Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Sixteen-Part Two

The Wine Laws


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

2 min read
5.Kadesh – Kiddush
The Seder begins with kiddush, which expresses the sanctity of the Jewish people and of the Pesaĥ holiday. The kiddush of Shabbat and other holidays contains the phrase "in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt," for the source of Israel’s sanctity began to reveal itself with the Exodus from Egypt, when it was made known that God chose Israel to be His special nation. At the Seder, on the night we left Egypt and are commanded to tell the Exodus story, the importance of kiddush is thus compounded. It is therefore fitting to begin the Seder with it. 2
Thus, unlike other kiddushim where only one person recites kiddush and drinks the majority of a cup of wine, on the Seder night each participant is poured a cup of wine, and after kiddush everyone reclines and drinks most of the wine in his cup. This is the first of the four cups of wine.
The rabbinic enactment to recite kiddush over wine expresses an important principle in Judaism. People tend to think that sanctity manifests itself in the spiritual realm alone, through prayer and Torah study, assuming that the more one denies the body, the more sanctity he attains. Yet, the fact that the Sages instituted kiddush over wine teaches us that sanctity can infuse and find expression even through physical food. This is true not only of the staple foods necessary for human sustenance, but even of wine, which brings people joy. Israel’s sanctity can be revealed in its totality specifically through the fullness of life, which combines the truth of Torah and faith with happiness and joy. We therefore recite kiddush over wine.
On every Yom Tov, we recite the berakha of "she-heĥeyanu," blessing God "Who has given us life, sustained us, and guided us to reach this season," because Yom Tov is a mitzva that is celebrated anew during a specific season. The Sages inserted she-heĥeyanu at the end of kiddush; after declaring the day’s sanctity, it is only fitting to bless and thank God for having guided us to this sacred time. If one neglects to recite the she-heĥeyanu after kiddush, he must recite it whenever he remembers, as long as Pesaĥ has not ended.
Many people say a preliminary statement of intention ("hineni mukhan" or "le-shem yiĥud") before each of the four cups of wine. One should not do so between the berakha and drinking, as this constitutes an interruption. Rather, the formula should be recited before kiddush, and in the case of the other three cups, before the berakha on the wine (MB 473:1).
If the first day of Pesaĥ coincides with Shabbat, we invoke Shabbat in the kiddush. If it begins on Saturday night, two berakhot are added: on the creation of fire ("borei me’orei ha-esh") and on the separation of different forms of sanctity ("Ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh") (SA 473:2).
6.The Four Cups
The Sages instituted drinking four cups of wine on the Seder night in order to increase the joy of redemption and give expression to our freedom. On every Yom Tov there is a mitzva to rejoice by drinking wine, but for Pesaĥ the Sages further integrated four cups of wine into the Seder, so that our joy finds expression in each of its phases. Kiddush is recited over the first cup, and thus everyone’s cup is filled prior to kiddush. The story of the Exodus and the first part of Hallel are recited over the second cup, which is therefore filled just before the telling of the story is begun. Birkat Ha-mazon is recited over the third cup; we refill our glasses prior to its recitation and drink the wine right after. Finally, we pour the fourth cup, recite the second part of Hallel and "the Great Hallel" (see below section 35) over it, and then drink the cup. Thus, every recitation at the Seder is over wine.
If one drinks four cups of wine one after another, it is as if he drank only one cup (SA 472:8). Even if one waited between cups, if he did not recite any of the Hagada during these pauses, he has not fulfilled this obligation according to several poskim (Rashbam, Ran, Pri Ĥadash). This is because one must drink while discussing the Exodus. According to Beit Yosef, however, if one pauses between cups he fulfills his obligation be-di’avad (BHL ad loc. s.v. "she-lo").
The Sages explain the four cups as alluding to several things: the four expressions of redemption used in the Torah’s account of the Exodus; the four kingdoms that subjugated Israel after it became a nation (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), and from which the Almighty saved us; the four cups of calamity that God will serve to the wicked among the nations of the world; and the corresponding four cups of consolation that God will pour out to Israel (y. Pesaĥim 10:1).
As a rule, the number four represents completeness, for everything in the world has four sides, corresponding to the four points of the compass. Since the Exodus brought about a complete upheaval in the world, the Torah uses four expressions of redemption in relation to it:
Therefore, say to the Israelites: "I am the Lord. I will rescue you from beneath the burden of Egypt; I will save you from their enslavement; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment; and I will take you for Myself as a people and be your God. Thus you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who is taking you out from beneath the burden of Egypt." (Shemot 6:6-7)
Israel’s bondage in Egypt was more than just the enslavement of those 600,000 Jews. It manifested the subjugation of the spirit to the material, because the possibility of expressing spirituality in the world depends on the people of Israel, who were enslaved by the most materialistic of kingdoms, Egypt. In order to free Israel so that they could receive the Torah and illuminate and rectify the world, it was necessary to break all barriers of oppression, from each direction. The four expressions of redemption correspond to these.
