L'Chaim! Halachic Insights on the Kashrut of Wine & Spirits

1. KASHRUS IN HIGH SPIRITS By: Rabbi Tzvi Rosen Star-K Kosher Certification

The question is, can we, in accordance with halacha and in good conscience, consume beverages that do not have any hashgocha? Obviously the best case scenario would be to purchase alcoholic beverages with a reliable hechsher. There are, in fact, a few selections that have reliable kosher certification, but these are few and far between. When research into ingredients and production practices indicates that there are no apparent kashrus problems with the product, then halacha permits us to follow the concept of holchin achar harov, that we may assume that the majority is the scenario with which we are dealing. The following assumptions can therefore be made:

  • All varieties of domestic whiskeys are acceptable. Glycerin is not used as a blending agent for these whiskeys and the O.T.S. wine is a citrus wine. (Ed: Other Than Standard (OTS) wine is a base wine usually made from grape skins or orange peels and treated and filtered to have a neutral taste. It's used in wine fortification, ready-to-drink wines, and as a blending ingredient at distilleries.)
  • Canadian whiskies present a fundamental kashrus question. Does the possibility of grape O.T.S. wine or blenders added to Canadian whiskies in very small percentages of 1% or less create real kashrus concerns? Can we rely on bitul, halachic nullification, or do we need concrete information about each beverage? As stated before, since the O.T.S. ("Other Than Standard") wine is added in less than a sixtieth, it is batul. Furthermore, some Poskim maintain that the wine would be batul even if it would be added in less than a sixth. Additionally, there is a doubt whether the O.T.S. wine is indeed grape, or whether blenders are used altogether. Canadian whiskies would therefore be acceptable. Nevertheless, our recommended liquor list reflects those products that do not contain any wine.
  • Scotch and Irish whisky would be acceptable unless specifically stated that the beverage has been aged in sherry casks finished in sherry or port casks. We do not have to assume that this is the case unless the company asserts that it is so. Our recommended liquor list reflects those products that do not specify aged in sherry casks.
  • All silver tequila would be acceptable. Dark, repesato, and aged tequilas require kosher certification.
  • Domestic, German, English, European, and Canadian beers and ales are acceptable.
  • All flavored beers, malternatives, hard beers, coolers, and extreme beers require reliable kosher certification.
  • Gin is acceptable.
  • Domestic vodka produced from 100% neutral grain spirits is acceptable.
  • Imported vodkas require certification.
  • Wines, liqueurs, cordials, spirits, flavored spirits, and brandies require reliable kosher certification for year-round use, and special Passover certification printed on the bottle for Pesach.

2. מתני׳ אלו דברים של עובדי כוכבים אסורין ואיסורן איסור הנאה היין והחומץ של עובדי כוכבים שהיה מתחלתו יין...

2. MISHNA: These are items that belong to gentiles and are prohibited to Jews, and their prohibition is that of an item from which deriving benefit is prohibited: Wine, and vinegar belonging to gentiles that was originally wine...

3. עבודה זרה ל׳ ב - ל״א א

א"ר אסי א"ר יוחנן משום ר' יהודה בן בתירא שלשה יינות הן יין נסך אסור בהנאה...סתם יינם אסור בהנאה...

3. Avodah Zarah 30b - 31a

Rabbi Assi said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan who said it on behalf of Rabbi Judah ben Beteira: There are three kinds of wine: Libation wine (יין נסך), from which it is forbidden to derive any benefit, Ordinary wine [of non-Jews] (סתם יינם), from which it is likewise forbidden to derive any benefit whatsoever...

יין שנתנסך לכו"ם אסור בהנאה וחכמים גזרו על סתם יינן משום בנותיהן ואסרוהו אף בהנאה אף על פי שלא עשו כן בשאר הדברים שגזרו עליהם והטעם כיון שיין נסך גמור אסור בהנאה עשו סתם יינם כאילו ודאי נתנסך והחמירו לאסור בהנאה אפי' מגע נכרי ביין שלנו

Wine that has been used for libation to idolatry is forbidden for any benefit. The Sages decreed that non-Jewish wine is prohibited due to concerns regarding intermarriage with their daughters, and they forbade it even for benefit, even though they did not apply the same stringency to other things they decreed upon. The reason is that since wine used for idolatrous libation is completely forbidden for benefit, they treated all non-Jewish wine as if it were certainly used for libation and therefore prohibited it for benefit. They were stringent to forbid even the touch of a non-Jew to our wine for benefit.

4. כמה יהא במים ויהא בהם כדי לבטל טעם היין ששה חלקים כנגדו וכל שיש במים כשיעור הזה מותר אפי' בשתייה:

4. How much water is needed to neutralize the taste of the wine? A ratio of six parts water to one part wine is necessary. when the mixture is in this proportion, it is permissible even to drink it.

