Our previous articles about the Halachic concerns during the production of wine were all based on the laws of “Yayin Nesech” and “Stam Yaynam”. In this article we will attempt to study the source of this prohibition.

The Mishna in Mesechta Avoda Zara 29B lists certain items belonging to idol worshippers that are prohibited not only to consume, but even to derive any benefit from (not to be used even in medications). The Mishna lists wine, certain vinegars, and other items.

The Gemara asks, “How do we know that wine is prohibited?” The rabbis then explain that the source for this prohibition is the posuk in Devarim 32:38 that compares wine offerings to idol sacrifices. Therefore, the Gemara concludes that it is forbidden (as the first Rashi clarifies) for a Jewish person to derive any benefit from wine that was poured as part of idol worship.

The Mishna in tractate Shabbos 13B mentions that there were 18 enactments that were decided in favor of Bais Shammai’s opinion (usually Bais Hillel’s opinion would prevail since they were usually the majority, but in this case Bais Shammai was the majority). The Gemara lists some of these 18 decrees in Shabbos 17B: The bread and the oil1, and the wine of idolaters. The Gemara later explains that the decree prohibiting wine was made in order to keep away from yichud (the seclusion of a man and woman in a private area) with Gentile women. This Gemara is also brought down in Avoda Zara 36A and B. (Rashi says that the prohibition on wine is since the wine intoxication may lead a person to be with prohibited women.) To clarify: The Rabbis decided that if a person were to eat meals and drink wine at their Gentile neighbor’s house, these social visits may bring a person to prohibited relations. This seems to be confusing, as the first Gemara based the prohibition on idolatry, while the second Gemara based it on prohibited relations.

Tosafos on Avoda Zara 29B (beginning with the word “Yayin”) asks, “Why would the Gemara 29B ask how we know that wine is prohibited, since it’s source is already mentioned in Tractate Shabbos as one of the 18 decrees?” Tosafos answers that the injunction because of social issues would prohibit a person only to drink the wine; since we know that it is also prohibited to derive benefit, we need to find another source for the prohibition. Therefore, the Gemara in 29B asks how we know that we are prohibited to benefit in any way from the wine of a Gentile. Tosafos also clarifies that there are two types of prohibited wine:
Yayin Nesech – Wine that was poured and used as part of a sacrifice to idols.
Stam Yaynam – Wine that merely belongs to a Gentile. This wine, though it was not used for idolatry (and it would seem to only be prohibited because of social reasons), it is still prohibited from any benefit, since it may be confused with Yayin Nesech. (If so, then the first Gemara’s answer is that since we are prohibited from deriving any benefit from real Yayin Nesech (as we see from the possuk), we apply the same prohibitions to Stam Yaynam, as well.

The Ran (Rabbeinu Nisim) clarifies this even further. Yayin Nesech is prohibited d’oraisa, because it was used for idol worship. Stam Yaynam (which was not used for idolatry) was not prohibited d’oraisa. It was only prohibited because of the Rabbinic decree that it might bring one to social transgressions. Although the other social decrees (i.e. Pas Akum) are only prohibited to eat, the wine was prohibited from all benefits so that one should not inadvertently confuse Stam Yaynam and Yayin Nesech and accidentally benefit from actual Yayin Nesech.

The Ran then asks, “Why do we need to prohibit wine because of social reasons, if it is already prohibited because of idolatry?” Rabbeinu Shmuel answered, explaining that it is rare that people actually pour wine for idolatry, therefore we need the social prohibition, as well. The Ramban adds that surely if the wine would have been used for idolatry, the Gentile would (have kept it sacred and) not have sold it to us.

The Gemara Avoda Zara 57B and 58A says that even if a Gentile merely touches or moves the wine it becomes Yayin Nesech. This all is recorded in Shulchan Oruch, Yoreh Deah 123:1. Consequently, we have a third category of wine:

Wine that was made by a Jew, and touched by a Gentile.

The Gemara on Daf 57A quotes Rav who says that even if a “day old” Gentile child touches wine, the wine cannot be consumed by a Jew, but they are permitted to sell it, because the child has no understanding of idol worship and cannot designate it for idolatry. The Gemara relates that there once was an incident in the city of Biram where an idol worshipper climbed up a palm tree and as he descended, he accidentally touched the
wine in the barrel (see Tosafos whether this was with the tip of the lulav), and Rav permitted the owner to sell it to a Gentile and derive financial benefit from it, because it was not touched with the intention to designate it for idolatry, similar to a child’s touch.