In fact, a fifth expression of redemption appears in the very next verse: " I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Avraham, Yitzĥak, and Yaakov. I will give it to you as an inheritance; I am the Lord" (ibid. 8). Since this verse does not address the Exodus itself, the Sages did not institute a corresponding fifth cup. Nonetheless, it is customary to pour a fifth cup, known as Eliyahu’s Cup ("Kos shel Eliyahu"), which alludes to the complete redemption that begins with entry into the Promised Land (see section 35 below).

7.The Wine
The Sages stated (Pesaĥim 108b) that in order to fulfill the mitzva of the four cups properly, one must dilute the wine with water, because otherwise it will be too strong and cause intoxication. Though the alcohol in such wine gives one pleasure, the mitzva is to drink the wine in the manner of free people, that is, like wealthy people who have control of their own time and permit themselves to drink the best wine, making sure it is diluted properly so that one can enjoy it without getting drunk. Today’s wine is not as strong, and there is no need to dilute it. Even when it is necessary to dilute it, this is done at the winery. Therefore, there is no mitzva today to dilute the wine (MB 472:29).
Instead, nowadays we enhance the expression of our freedom by purchasing the finest wine that is strong enough to intoxicate, because such wine causes a sense of joy, liberation, and freedom. However, one must be careful not to use a wine so strong that it disrupts one’s ability to concentrate on the Hagada and to fulfill the mitzvot of the Seder night. One must therefore drink four cups of wine in a manner that brings joy and does not cause drowsiness or intoxication. If one fears that by drinking a full cup of regular wine he will be unable to concentrate properly while reading the Hagada, he should mix his wine with grape juice. This will allow him to drink wine that intoxicates, while properly fulfilling all the mitzvot of the Seder night. One who finds it difficult to drink wine that contains even just a small amount of alcohol may fulfill the mitzva by drinking grape juice (Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:35).
When the Sages instituted the four cups, they did not imagine that one would fulfill this mitzva with grape juice, as in their day there was no way to preserve the juice without it turning into vinegar. They wanted us to recite the Hagada and tell the Exodus story while drinking wine that enhances enjoyment. One who uses grape juice does not fulfill the mitzva in the way the Sages intended it. Even one who does not enjoy the taste of wine or who gets headaches from it must drink the four cups. In fact, the Gemara recounts that R. Yehuda b. Ilai had to wrap his head in a kerchief from Pesaĥ until Shavu’ot due to a headache caused by drinking four cups of wine (Nedarim 49b; SA 472:10; MB ad loc. 35). However, if wine will cause one to be ill and lie down he is exempt from this mitzva. Now that grape juice is available, even one who merely suffers from the effects of wine – for example, it gives him headaches – may discharge his obligation using grape juice.
Women are also commanded to drink four cups of wine, just as they are commanded to fulfill all of the mitzvot of the Seder night (SA 472:14). Le-khatĥila, they too should drink wine that maximizes enjoyment. However, if a woman fears becoming intoxicated, she may use grape juice to dilute or even completely replace the wine if she prefers. 3
The Sages also stated that there is a mitzva to seek out fine red wine (y. Pesaĥim 10:1). However, be-di’avad, any wine is adequate, even cheap white wine (SA 472:11).
8.The Amount of Wine and Cup Size
In order to fulfill the mitzva of the four cups, or any other mitzva that involves drinking wine (such as kiddush, havdala, Birkat Ha-mazon, and wedding ceremonies), there must be a significant amount of wine in the cup. The Sages determined that the cup must contain at least a quarter of a log (a "revi’it") of wine. Less than this is not a significant amount of wine and does not suffice to fulfill the obligation (Pesaĥim 108b).
A revi’it is equal in volume to an egg and a half. R. Ĥayim Naeh calculated, based on writings of Rambam and other Rishonim, that this is 86 milliliters. However, more precise measurements showed that it is c. 75 ml (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:11). This amount, however, is not agreed upon by everyone. The exile gave rise to uncertainties regarding the size of olives and eggs, and some later Ashkenazic poskim (Noda Bi-Yehuda, Ĥazon Ish) rule that today’s eggs are only about half the size of eggs in the time of the Sages. Therefore, a revi’it is closer to the volume of three of today’s eggs, c. 150 ml. This stringent measure is known today as a "Ĥazon Ish shi’ur."
In practice, the lenient opinion is the standard, and this is the practice of Sephardim. However, MB 271:68 and 486:1 states regarding the practice of Ashkenazim that it is best to take the stringent opinion into account with regard to mitzvot of Torah origin like kiddush and havdala. However, when it comes to rabbinic mitzvot like the four cups at the Seder or the minimum amount that must be drunk in order to recite a berakha aĥarona (a blessing recited after eating or drinking), we use the smaller measure, in keeping with the majority opinion. Those who wish to be stringent, and who enjoy drinking wine, are commendable.