5. אגרות משה יו"ד סי' סב

...לדינא היי"ש בלענדעדר אשר יש חשש שמא מערבין בה...יין מותר בשתיה...דיין בטל בששה חלקים...וכיון שהוא איסור דרבנן תלינן לקולא בדרבנן...א"כ יש להתיר כל סתם בלענדער דיש לתלות לקולא:

5 . Igrot Moshe YD 62

According to the law, in a blended whisky that may potentially have a mixture including wine, the wine is permitted for consumption because it is nullified in six parts... and since it is a rabbinic prohibition, we lean towards leniency in matters of rabbinic law... therefore, one may permit any standard blended [whisky] under the principle of leaning towards leniency:

6. אגרות משה יו"ד סי' סב

ומדין אין מבטלין איסור לכתחילה שאסור במזיד אם הפעקטערי של היי"ש הוא של ישראל ואסור אף למי שנתבטל בשבילו...כיון שעשה למכור הוא כמו שנעשה בשבילם...הא פשוט שרוב

היי"ש נמכר לעכו"ם נחשב...כנעשה בשביל הרוב...ואין לאסור מצד זה:

6. Igrot Moshe ibid

Regarding the principle of "Ain Mivatlin Isur Lichatchila," which states that one may not deliberately nullify a prohibited item, if the spirits factory is owned by Jews, the spirits are therefore prohibited even for those for whom they were nullified... since the intention is to sell the spirits, it's as if they were made for the purchasers... but given that the majority of the spirits are sold to non-Jews, it can be considered as if they were produced for this non-Jewish majority. Consequently, they are not prohibited because of this.

7. חידושי הר"ן על עבודה זרה כא.

...שזה וזה גורם מותר מה טעם לפי שנתבטל האיסור בהיתר...

7. Chidushei HaRan Avoda Zara 21a

...the reason 'zeh v'zeh goreim is permitted is that the prohibited item is nullified in the permitted food...

8. אגרות משה שם

ומצד חשש תערובות גליצערין...הוא דבר שאינו נו"ט כלל וגם הוא רק מעט ולא ניתן לטעם אלא כדי שנהיה קל לבלוע:

8. Igrot Moshe ibid

Regarding the concern of glycerin admixture... it is something that is not significant at all, and it is only present in a small amount. It cannot be tasted; rather, it is used just to make swallowing easier.

9. וגניבא משמיה דרב אמר כולן משום עבודת כוכבים גזרו בהן דכי אתא רב אחא בר אדא א"ר יצחק גזרו ... על פיתן ושמנן משום יינן ועל יינן משום בנותיהן ועל בנותיהן משום דבר אחר.

9. Geneba said in the name of Rav: With all the things against which they decreed the purpose was to safeguard against idolatry. For when Rav Aha bar Ada came [from Palestine] he declared in the name of Rabbi Isaac: They decreed ... against their bread and oil on account of their wine; against their wine on account of [marrying] their daughters; against their daughters on account of "another matter" (idol worship.)

10. כל עובד כוכבים שאינו עובד אלילים יינו אסור בשתייה ומותר בהנאה ומגען ביין שלנו שוה ליינם שאסור בשתייה:

10. Any non-Jew who is not an idolater, his wine is prohibited for drinking but permitted for benefit, and their contact with our wine is equivalent to their wine in that it is prohibited for drinking.

11. רמא: י"א דמגע עובד כוכבים ביין שלנו אינו אסור בהנאה רק בשתייה וכן סתם יין שלהם אינו אסור ליהנות ממנו:

11. Rama: Some say that the touch of a non-Jew with our wine is only prohibited for drinking but not for benefit, and similarly, their ordinary wine is not prohibited to benefit from.

12. משום גזרת י"נ כו'. פי' משום בנותיהם אסרוהו בשתייה ומשום גזירת י"נ אסרוהו אף בהנאה ולפי טעם זה יש היתר עכשיו כדמסיק דהיינו כיון שאין י"נ גמור שכיח בינינו בטל הטעם והותרה הגזירה

12. Because of the decree regarding sacramental wine, etc. This means that due to intermarriage it was prohibited to drink, and due to the decree regarding sacramental wine, it was also prohibited to benefit from it. According to this reasoning, there is leniency now, as it concludes, since true sacramental wine is not common among us, the reason is nullified, and the decree is permitted.

13. שאינו עובד אלילים כו' ...אסור בשתייה אבל לענין איסור הנאה לא איכפת לן רק בעובדי כוכבים דכבר נתבאר דאיסור שתייה הוא משום בנותיהן ואיסור הנאה הוא משום עבודת כוכבים מ"ה כל שאינו עובד עבודת כוכבים אין כאן איסור הנאה...

