Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I have heard that it is preferable to make Kiddush on wine rather than grape juice. Is that true, and if so, does that mean that grape juice is not valid for Kiddush?
Answer: The gemara (Bava Batra 97a-b) has a rule that any type of wine which is valid b’dieved (post facto) for nesachim (libations on the altar) is valid l’chatchila (as a matter of choice) for Kiddush. One of the examples given is yayin migito (“wine” which has just been pressed), which has not had the opportunity to ferment. This is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:2. This is what we commonly call grape juice, and, therefore, it appears clear that grape juice that has no alcoholic content is totally fit for Kiddush.
That is basically the bottom line, but there are a few reservations that justify the claim you heard that wine is preferable. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:3) points out that even though one may choose grape juice for Kiddush, it is more proper to use “older wine,” which is at least 40 days old (Mishna Berura ad loc.:5, citing the Magen Avraham). (Be aware that before the advent of preservatives, refrigeration and vacuum packing, grape juice could not last that long without fermentation.) The implication of the Magen Avraham is not that there is no need for alcoholic content, but that wine that has sat at least moderately is considered to be of higher quality, and the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:3) says that it is proper to choose good wine for Kiddush. Thus, high quality grape juice could be preferable to low quality wine, and the matter might depend on personal preference (see Moadim U’zmanim VII, 181 in a related context).
There is some room to claim that our grape juice is halachically inferior to that which the classical sources refer to as yayin migito. In the process of making grape juice, something is done to the juice (usually including heating it to a level that is considered cooking) to prevent the natural process of fermentation from taking place over time. This raises two issues. Firstly, there are several important classical opinions that cooked wine (mevushal)is unfit for use for Kiddush (see opinions in the Tur, OC 272). However, on this issue, which may also apply to pasteurized wines, the ruling is to be lenient (Shulchan Aruch and Rama ibid.:8).
Another claim is that the Rashbam on Bava Batra (97b) implies that yayin migito is valid even though it isn’t alcoholic, because it will become so if left alone. This is not the case with our grape juice, which cannot turn into wine. However, there are several ways to deal with that claim. One is that since the grape juice is considered wine fit for Kiddush before pasteurization, it does not lose that status later on, since the process is not a destructive one for the juice (Minchat Shlomo I,4). Most poskim rule leniently on all of these issues and say that our standard types of grape juice receive the beracha of “Borei pri hagafen” and are fit for Kiddush (see Yechave Da’at II,35; Shevet Halevi IX,58; V’zot Haberacha, pg. 239).
What remains a problem is grape juice which is reconstituted in the process of its production. In such a case, most of its water is removed, and new water is added to it later on. Rav S.Z. Orbach (Minchat Shlomo, ibid.) felt that in such a case, the minority of concentrated grape juice cannot turn the majority of external water into grape juice. While we have heard that this type of grape juice is uncommon in Israel, we cannot speak for other parts of the world. (Most “organized” countries probably require producers to inform the public that the grape juice has undergone this process.) Since wine and grape juice require rabbinical supervision for reasons of kashrut, it is appropriate that many of the hasgachot have begun writing whether they are fit for Kiddush and get a beracha of“Hagafen.” This is important primarily to ensure that the wine is not overly diluted, which is a halachic concern, especially for Sephardim.
In short, grape juice is fine for Kiddush. Unless one has personal preferences (taste, health, or educational) wine is more festive and preferable, especially at night, when we are more strict.
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