One must also take care to meet the Sages’ requirements for a kos shel berakha (a cup of wine linked to the performance of a mitzva). A broken cup must not be used, and the cup, however large, must be filled with wine in honor of the mitzva.
The cup must be clean, thoroughly rinsed inside and out, before the first cup. However, as long as it has not become dirtied, it is unnecessary to wash it again for subsequent cups, since all four cups are considered one continuum (MB 473:68). Nonetheless, some take care to wash the cup before drinking each time (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:1). 4
9.How Much Wine?
Optimally, one should drink all of the wine in the cup, which means at least a revi’it. If one uses a large cup that contains more than a revi’it, he should, le-khatĥila, drink all of the wine in the cup. If he does not want to, he should at least try to drink most of it. At the very least, one must drink most of a revi’it and a "melo lugmav." In other words, there are two conditions: first, he must drink most of the wine that is required to be in the cup, i.e., most of a revi’it (38 ml or 76 ml in Ĥazon Ish shi’ur). Secondly, this amount must fill melo lugmav – enough wine to fill the drinker’s mouth with one cheek inflated. This is the amount of wine that settles one’s mind. For someone with a normal size mouth, melo lugmav a bit more than most of a revi’it. For one with a large mouth, melo lugmav is closer to a revi’it. A thirteen-year-old, whose mouth is small and whose melo lugmav is less than half a revi’it must drink most of a revi’it in order to fulfill the first condition (SA 472:9; MB ad loc. 30; BHL ad loc. s.v. "ve-yishteh"). 5
Children who have reached the age of mitzva education are given four cups of wine (SA 472:15). The age of education is when the child understands the meaning of the things that are said while the cups are filled – kiddush, the Hagada, Birkat Ha-mazon, and Hallel (SAH 472:25) – generally around age five or six. There is no need for them to drink most of a revi’it; melo lugmav suffices (MB 472:47).
One must drink most of the wine in the cup "at once." It is obvious that if one drinks half of the necessary amount, and then, after a long pause, drinks the second half, he did not drink the necessary amount "at once" and thus did not fulfill drinking one of the four cups. However, leading Rishonim and Aĥaronim are divided over precisely how quickly one must drink the requisite amount of wine in order for it to be considered "at once." According to Rambam, since people are accustomed to drink continuously, albeit with short breaks to breathe or swallow, one is only considered to have drunk "at once" if he drank continuously, as one would normally drink a revi’it. In other words, the amount of time one takes to drink most of a revi’it must be no longer than the amount of time it normally takes to drink an entire revi’it. If it takes one longer to drink most of a revi’it than it normally takes people to drink a revi’it, he has not fulfilled the mitzva according to Rambam. Raavad, on the other hand, maintains that as long as it does not take longer than the time it takes to eat a half a loaf of bread ("shi’ur akhilat pras"), i.e., within several minutes, it is still considered "at once."
To summarize, one should preferably follow the stringent ruling of Rambam and drink most of the cup continuously, taking short breaks to breathe and swallow. Be-di’avad, if one drinks most of the wine in the cup within a shi’ur akhilat pras (6-7 minutes), he fulfills his obligation and need not drink the cup again, since the law of four cups is of rabbinic origin, and the halakha therefore follows the lenient position. Nonetheless, some practice stringency. 6
^ 2.. Kiddush on Shabbat is clearly a Torah precept, as it states: "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it." According to Rambam and the majority of poskim, one fulfills his Torah obligation to remember Shabbat by reciting the Friday night prayers. The Sages, however, instituted that kiddush be recited over wine. According to some Rishonim, the biblical mitzva is to sanctify the Shabbat over a cup of wine.
With regard to kiddush on Yom Tov, the poskim disagree whether it is from the Torah or of rabbinic origin. Magid Mishneh on MT Laws of Shabbat 29:18 states that kiddush on Yom Tov is rabbinic, and this is also the opinion of MA 271:1 and most Aĥaronim. Conversely, many Rishonim – She’iltot, Behag, Raavya, and Maharam of Rothenburg – maintain that kiddush on Yom Tov is from the Torah, as it states: "These are the festivals of God, that you shall call holy." See Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §2 for a summary.