Shmuel argues with Rav and he opines that children can never make wine non-kosher, and wine touched by a Gentile child is even permissible to drink. The Beraisa clarifies when a person is considered an adult, and when are they are considered a child. One is called an adult when they are familiar with idol worship. They are called a child when they are not yet familiar with idolatry. The Gemara later discusses that a Gentile slave that was purchased from an idol worshipper continues to render the wine Yayin Nesech until they stop mentioning idols at all (as interpreted by the Rashba in his sefer Toras Habayis).

The Rashbam (see Tosafos 57B starting with “l’afukai”) says in the name of Rashi and Teshuvas HaGeonim that nowadays even if a Gentile touches wine, though we cannot drink it, we may still benefit from it. Idolatry using wine libations is not a common practice in the Gentile world, so most Gentiles would not be considered knowledgeable in idolatry. We, therefore, consider Gentiles to have the halachic status of a newborn child. The Rambam in, Hilchos Maachalos Haasuros 11:7, similarly writes that any Gentile (who does not worship idols) who touches wine, will only render it prohibited to drink, but one may derive benefit from it.

Rabbeinu Chananel and the Bahag pasken according to Shmuel, that if a non-Jewish child touches the wine, it is permitted, even to drink. The R”Y (a great grandson of Rashi) questions this, because if the Halacha is like Shmuel and the Geonim, too, it would seem that nowadays there is no prohibition on Gentile wine. Therefore, Rabbeinu Tam clarified that the Halacha is like Rav, that if a child touches wine it is prohibited to drink. Furthermore, if a Gentile touches Jewish owned wine, then one may sell the wine to the Gentile so that he does not incur loss, since the Gentile would have to pay damages for ruining the wine. It would seem, however, that Rabbeinu Tam personally held that if a Gentile nowadays touched wine, one could not derive benefit from it, but he did not make this ruling publicly.

The Shulchan Oruch, Yoreh Deah 123:1, in the comments says that nowadays it is not common for Gentiles to worship idols, so some say that wine touched by them is only prohibited from drinking. Furthermore, it is even permitted to benefit from wine made by the Gentile. Though one is prohibited (according to most opinions) from making a business out of selling this non-kosher wine (or other non-kosher foods), one may collect a debt from the non-kosher wine. Then he adds that it is better to be strict with this wine.

There are many that clarify this last sentence. The Shach, in 124:71, says that one should not even benefit from wine that was touched by a non-Jew nowadays, unless it is a case where there will be a major financial loss. The Shach brings various sources (the Maharil, the Apai Ravrevay) that support his view. Therefore, we are extremely careful with non-kosher wine.

I would like to end off with a short story:
Rashi’s father was a dealer in precious stones. He once came across a beautiful gem. Some of the idol worshippers heard about this stone and wanted to buy it in order to place it in the crown of their idol. They offered him large sums of money, but Rabbi Yitzchok refused. They then threatened to harm him physically. During their meeting on a boat, Rabbi Yitzchok threw the gem into the sea, making it look like he had lost his balance.

Because of his self-sacrifice, it was decreed in Heaven that he would merit to father a precious gem of a son, who would bring much light to the whole Jewish community. Rashi is known as the teacher for all Jewish people throughout the generations. My family tradition has it that we are descendants of Rashi.

I hope that you have enjoyed this four part series on the making of wine. Please send in your comments. With Hashem’s help, I hope to embark upon a new series for the next edition.
Non-Mevushal Wine Handling Guide
• Sealed non-mevushal wine can be seen and touched by a Gentile without affecting the kosher status.
• There are different customs regarding non-mevushal wine seen by a Gentile once the seal is broken. Some won’t drink the wine at all. Others won’t use the wine for a mitzvah, but will drink it.
• Once the seal is broken, if a Gentile touches or moves the wine, it is not permissible to consume, but it may be sold to a Gentile to avoid monetary loss.

1 The decree against oil was
later rescinded, as mentioned in my
previous article on olive oil
(Kosher Spirit Winter