Should Jews Stop “Wining” on Passover?

Should we all refuse wine on Passover? Source:

Should we all refuse wine on Passover?

As most Jews prepare their four cups of wine for their first and second seders, I ask whether Jews should even consume wine on Passover in the first place.

Most Karaites of Egyptian descent believe that wine is forbidden on Passover. These Karaites have pure, unadulterated raisin juice with their seders. (Editor’s Note: I previously had written grape juice; but I’ve since learned it is authentically made with raisin juice.)

But historically there was a debate amongst Karaites themselves as to whether wine constitutes hametz. If wine is hametz, it should be avoided during Passover.

Today, I do my best to lay out the contours of the debate.

At the heart of the issue is whether the word “hametz,” in the context of Passover, refers only to grain products or whether it refers more broadly to other types of food. The Karaites with a more expansive understanding of hametz believe that hametz has a meaning similar to “fermentation.”

Arguments in favor of a more expansive definition of hametz:

  • The concept of leavening is almost synonymous with “fermentation.”
  • In the Bible, vinegar is referred to as “hometz yayin.” (See Number 6:3.) Since vinegar itself is “fermented wine,” the word hametz can properly be understood as conveying the concept of fermentation. As such, wine, which is fermented grapes, is prohibited on Passover.
  • One verse in the Torah prohibits eating hametz and does not connect the prohibition with bread or matzah. (See Exodus 13:3.)
  • One of the ancient Hebrew words for wine is “khamar.” (See, e.g., Ezra 6:9, Daniel 5:1.) As someone explained on a Karaite forum this past week, the Arabic root “Kh-M-R,” which is the same root as this Hebrew word for wine, designates all things fermented – including wine (“khamr“) and leavened products (“khamira“). This suggests that the ancient Israelites would have drawn a connection between wine (khamar) and leaven.

Arguments in favor of limiting hametz to grains:

  • The biblical name for what we call “Passover”* is “Hag HaMatzot.” Hag HaMatzot translates to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, emphasizing that the purpose of the holiday is to avoid grains that have leavened. Thus, the holiday is not concerned with all leavened/fermented foods – just grains.
  • All Passover-related Torah verses except for Exodus 13:3 expressly connect hametz with bread or matzah in either the same verse or the verse immediately preceding or succeeding the hametz prohibition. So, in context, the one remaining passage, Exodus 13:3, should be viewed as referring to grains – and not to leavening/fermentation generally. And only a few verses after Exodus 13:3, the connection between hametz and unleavened bread is made clear.  (See Exodus 13:6-7.)
  • Vinegar is called “hometz yayin” implies that vinegar is hametz but wine is not.
  • Arabic may make certain linguistic connections, as noted above with the root Kh-M-R; but that does not mean that the Torah intended to forbid all fermented products. This is especially so because the Torah uses a word (hametz) with a completely different root in the Passover prohibitions.

Well, there you have it. And if anyone is familiar with the practice of the historical Karaites of Turkey, Crimea and Lithuania, I’d love to hear whether they consume wine on Passover.

There certainly are other arguments on both sides of this debate. And I don’t think anyone would be crazy to reach one conclusion or the other. In fact, from the Golden Age of Karaism until this very day, very learned people have arrived at opposition conclusions. Let’s just not resort to the “foolish” rhetoric of previous days.**

* In the Torah, Pesach, usually translated as “Passover,” refers to the Passover Sacrifice.  The Torah refers to the week-long holiday as “Hag HaMatzot.”

** As translated at the Karaite-Korner: “But some of the fools in our times who pretend to be wise do not eat anything that ferments based on the verse ‘no leaven shall you eat’ . . . and this is because of their foolishness and their lack of knowledge.” (Elijah Baschyatchi (15th century), Aderet Eliyahu, Ramla 1966, pp.133-134.)


Filed under Aderet Eliyahu, Elijah Baschyatchi, Hametz, Passover

27 Responses to Should Jews Stop “Wining” on Passover?

  1. maurice

    Add also that Kiddush makes no mention of wine, only the fruit of the vine. There is no yayin or shaichar in Kiddush. Alcohol is a rabbinic addition. There are enough Torah references to the avoidance of yayin and shaichar to bring to question a blessing that Hashem commanded us to drink wine, which isn’t true anyway.
    Besides the moderation argument, the fact remains that the alcoholic version is not mentioned in Kiddush. It is a rabbinic invention and should be treated as such. But custom is powerful, especially when and if it makes you feel good.

    • Vincent Calabrese

      First of all, the Kiddush is a Rabbinic text. There’s no ‘rabbinic addition’; it’s *all* Rabbinic. Moreover, we are commanded to bring wine as a libation in the Miqdash, we permited to transfer our ma’aser into money and buy ‘sheichar’ with it to drink in Jerusalem. Psalm 104 speaks positively of wine.
      I don’t think the TaNaKh is very anti-wine at all. Clearly it’s anti-debuachery, but that’s totally different .

  2. Zvi

    The more rare ancient Hebrew word for wine is “Kkemer” and its Aramaic cognate (see Daniyel and `Ezrah) is “Khamra” or “Khamar” (depending on sub-dialect)

  3. Tomer

    Also relevant to the debate is the drink offerings given in the temple. They were made of wine (ex: bemidbar 28:14) or “strong drink” (see: bemidbar 28:7). Yet some of these offerings are still given on passover (namely, the daily offering in 28:7).
    Also some offerings may not be offered with chametz even during days other than passover (see vayikra 2:11). All this may suggest that wine is not really chametz.
    Of course, there are counter arguments to be made in favor of classifying wine as chametz. First, although we offer “strong drink” on pesach we sometimes make exceptions to religious laws for temple sacrifices (ie: we break shabat for the sake of working in the temple). Next, vayikra 2:11 does not necessarily forbid “chametz” in drink offering. It seems to concern itself only with grain offering and possibly any other offering made by fire. I am reasonably certain the drink offering did not involve fire.

