Relgious man making wine 370.
(photo credit: Dani Kronenberg)
The biblical and rabbinical kosher winemaking laws are the oldest of all wine
laws. Those relating to the vineyards date back to the Bible. Others relating to
the winery and wine service are from talmudic times. There are laws that
emphasize the sanctity of the land, and others that are sound agricultural
sense. Some of them may be regarded as being more symbolic today, but they
address the profoundest issues of social responsibility and spirituality versus
materialism. In their time, they were revolutionary.
kashrut is essential to all Orthodox Jews, and many secular Jews as well will
buy only kosher wines for Passover or the kiddush blessings. However, the
regulations for wine differ from those of food. Whereas the kashrut of
food depends on the source from which it came, the kashrut of wine depends on
who handles it.
For wine to be certified as kosher, the following
regulations must be followed at the winery:
1. Only Shabbat-observant Jews may
handle the product and touch the wine-making equipment from the time the grapes
arrive at the winery. Therefore, a Jewish winemaker who is not Orthodox is not
allowed to draw samples from the barrels.
2. Only kosher items or
substances may be used in the winemaking process. Yeasts, fining (filtering) and
cleaning materials have to be certified as kosher and must not be derived from
animal by-products. Almost like an ISO 9000 standards regulation, the
source of every item used in kosher winemaking must be known, monitored and
In Israel, kosher wine producers also have to observe the
following agricultural laws, which date back to when ancient Israel was an
For the first three years, fruit from the vine may
not be used for wine-making. In the fourth year, the vine can bear fruit, and a
winemaker is permitted to use the grapes.
The Sabbatical year.
Every seventh year, the fields should be left fallow and allowed to rest.
However, because of economic realities, this is more symbolic these
days.c) Kilai hakerem:
Cross breeding. Growing vegetables and cereals
between the vines is prohibited.
d) Trumot and ma’aserot:
This is a
symbolic ceremony in which more than 1 percent of the production is poured away
in remembrance of the 10% tithe once paid to the Temple in Jerusalem.
rabbinical rules were added so that a Jew should avoid drinking yayin nesech
literally, a wine used by non-Jews to make libations for idol worship; or stam
, an ordinary wine made by and for non-Jews.Yayin mevushal
Mevushal wines must be pasteurized, and they remain kosher
even when served by
someone non-observant. This is sometimes a requirement by kosher caterers for functions or banquets.
is to make the best wine possible that is kosher as well. Though it sounds very
complicated, it is easier than you think. The laws of orla and kilai hakerem are
usually observed in the general wine world because they make sound agricultural
sense. The restrictions on the winemaker may be frustrating to a hands-on
winemaker, but those producing kosher wines are used to it. If something is
prohibited because it is not kosher, there are always acceptable
Basically, kosher wine is made in the same way as
non-kosher wine. The harvesting, fermentation, aging and bottling are the same
for a kosher wine as a non-kosher wine. So it is possible to make good or bad
kosher wines, but whether they are kosher or not doesn’t affect the
If you observe the Jewish dietary laws, you have the opportunity
to drink very good kosher wines today. Furthermore, the non-Jew can be drinking
gold-medal wines that have received high scores from international critics,
without realizing they are kosher.
Now, this is not to say that sweet
kiddush or sacramental wines are quality wines, but they should not be confused
with kosher table wines. The concept of mevushal wines is more controversial,
and it may be said to create an image problem. Some wineries specialize in flash
pasteurizing wines to reduce the bad effect on quality. However, it is fair to
say that nearly all the finest kosher wines made in Israel and abroad are not
I write as a wine professional, not as a
rabbi. For those who have questions or want better explanations, there is
a new solution at hand. I have seen the preview of a comprehensive
exhibition called “What Is Kosher
Wine?” It is a brilliantly conceived, mobile
exhibition designed to make it accessible and easily transportable. It is in
Hebrew and English, with wonderful photography and concise explanations, going
back to the sources. It can be easily displayed for audiences anywhere and would
be appropriate for religious or secular Jews, curious Christians or wine
professionals.For more information about the exhibition, see
www.probooks.co.ilAdam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international email@example.com