Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Non-Mevushal Wine Survival Tips

When you're new to converting, it can be hardest to figure out why everyone freaks out when you get a little too close to the wine bottle. What's that about? (And later on, you get freaked out by how many people don't know these laws and try to hand you the wine bottle!) Let's discuss.

Let's start at the beginning: there are certain rules that must be followed to make wine kosher. If you're familiar with kosher food, this should make sense to you. Your hamburger, your Coke, and your Cheez-Itz have to be certified kosher, so why not wine too?

However, with normal food and drinks, simply sharing it with a non-Jew doesn't make the food un-kosher (trief). With grape drinks (grape juice, wine, if Grape Gatorade were kosher, etc)...it can become non-kosher from coming into contact with non-Jews. (It can become non-kosher in other situations involving Jews, but that is outside the scope of this forum.)

Note that in the grand majority of communities, this issue only applies once the bottle is opened. The non-Jew or non-halachic-Jew can buy it, carry it to the house, and set it on the table without issue. But they can't open it or handle the wine once it has been opened. This applies to both the bottle and glasses. No, you can't hold your friend's glass while she goes to the bathroom or pass the kiddush cup around the table.

But there's a way to prevent treifery! You've heard it mentioned before, but it's easy to get confused: mevushal wine. You want mevushal wine, NOT non-mevushal wine. That can be very easy to confuse. Mevushal means that the wine has been boiled. If you think of the word as "boiled," you won't want to buy "non-boiled." If the bottle doesn't say anything about "mevushal" (and it will be in English if sold in English-speaking countries), then it is NOT mevushal. When in doubt, assume grape drinks are not mevushal and you'll always be ok.

So, let's break it down.

Affected products: Wine and grape juice. Other grape drinks would be a problem, but you won't see them certified as kosher. That means no real hope of grape Powerade being kosher anytime soon.

The problem: Stated in the most basic terms (and ignoring halachic issues involving Jews), non-Jews can make the wine non-kosher simply by pouring it or moving it. You can do everything normally with a mevushal wine, with no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. That's why mevushal wine is awesome. However, it gets a bad rap as not being as "good" of wine. That is generally not true.

The reason: Because you might worship pagan idols with the wine, and we can never really be sure whether you did or not. I don't even know how boiling prevents you from dedicating the wine to Baal, but I haven't looked into it. Ok, all that is being a little glib, but that's the basic reason. In short: it's the law. Follow it. Even if you think it's silly and don't believe halacha is binding, you need to know about this law if you're going to attend Jewish events and visit Jewish homes. It would be extremely disrespectful to flaunt this law in front of friendly folk. You will ruin their wine in their eyes, no matter whether you think it was affected or not. Note: Events are normally not a problem, or any other time the host doesn't know what sort of background people will bring to the table. In those cases, everything should be mevushal. However, you should always check. I attended a synagogue function where the people who provided the wine didn't think ahead about this issue (and the drinkers didn't know these laws) and a majority of the wine had to be poured into the ground outside. Buyers make mistakes, and drinkers don't always know the laws.

Best practice solution: Until you know that you can be trusted to remember which bottles are mevushal and which bottles are non-mevushal (which, for the record, took me 6 years), just. don't. touch. wine. Ever. Once it is opened (by someone other than you), it is off-limits. Other people can pour for you, but do not touch it. In this way, you won't mess up. As a sidenote, it would not be nice to purposely "mess up" so that you can have a whole bottle of wine to yourself! In fact, that would be rude. Though maybe brilliant.

How this works in practice: Before a meal begins, check with your host or look at the bottles (without touching) to find out if they are mevushal. If they are, good! No problem. Go ahead with your normal life. You'll eventually learn that certain brands/products are always mevushal. For instance, the Kedem grape juice you see at every kiddush is always mevushal. But if there is nothing marked or it actually says "non-mevushal," you need a Plan B. My suggestion is to arrange for someone to pour your wine for you. If you forget: If you're female, you can always ask a male neighbor to pour for you, and he should be happy to chivalrously oblige. The awkwardness comes when one woman unexpected asks another woman to pour for her. The women will look at you like you just grew a second head. I've been there and done that more times than I can count, but you can always say, "The wine isn't mevushal, and my status is questioned." You don't have to go into details or explain, though you may have to explain why this matters. A surprising amount of orthodox Jews (and almost no liberal Jews) know the problems in this area. Of course, my understanding is that the reform movement wouldn't hold this to be an issue. The conservative movement probably would consider this an issue, but I don't know that anyone but the synagogue worries about it. In short: If you do this before the meal, it is much less awkward and you're not caught by surprise.