13. That he is not an idolater, etc. ... It is prohibited to drink, but regarding the prohibition of benefit, we are only concerned with idolaters, as it has already been explained that the prohibition of drinking is due to their daughters (intermarriage), while the prohibition of benefit is due to idolatry. Therefore, anyone who is not an idolater does not have a prohibition of benefit.

14. מחצות ולמעלה. שהוא זמן שחיטת הפסח עסי' תנ"ח מ"ש ואף על גב דהשתא ליכא פסח מ"מ הוי דבר שבמנין שהי' אסור בכל מקומות וצריך מנין אחר להתירו משא"כ בגילוי שמתחלה לא נאסר בכל המקומות רק במקומות שיש נחשים וכן כל כיוצא בזה (הרא"ם ה' חמץ) עמ"ש סי' ט' ס"ה:

14. From midday and onwards, which is the time for the slaughtering of the Passover offering...And even though there is no Passover offering nowadays, it is still considered a matter that was established by decree to be prohibited everywhere, and thus requires another decree to permit it. This is in contrast to the prohibition against leaving liquids uncovered, which was initially not prohibited everywhere but only in places where there are snakes. The same principle applies to all similar cases (Ra'avad).

15. שו"ת מנחת אלעזר חלק ד סימן א
...והרי מזה דאיסור דרבנן קיל...כיון דאיסור דרבנן אינו רק איסור גברא כמ"ש הנתיבות שם (סי' רל"ד)...כיון דאיסור דרבנן אינו איסור (חפצא) בעצמותו..

15. Responsa Minchat Elazar 4:1

...a rabbinical prohibition is more lenient because a rabbinical prohibition can only be a prohibition on the person... not on the object...

16. ...לא אסרו החפץ אלא אקרקפתא דגברא שאסרו חז"ל לישראל לאכול פתן ולשתות יינן משום חתנות אבל החפץ לא נאסר ולפ"ז אי החמיץ ואין בו משום חתנות הי' מותר... דכשהחמיץ פקע לי' איסורא...

16. ...they did not forbid the object itself but rather placed the prohibition on the person, meaning the Sages forbade a Jew from eating their bread and drinking their wine because of (the concern for) intermarriage. But the object itself was not forbidden. Therefore, if it became vinegar and there is no concern for intermarriage, it would be permitted... because when it becomes vinegar, the prohibition ceases.

17. Wine produced nowadays in a commercial setting can be assumed to have avoided direct contact with a gentile because the entire process is mechanical. Since such wine is only forbidden by the latter prohibition, it’s possible that it is batul b’rov (nullified in a mixture which contains a majority of kosher food). The Shach (112:23) and many other Poskim are of the opinion that bishul akum (food cooked by a gentile) is batul b’rov when mixed into kosher food. Although non-kosher food generally requires nullification b’shishim, food which Chazal prohibited solely to discourage intermarriage (such as bishul akum) is nullified b’rov (majority) (CRC, Sherry Casks: A Halachic Perspective, footnote 22:3)

18. אם נתערב בתבשיל כשר תבשיל שנתבשל ע"י כותי אם יש רוב מן התבשיל הכשר מותר לאכלו [ש"ך סקכ"א] דאע"ג דבכל איסורי דרבנן מצרכינן ששים בלח בלח כמו באיסור תורה וכמ"ש בסי׳ צ"ח מ"מ איסור זה קל הוא ובטל ברוב:

18. If a dish cooked by a non-Jew gets mixed into a kosher dish, it is permitted to eat it if the majority of the dish is kosher. [Shach Section 21] This is because, even though for all rabbinic prohibitions we require a ratio of sixty to one in a mixture of liquids, as we do for Torah prohibitions (as mentioned in Siman 98), this prohibition is considered "light" and is nullified by the majority.

19. כל שכר של עובד כוכבים אחד שכר של תמרים או של תאנים או של שעורים או של תבואה או של דבש אסור משום חתנות ואינו אסור אלא במקום מכירתו אבל אם הביא השכר לביתו ושותהו שם מותר שעיקר הגזרה שמא יסעוד אצלו ולא אסרו אלא כשקובע עצמו לשתות כדרך שאדם קובע בשתייה אבל אם נכנס בבית העובד כוכבים ושתה דרך עראי באקראי מותר ...הגה ויש מתירין בשכר של דבש ותבואה ...וכן נוהגין להקל במדינות אלו:

19. Any alcoholic beverage of Gentiles, whether it be of dates or figs or of barley or of grain, or of honey, are forbidden because of intermarriage. And it is not forbidden except in the place of its sale, but if he brings the alcoholic beverage to his home, and drinks them there, it is allowed, since the essence of the decree is that perhaps he will dine with the Gentile. And the sages only forbid it when he has a set place for drinking as people are wont to do, but if he enters the house of a gentile and drinks there in a temporary manner, it is allowed...Rama: And there are those who permit the alcoholic beverages of honey and grains, and it is the custom to be lenient in our countries.