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White Wine for the Seder

Is it permissible to use white wine for the arba kosot (four cups at the Seder)?


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Nissan 9 5781
Question: Is it permissible to use white wine for the arba kosot (four cups at the Seder)?

Answer: We dealt previously (Living the Halachic Process, II:C-7) with the question of white wine for Kiddush, which is pertinent because poskim generally equate between the requirements of the two (compare Orach Chayim 272 and 472). The gemara (Bava Batra 97a-b) posits that wine that is unfit for libations even b’di’eved may not be used for Kiddush, but that which is nominally fit can be used for Kiddush. The gemara cites a pasuk (Mishlei 23:31) that wine is expected to be red. According to most Rishonim, this was not meant to disqualify white wine for Kiddush, but the Ramban (ad loc.) understands that white wine without any red-leaning tint is unfit even for Kiddush. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 272:4) cites both opinions but sides with the lenient one. The Mishna Berura (272:12) adds that regarding very white wine (many assume this is now rare) one should defer to the Ramban’s concern unless there are extenuating circumstances, including that the available red wine is of poor quality.

Regarding the arba kosot, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 472:11) paraphrases the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1) that one should prefer red wine. The Rama (ad loc.) excludes cases in which the white wine is of higher quality. The Ramban’s opinion is not mentioned, even though arba kosot should not be less demanding than Kiddush (and the first cup is for Kiddush), likely because the Ramban was already mentioned and basically rejected. There seems to be, then, an additional preference.

The Taz (ad loc. 9) and Magen Avraham (ad loc. 13) are among those who say we desire that the color red serve as a remembrance of the blood of the Pesach story. The Taz says that it reminds us of the Jewish blood spilled by Paroh. Chazon Ovadia (Haggada, Kadesh (10)) finds that strange, considering that drinking the wine (during which we lean) is a festive action, and so he prefers those who say that it relates to the blood of the Korban Pesach, of mila, and/or of the first plague.

Both the language and the logic point to the remembrance constituting only a preference. On the other hand, those who are lenient regarding "white" wine that is not fully white for Kiddush likely should still prefer something that is actually in the red family as a proper remembrance. That is because while the potential Kiddush problem is likely because such an abnormal wine color is treated as deficient (see Tashbetz I:85), even the finest wine may not remind us of blood. Ultimately, the Rama says that the opportunity to use a finer white wine justifies preferring it to a simpler red wine. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadia ibid. 12) says that Sephardi practice (not all Sephardi poskim agree – see Mikraei Kodesh (Harari), Leil Haseder 4:15) is to defer to the Ramban’s opinion unless the white wine is both better and not too white.

Several Acharonim suggest to "upgrade" white wine by mixing in a little red wine, so that the mixture has some redness. This makes good sense if the issue is the remembrance (see opinions cited by Piskei Teshuvot 472:10), as one can see some redness (while blood is redder, red wine does not really look like blood either). Surprisingly, the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (47:(89)) suggests mixing a little red for Kiddush during the year. Ostensibly, if the Ramban is right, then the white wine is invalid wine, and why would a little red (i.e., kosher) wine help?! Apparently the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata views the color not just as a sign of proper wine but that the color provided by the wine combination is a necessary characteristic of the wine use, as can be read into the gemara in Pesachim (108b).

Since we hold that there is no prohibition of coloring with foods, putting red wine into white wine is permitted (Mishna Berura 320:56). Yet, due to the opinion that it is forbidden if one intends for the color (Nishmat Adam II:24:3), the stringent can put in the red wine first and "dilute" the color with the majority white wine (Shevet Halevi X:56).

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