Remember: Don't pass kiddush wine/juice to other people! When they're passing the cup around or little cups to each person, you may not touch that little cup of wine. If the people around you don't know, you're probably going to feel embarrassed, but you (silently, since according to most rulings you don't talk between a bracha and the action) will have to motion to the next person to reach over you to take the cup from the table or the other person. Every time, the person looks confused, but given a 3 second thinking period, they realize what's going on and will do the right thing.

It can be annoying to remember all of this, and you can become deathly afraid of being in the presence of wine. Don't. Mistakes can and do happen. Just remember to own up to them. Anyone who acts like a jerk if you make a mistake probably is a jerk. Or is just having a really bad day and it has nothing to do with you. Not being halachically Jewish shouldn't stop you from enjoying wine and grape juice with Jewish friends and family! 


  1. Hey, I didn't know grape juice had mevushal/non-mevushal status. Thanks!

    I just saw, though: "All OU grape juice is pasteurized at a minimum 175° F. The only
    exception to this rule is the Kedem 1.5 liter glass grape juice whose label clearly states “not Mevushal.” This product is pasteurized at
    lower temperatures"

    Does anyone know the status of Ceres Hanepoot White Grape juice?

    Also, the reason for the boiling is because boiling in days past would result in poor quality wine: wine unfit for offering to both Hashem and baal :P.

  2. I've seen more than one potential BT/convert turned away by the whole mevushal wine issue. I used to discuss it regularly but now as a host I will only serve mevushal wine, as a guest I will only bring mevushal wine, and I try to keep my mouth shut about the topic whenever possible.

  3. There was a time we had a non Jewish friend over and I had not checked the bottles in advance. Fortunately, one of my children spotted that the bottle was not mevushal. And, our non Jewish guest knows enough about Jewish practice to not be offended.

    Ever since then, my wife and I are extremely careful to check bottles before serving.

  4. Kochava, this is really good information. I've been reading most of your blog over the past couple of days and you have a lot of good information here.

    I wanted to comment on a couple of things I've seen on your blog since Sunday.

    1. You wondered if Israel's rule about a convert staying with the conversion community for a year after conversion would be in play if a convert applied for Aliyah 10 years after converting. I'm fairly certain (after knowing an Orthodox convert who made Aliyah after 8 years) that this isn't the case. They want assurance from a rabbi that the convert is still living a Jewish life NOW (when applying for Aliyah). They want to know what's happening now. The rule about the one year requirement is (as I understand it) more about preventing people from converting and then trying to move to Israel the next day. It seems suspicious. The main thing for a convert applying to make Aliyah is that the person is involved in a Jewish community so that the rabbi and others will vouch for them at the time they're applying for Aliyah. The second main thing is that they want converts to wait at least a year after converting before applying for Aliyah.

    2. You mentioned that it's possible for a woman to conceal praying in public if you hold up a cell phone next to your ear. I just wanted to mention that it isn't necessary to do this if your ears are covered by hair. Bluetooth ear pieces are so common now that most people assume that those who talk to themselves in public are speaking on their cell phones via Bluetooth. I pray in public all the time, except that I put my right hand near my ear to give the impression that I'm trying to hold a Bluetooth ear piece closer to my ear. :-)

    Good job with the blog!

    Hugs and best wishes!

  5. I've been reading a lot of Maimondes lately and these are the kinds of laws that are toughest for me to swallow.

    It's hard to read just how much bad behavior was assumed about gentiles, particularly being one. However, I try to keep in mind that, throughout history, Jews have lived in places among people with which it would be a valid concern that they were sacrificing wine to idols, just as many of the other laws relating to Jewish-gentile relations are born out of some pretty tough circumstances in which Jews simply couldn't make assumptions about the religious, dietary, or relationship practices of those they lived among. They only knew for certain what other Jews were supposed to be doing, so they made laws based on the lowest denominator of trust...that they could only trust each other.

    Granted, not every gentile neighbor of a Jew today is out back pouring sacrifices to Baal, but you still never know when old practices will resurface. For me, these kinds of laws are a test of my obedience, but I try not to let them drive me away from the rewards of that obedience.

  6. OT - You might like these two YouTube videos of the Ana B'Ko'ach prayer. They use the same tune in both videos, but the second one explains the song, word for word.

