, 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 also functions as a mild natural preservative. Raisin juice can also serve both as a colorant and as 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 easily supply. Since the skins contain the natural yeasts that will naturally convert sugar into alcohol, and approximately 2/3 of the weight of raisins is natural sugar, raisin juice can easily be fermented 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 prefer, like grape winemakers, to kill the natural yeasts and then inoculate with their own yeast, so that they can 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. We will soon see that there is a halachic difference depending upon which way it is produced.

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. On the other hand, the halachic authorities were discussing a situation where, for the most part, people were less concerned about product quality than they were about an inexpensive way to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush. From the extensive literature on the subject it appears that, at times, wine was very costly, and that raisin wine was often used as an economical alternative. Thus, one of the main issues is whether there is enough grape in the final product to be considered wine. In essence, this means that much of the halachic discussion about raisin wine is really discussing a qualitatively different product than what one will find sold as raisin juice or raisin wine. Nevertheless, there is much germane halachah to be learned here, and its application comes up under very surprising circumstances.

Halachic ramifications of raisin wine
The halachic authorities discuss raisin wine 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 Sefardim use it to manufacture non-seder matzohs (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 will not allow us to discuss this particular topic in this article.

4. Is it non-kosher if a gentile handles it?

5. Will pouring it on the mizbeiach fulfill the mitzvah of libation, 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 raisin wine for nisuch hayayin, but one who did so has fulfilled the mitzvah. We will soon discuss each of the other issues in more detail. But first let us trace the background of these questions from their original sources.

Juice from marc
The earliest halachic reference to "wine" made from grape derivative is in the Mishnah (Maasros 5:6), which discusses whether one is required to separate maasros from a beverage called temed, manufactured by soaking the residue of the grape crush (called marc in English). Halachah does not require separating maasros (of produce grown in or near Eretz Yisroel) until 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 will usually be separated from the completed juice or wine and presumably have not been taken from the marc, which is a byproduct. The Mishnah’s question is whether the "wine" created by soaking marc in water and stirring the mixture until it becomes a beverage requires the separating of maasros. We will return to this question shortly.

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 beverage made by steeping wine sediment, rather than marc, 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 quotes that there is a dispute among tana’im which brocha one should recite when the resultant beverage contains less than four but more than three units per three units of water. 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 steeping 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 skins and seeds after the juice has been expressed. If the dictionary has a word for this beverage, we know that enough people were producing it, and it does not appear that their interest was to produce a beverage suitable for Kiddush. By the way, since this product is distilled and not simply fermented, most authorities rule that its brocha is shehakol, even if it produced four units of beverage for every 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 that produced the old fashioned way – by crushing the grapes by stepping on them. It notes that the marc remaining from the latter method retains a high yield from the original grapes. 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 constitutes raisin wine?
Raisin wine is not the same product as marc wine, since raisins contain more grape flavor than does marc (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57). For this reason, most authorities rule that one may recite Kiddush on raisin wine, even when there is no increase in volume (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 462; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:6). Therefore, quality raisin wine definitely has the halachic status of wine.

Raisin wine and stam yeinam?
Let us now examine one of the other questions I raised before: Is raisin wine or raisin juice non-kosher if a gentile handles them? Allow me to provide background to this question.

The Torah prohibited receiving any benefit from wine that was used for idol worship. Chazal extended this proscription by banning use of any wine or grape juice which a gentile touched, and, in some instances, even if he just moved it or caused it to move. This prohibition is called stam yeinam. Does this prohibition extend to raisin wine? The Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asurus 17:11) rules that raisin wine should be treated like regular wine germane to these laws. Thus, raisin juice or raisin wine produced or handled by a gentile is not kosher.

At this point, we can address one of the questions mentioned at the outset of our article.
"A non-Jewish friend of mine makes her own raisin wine. Is this a kashrus issue like grape wine, or is it like cherry wine, which is usually kosher?"

Yes, it is most definitely a kashrus concern. Raisin wine is halachically like grape wine, not cherry wine.

What about bishul?
This leads us to an interesting question. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 30a) teaches that the prohibition of stam yeinam does not exist if the wine was cooked, mevushal, before the gentile handled it. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 11:9), the reason for this heter is because no self-respecting idolater would consecrate cooked wine to his deity. (Note that others cite a different reason for this leniency.)

One of the methods of producing raisin juice or wine is by cooking the raisins at the very beginning of the production to extract the flavor and juice. Does raisin wine manufactured this way qualify as yayin mevushal, thereby eliminating the problem of stam yeinam?

The Darchei Teshuvah (123:43, quoting the Divrei Yosef, 846:6) rules that the leniency of mevushal exists for stam yeinam when the raisin wine is cooked after it is produced. In other words, cooking raisins to produce wine is not considered bishul. Cooking raisin wine that has already been produced is considered bishul.

However, a very early authority, the Sefer Hapardes Hagadol (#266, 267), implies that raisin wine or juice produced by cooking raisins is considered mevushal and does not require any further processing to avoid becoming stam yeinam. This ruling is followed by Shu’t Melameid Leho’il (2:53).

Kosher conundrum
At this point, I would like to address one of our original questions: "How can two kosher, pareve ingredients combine to become a product that can be made non-kosher?"
Let me explain how this can easily happen, and then I’ll provide an instance when it did indeed occur.

Water is kosher and raisins are kosher. However, soaking the two together creates raisin juice, which is halachically equivalent to wine and can become non-kosher when handled by a gentile.

Now the anecdote: Companies that have kosher certification are required to supply the certifying agency with a complete list of the ingredients they use. Raisins are not an ingredient that would create a great deal of attention – they should always be kosher, provided that provisions are made to deal with the potential for insect contamination. Therefore, the fact that a bakery owned by a non-Jew used raisins did not attract any attention. All bakeries use raisins for some of their products.

It was discovered that the bakery was soaking raisins in water and then using the liquid as an ingredient in their pastry. Indeed, this rendered the pastry not kosher, since it contained what is halachically non-kosher raisin juice -- and the non-kosher finished product was being sold with a hechsher! Since the owners of the bakery had not read this article, the compromise of kashrus was not their fault, and the problem was corrected as soon as it was discovered. Every hechsher should be careful to ascertain exactly how every bakery and condiment manufacturer under its supervision uses raisins.

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding the prohibition of stam yeinam, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins. We should always hope and pray that our food is prepared in accordance with all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

To subscribe yourself onto Rabbi Kaganoff's list, send an email to: [email protected]
If you prefer receiving this article as an attachment, then instead send an email to: [email protected]
You will receive a confirmation e-mail to which you must respond.

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר