Orthodox Judaism & Alcohol Restrictions

by Brett Levine

Judaism has a complex and often contradictory approach to the question of alcohol consumption, and its intricacies apply to every denomination of Judaism. While wine accompanies many ceremonies, including the Friday evening Sabbath dinner, weddings, circumcisions and passover, it is also recognized for its potentially destructive nature.

Alcohol and Ceremony

The question of whether or not alcohol is permissible in Orthodox Judaism is made more complex by specific dietary restrictions during certain holidays. During passover, when the consumption of grain is prohibited, alcohol such as beer or whiskey is forbidden. However, drinking is very much a part of Orthodox Jewish life. The question is initially not one of the permissibility of alcohol, but instead one of whether or not the alcohol being consumed is kosher.

Distilling and Blending

Rabbi Juravel observes that even among seemingly acceptable beverages, mixers or additives that are not kosher may have been included in the blending or distilling process. Making matters even more complex, it is possible that an alcohol that is acceptable, such as scotch, may have been aged in a barrel that had previously contained sherry, which is not kosher.

Some Possible Exceptions

In Orthodox Judaism, some rabbis argue that there can be exceptions to the rule banning the consumption of foods or beverages that are made of anything other than kosher ingredients. The belief is that if the portion of non-kosher ingredients in a food or beverage is less than 1 in 60, the non-kosher component is nullified. However, according to the Talmud, where an element of a food or drink is so identifiable, or its flavor so strong, that it cannot be hidden, any concentration of that food is still not kosher and, according to the laws of Orthodox Judaism, may not be consumed in any amount.

Wine

In Orthodox Judaism, drinking wine is no simpler than consuming distilled spirits. The laws of kosher stipulate that wine that is handled by a non-Jew is no longer kosher, so even wines that are indicated as being kosher may be unsuitable to drink. An exception to this rule relates to wine that has been heated to near boiling point, making the wine 'meshuval', or 'cooked', and any restrictions on its opening, handling or sharing disappear. Many Orthodox Jews' approaches to the laws of kosher may vary slightly, based on their own understandings of Jewish law and family traditions.

About the Author

Brett Levine is a writer with more than 17 years of experience writing for a range of national and international publications. His articles have appeared in "Art Papers," "B-Metro," "Alabama" magazine, "Object," "Urbis" and "RealTime." He holds a Master of Arts in arts administration.

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