    Yossi Azulay - Ana Bechoach

    Ana B'Ko'ach

  7. The mevushal/non-mevushal thing is a hassle. I actually knew about it before I even set foot in my first Orthodox home (the Chabad house on campus), and it made me a bit paranoid; constantly checking bottles like a crazy person to make sure they were okay. Heh. In environments like Chabad, I generally expect that there won't be issues (although I'll still check), because Chabad knows that they're going to have all kinds of people showing up, some of whom may be halachically Jewish, some of whom may not. It wouldn't really make sense to have a ton of non-mevushal wine floating around and risk having to get rid of all of it because someone didn't know better, unless it was a gift to the Chabad house or something. Although now that I think about it, the Chabad closest to me has local folks who serve most of the food and such on Shabbos, anyway. This being an overwhelmingly non-Jewish country, I guess the wine would pretty much have to be mevushal in that scenario.

    Personally, I'll buy both mevushal and non- for use in my own home (which, honestly, isn't all that often, as I'm not a big wine drinker), but I'll only bring mevushal stuff to places where my status could be in question (or where there could be non-Jewish people in attendance). I have found that there's a lot (not all, but probably fifty percent, based on what I've seen) of mevushal wine out there, so it's not like it's hard to find. I think the most likely place this comes up if you're visiting somewhere for Shabbos and someone who either doesn't know your status or didn't necessarily anticipate hosting you invites you to dinner. In that case, I would probably try and discreetly ask the host/ess.

    In all honesty, the mevushal thing never bothered me all that much; I'm not sure why, since when I think about it a bit, it's definitely insulting to non-Jews. Maybe because I read about it pretty early on, and it was just a fact of life pretty much from day one. It is what it is, I suppose, and while there are various things in halacha that I find troubling, if I'm going to a place where people observe those things, of course I'm going to play by their rules. Following the rules doesn't mean that you have to be totally comfortable with them or think they're fantastic, though. Sometimes there just isn't a satisfactory explanation for something, and I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge that occasionally.

    Also, unrelated to the mevushal issue, Trader Joe's carries kosher wine (both mevushal and non-), and if you show up there during/shortly after Pesach and want to buy a few cases on sale to take with you to another country, they're exceedingly helpful. Not that I would know from personal experience, of course. Ahem.

  8. I know this is super late(I'm catching up on your posts I've missed while in Israel!), but I thought of another suggestion. I also haven't read the above comments, so I may be saying this redundantly. Haha. If you are at a place that stands for kiddush and doesn't sit or anything, you could reasonably stand behind someone, then when they try to pass you the kiddush cup, you could shoo it away.

    In my mind this makes total sense, and I do this anyway because sometimes I just don't want the wine. :)

  9. If you've already drank from the glass, if someone pours non-mevushal wine into it, the bottle they poured from becomes treif, according to my rabbi. The liquid still at the bottom of your glass has traveled upwards and treifed the whole bottle, according to his logic.

    That being said, when I have guests over that I don't know really well, I always serve mevushal. I know what it's like to be put in that situation.

  10. the idea that flash pasteurized grapeness is ok is just as crazy as saying no pasteurized grapeness is forbidden because a 'non observant Jew' or non Jew touched the bottle.

    The whole thing defies logic and is not rational on any level. In fact it mimics paganry.

  11. So, if an observant Jew drinks treif wine, he becomes infected with "satan cooties" and all of the observant deeds are undone and he is sinful again? Weird. Who came up with this? Where is this rule found in the Bible, specificly stated?

  12. Jossi, almost none of these rules can be found in the Bible, with the exception of which animals are kosher and which are not. Most are from much later literature such as the Mishna, the Talmud, later Responsa by rabbis in the middle ages, etc. If you went by the Bible only, you would be practicing a much different religion (sacrificing animals, bringing first fruits to the temple, etc.) Still, I have to agree that this one isn't really very logical, and any suggestion that a non-Jew today could be an "idolator" is rather insulting IMHO. I haven't met one yet who worships Baal!

    1. Funny you should say that... I also thought no one today would offer my food or wine to an idol. Friends traveled in Thailand and got approval to somehow eat rice and veggies from restaurants there. They had to stop after seeing a waiter bring our their plates and scrape off 10% of the food at the bottom of a statue before bringing it to the table! So never say never.

  13. Currently on ortho track having previously converted conservative. I have served non-mevushal to born Jews in conservative community. Is this simply another area that conservatives have Halacha wrong? And it's based solely on their opinion that I'm a Jew?

  14. Are you assuming that if you are still in the process of conversion that you're currently in the category of 'possible idolator'? Perhaps the whole premise of this discussion is untrue. Also, what is the status of a Ben Noach with regards to 'yayin nesech'?

  15. So far as I know non mevushal wine is a problem if it is ever handled by a non jew once the bottle is opened. This includes a ben noach and a convert in the making.