^ 3.. In the past, it was only possible to obtain grape juice during the grape harvest. Since last season’s wine would have already been used up and it would take another forty days to prepare wine from the new crop, the Sages permitted making kiddush on grape juice (BB 97b; SA 272:2). This is be-di’avad, especially when it comes to the Seder, where reciting the Hagada joyfully is an integral part of the institution. This argument is also advanced in Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:35, although in the notes on p. 130 the author advocates that women may fulfill the mitzva using grape juice. He argues that the reason for using intoxicating wine is to fulfill the mitzva of rejoicing on Yom Tov. Pesaĥim 109a states: "Every person must rejoice during the festival… men with what is appropriate for them – with wine, and women… in Babylonia with dyed clothing and in Eretz Yisrael with pressed linen clothing." SA 529:2 and BHL ad loc. rule that, indeed, the joy of wine relates primarily to men.
Nevertheless, the most straightforward understanding of this mitzva requires women to drink the four cups of wine just like men, as "they too participated in that miracle" (Pesaĥim 108b). Until recent generations, this was the common practice of women. Nevertheless, intoxication is more disgraceful for women than for men (Ketubot 65a), so women concerned about intoxication may mix more grape juice into their wine.
^ 4.. Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:1 states, based on Zohar, that one should rinse the cup again before Birkat Ha-mazon. Some had the custom of preparing a basin of water and immersing the cups in it between each drinking. Nowadays, this practice is not as nice, since the water in the bowl becomes dirty; we would not consider such cups clean. One who wants to be strict should rinse his glass in the sink. Most poskim maintain that one need not rinse out the cups in the middle of the Seder.
^ 5.. According to Ramban, cited as an alternative opinion in SA 472:9, one must drink the majority of the cup, no matter how large. However, most poskim maintain that although it is preferable to follow Ramban, one fulfills the obligation without meeting that condition (MB ad loc. 33). Although the accepted opinion is the primary one, in this context I stressed that following the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur enhances the mitzva, since more wine adds to the mitzva of rejoicing and those who want to enhance the mitzva always drank more than the minimum revi’it.
Thus, to satisfy unquestionably all opinions one should preferably use a cup that contains 150 ml and drink most of it. This satisfies the higher melo lugmav requirement as well as Ramban’s condition. However, if it is difficult for him to drink an entire 150 ml "Ĥazon Ish shi’ur" cup, he ends up losing the enhancement of drinking an entire cup. Although we have stated that one may fulfill his obligation le-khatĥila by using the standard shi’ur, one who wishes to enhance the mitzva should first satisfy all opinions, including the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur, and only then undertake to drink an entire cup. If he enjoys drinking wine, the greatest enhancement is to drink a full 150 ml cup; if he is worried that he might become intoxicated, he may mix grape juice into the wine.
^ 6.. More broadly, "shi’ur akhilat pras" is a unit of time within which all eating is treated as a single act. There is a dispute as to whether or not this time period applies to drinking as well. According to Rambam, since one drinks faster than he eats, the measurement of time for drinking is different than that of eating, and only uninterrupted drinking is considered as one unit. According to Raavad, the measurement of time for drinking is the same as for eating, and as long as one drank within a "shi’ur akhilat pras," it is considered a single act. See section 25 below for a more precise definition of a "pras."
Optimally, one must drink uninterruptedly, as per Rambam, and if he drank the minimum amount within the time of akhilat pras, he has not fulfilled his obligation according to Rambam, only Raavad. But since we rule leniently when there is uncertainty pertaining to rabbinic law, one would not have to drink again. This is what AHS 472:13 and Ĥazon Ovadia §12 state. Moreover, according to Knesset Ha-gedola, SAH, and Ĥatam Sofer, Rambam only stated his opinion with regard to a forbidden drink, where one incurs lashes if he drinks continuously. But regarding berakhot over consumption of food or drink, Rambam would concur that shi’ur akhilat pras is the relevant time frame, since the determining factor of berakhot is enjoyment, and he certainly derives pleasure even if he only completes his drink during a shi’ur akhilat pras. Accordingly, perhaps Rambam would concur that one who drinks a cup of wine within a shi’ur akhilat pras would fulfill his obligation. Nevertheless, some poskim say that where it is easy to fulfill one’s obligation according to all opinions, one should be stringent even with regard to a disputed rabbinic law. Therefore, MA and SAH 472:20 and MB 472:34 state that if one drank the second cup only within the time of akhilat pras, he should drink it again. If it was the third or fourth cup, though, he should not drink again, since it would look like he was adding to the four cups. Rather, in this case he should rely on the opinion of Raavad that he has fulfilled his obligation (see MB 472:21 regarding the first cup). According to those who follow SA that one may drink after the third and fourth cups, one should re-drink any of the four cups in question, as Ben Ish Ĥai (Tzav 29) states. This is why I wrote that some are stringent in this matter, despite the fact that this is a double uncertainty about a rabbinic law: according to Raavad, the obligation has certainly been fulfilled, and possibly even according to Rambam as well.
See section 25 below and the notes ad loc. for the differing opinions regarding the length of shi’ur akhilat pras. The average time is around six to seven minutes, but le-khatĥila it is four minutes, and be-di’avad it is nine minutes.
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