Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Why Manischewitz Wine Is a Blasphemy

posted by David Klinghoffer

Recently someone — it might have been of one of our older kids — asked me why Jews both inaugurate the Sabbath over a cup of a wine (at Kiddush) and bid it farewell similarly, over a cup of wine (Havdalah). I found an answer over Shabbat in Rav Hirsch’s commentary on the Torah, in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment as recorded in Exodus. In the order of Biblical symbols, a cup alludes to our fate as meted out to us by God. Look here for a list of verses from the KJV version of the Hebrew Bible that use the word “cup”; you’ll see what I mean.

The medieval hymn Adon Olam describes God, the “Lord of the Universe,” as “my cup, my portion when I cry.” The essential point of the Sabbath is to acknowledge God as the guiding force behind creation and history. We receive our “cup” from Him. Hence the appropriateness of celebrating the Sabbath by lifting and receiving our cup, filled with beautiful wine. Per Jewish custom, there is a whole choreography to this. 
We hope our portion from God will be as good, as gently intoxicating, as good wine. What an insult, really a blasphemy, to use sickly sweet grape juice or Manischewitz as some Jews do! Maimonides rules, in fact, that Kiddush may not be said over sugared or cooked — i.e., grossly inferior — wine (Hilchot Shabbat 29:14).


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Phil

posted August 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm


Are you concerned some people might take your blasphemy charge literally? Are you concerned that you will hurt Manischewitz’s sales?



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Alan Stillman

posted August 3, 2009 at 1:11 pm


and did you really need Maimonides to clue you into the reality that Manischewitz is blasphemy?



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your name

posted August 3, 2009 at 7:39 pm


This is one of the few areas where Jews have a blind spot to the limits of their talents and cultural legacy. There’s a certain wisdom in doing what you do best and getting professional help in other areas. Jewish people, on average, rock in law, medicine, business, education, entertainment (nobody touches y’all in comedy writing or delivery).
In areas where there isn’t much interest, they have the great good sense to hire good help. You don’t see a lot of cases of well to do middle aged Jewish men falling off of their roof trying to install a satellite dish to prove some ersatz macho identity, or tearing up a gas line with a trenching machine they’v never used before while attempting to dig an irrigation system. WASP’s fall prey to this sort of foolishness all the time.
When it comes to making booze, Jews don’t have a lot to fall back on. They’re just not a very hard drinking people. Remarkably sober, in fact, for all the travails history has thrown them. If you want good booze, turn to the folks who take their drinking very seriously. Germans, Irish, Scotch, English, almost any European nation, Japan, etc. If it’s time for a better ritual wine, contract the thing out to the Italians or French (even the Australians), get a rabbi to sign off on it, and you’re good to go!



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Your Name

posted August 3, 2009 at 8:17 pm


I do believe that one’s personal prefernce is a factor in the Halacha. If a person prefers sweet wine, then it is okay.



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Mark

posted August 3, 2009 at 9:04 pm


The commenters here show their profound ignorance about the modern day world of kosher wine. Those of us who live in Israel are well aware that there are quite a few wineries that are now acknowledged as world class – on par with the best wines of Italy, France, etc.
As a point of education, there is a historical reason why kosher wines have traditionally been associated with syruppy sweetness and vastly inferior quality. These wines originated with the Jews of Eastern Europe. They had access only to grapes of inferior quality, that were unsuitable for making quality wines. Thus, to make the wines drinkable, they had no choice but to add large amounts of sugar. Thus, the wines that you associate with “kosher” are a product of only the last few centuries, and an unfortunate byproduct of the galut.
The wines of Israel (or Judea) of ancient times were likely of far superior quality as we now know that Israel’s climate and soil lends itself to grapes of outstanding suitability for wine making. This tradition has now been reestablished by a new generation of wine making experts throughout Israel, who are making a name for themselves on the world scene.
Once again, this demonstrates that if you ensconce yourself in America, and see the Pacific northwest as the epitome of Jewish existence, you don’t even begin to realize what you are missing. I, for one, see no reason to “outsource” kosher wine making to the Italians, French or Australians. And because of the quality wineries within an hour drive from my front door, I buy only Israeli mades wines.



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Phil

posted August 3, 2009 at 11:57 pm


Mark wrote: “The commenters here show their profound ignorance about the modern day world of kosher wine.”
Eh, most commenters here didn’t even bring up the topic.
Be that as it may, I like the rest of your post.



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Mark

posted August 4, 2009 at 12:58 am


I’ll take that as a compliment, Phil. You know what I meant, I think. The premise of DK’s post was the inferiority of Manischewitz ought to make it inappropriate for sacramental purposes. My point is that for a significant percentage of religious Jews over the past few centuries, that kind of wine was the absolute best they could produce or get. By all rights that ought to change now – unfortunately, there is a segment of elderly Jews who, having been raised on it, think that that is what wine should taste like. (Much to my dismay, I count my father among them.)



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Ariela

posted August 4, 2009 at 7:42 am


Most religious Jews (myself included!) don’t drink Manischewitz. Actually, sweet wine is not allowed when doing kiddush or havdallah for Mizrahim (Middle Eastern/North African Jews).



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Harrietb98

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:38 am


I do not see drinking Manischewitz as being blasphemy. I think that there is far too much extremism.



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Alan Stillman

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:46 am


I was not referring to the number of very good quality kosher wines available. I was referring to one specific choice – which is sickly sweet and nasty stuff. don’t assume I am ignorant because I fail to mention knowledge of something that is not necessary in order to make my argument.



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Phil

posted August 4, 2009 at 2:15 pm


Hi Alan. Looks like Mark mentioned DK’s post, not yours.



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Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 2:33 pm


What a shame that there has to be judgment infused in this discussion. I don’t drink wine, and have never liked the taste of anything but sweet wine. In my cup, I consider the place of Hashem in sweetening the aspects of life I want to include day to day, but that to me are difficult or otherwise unappealing. Thinking of my relationship with G-d, with His plans and placement of these tasks and opportunities in my life, makes these things easier and more fulfilling. And that’s just what the sweet wine does in my Kiddush cup.



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Larry Chandler

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm


When the European Jews came to this country they arrived on the East Coast which did not grow the fine European grapes. Concord was the main grape and the only way it could be made into palatable wine was to sweeten it.
Nowadays with so many good Kosher wines there is no reason to drink Manischewitz or Mogen David or other travesties, but it has become a tradition of its own. This is too bad, but it is better to offer good Kosher wine than to rant about other people serving the inferior ones.



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Phil

posted August 6, 2009 at 12:25 am


Well “travesty” sure beats out “blasphemy”, no? (smirk)



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Yirmi

posted August 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm


I thought blasphemy referred to heretical statements, not breaches of halacha. Anyway, as Rabbi Gil Student explains briefly here, most people do not hold by the prohibition you mention:
http://www.haloscan.com/comments/hirhurim/1685609098584555532/#626202



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