    • Dave

      The verse in Leviticus forbids only leavened bread on the altar, as it is very specific. Even if wine is hametz, it mentions that menahot cannot be hametz, not nesakhim.

  4. Zac

    This is where I think chevrutah would be important. For example, I would consider reading וְלֹא יֵאָכֵל חָמֵץ not to include wine, since the verb אכל only refers to eating and not drinking.

  5. Tehilah

    I would love to be able to download this article and have it offline with the credit for it intact. Is that possible here; or does the article exist in someplace else, where it is possible?

  6. Dale

    I was wondering if someone could help me in knowning just when is Pesach going to be?? I know about the aviv and new moon is to be…but with all the rabbi insterting Tammuz in their calendar,just boggled my mind. cofused

    • Hi Dale, the rabbis adopted a calculated calendar, the Calendar of Hillel II, in the fourth century. Based on the calculations of that calendar the overwhelming majority of Jews will be celebrating passover tonight. If you are looking to celebrate passover in accordance with the new moon sighting, the celebration will be sunset on March 27. I hope this helps.

  7. Art Phillips

    The tanach refers to the festival of unleavened bread as one of the three pilgrim festivals where the tanach tells us if we have a long journey to jerusalem,that we should buy wine and food and strong drink ,what ever pleases us, oh yea lets not forget the temple offering

  8. Howard I. Aronson

    One of the (many) things I admire about Karaism is the fact that there is no one view that must be followed. Conflicting views are not only permitted, but may be followed. In a certain way, I think that the difference between Karaite Judaism and Rabbanite Judaism is that the Karaites seem to follow the Rabbinic dictum only as far as “elu veelu divrei Elohim chayim” while the Rabbanites add on “… vehalakha kedivrei beit Hilel.” Of course, you have to add to that that the Karaites try to discover the meaning of the peshat (as illustrated in your discussion above), while the Rabbanites allow themselves to completely ignore the peshat and give vent to fantasies that cannot be supported scripturally or rationally.

    Chag hamatsot sameach!

  9. Dale

    Shalom Shawn,Thank you so much for your insight on this..I was checking around for futher proof..comparing Torah/rabbi´s calendar…with the month of tammuz,of which was a baffle within the making their lunar calandar,looking it up in the book of Ezekiel Chapter 8 verses13-14?? (What..a false god?? it points to a babylon.false god of grain??) how can that be..? Now.finally.. on the Torah, the true meaning of Pesach and of the celebrating of Unlevened Bread for seven days.It Gives my wife and myself a “peace of mind”.Knowingly of what been bothering both of us.We want to learn and in keeping HIS miztvots and walk fully in HIS commandments as it is required to do so. Thank you so much…Dale

  10. I fully agree with the concept of now wine, as in our modern understanding of wine that has been fermented, at Pesah. In the Scriptures we find various words for wine… yayin, tiyrosh and chamer. the only one that i assumed to be ‘alcohol free’ or unfermented was ‘tiyrosh’ meaning grape juice or freshly pressed grape juice (fruit of the vine). I am however considering the fact that not all ‘yayin’ is fermented and would suggest that the 1/4 of a hin of yayin that is poured out as a drink offering on Bikkurim with the waving of the sheaf of barley is in fact unfermented wine (i.e. also fresh grape juice – juice of the first fruits).
    I would like to hear thoughts on this, as we too agree that wine (fermented) and or vinegar should also not be in our borders during Matzot, and the ‘wine’ we actually have is in fact grape juice… besides it is not for sovereigns to drink wine or strong drink! As a royal priesthood in Messiah we too must not drink wine or strong drink.
    My question is this…”if no leaven or that which is fermented is to cease from our houses, how could a drink offering of ‘fermented’ wine be brought with the waving of the first sheaves?”
    My thought is that based on the application of the various words translated as ‘wine’, I come to the understanding that not all yayin is fermented or has an alcoholic content, but can also refer to the first product of the vine rendering a fresh grape juice. Am i way off the mark or not?

    • Mikey

      Tirosh seems to mean fresh wine. The root is from “expelled”, as in just pressed. Yayin comes from a root that means effervescent, which may be more aged wine, possibly like a champagne.

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  12. How about the argument that the Biblical Words translated “Wine” can include Unfermented Grape Juice. It’s Proverbs that clarifies it’s only forbidden when it’s Fermented?

  13. Pingback: How the Jews in Elephantine, Egypt Celebrated Passover in 419 BCE. DO YOU HAVE TO BURN YOUR HAMETZ? IS WINE CHAMETZ? | Yomin D'min Alma יוֹמִין דְּמִן עָלְמָא JEWISH HISTORY CHANNEL

  14. Kalev

    How a thought on that night when the bread
    Was unable to raise do you think they would have tossed any stores they had out or taken them with wine would have been there drink to help with the pain of work I can’t see them tossing it out before they left
    Egypt I would have thought with them leaving all there stores would have gone with them my view as an Australian Karaite

  15. B Hanton

    Even if wine is hametz, are we ever commanded to refrain from drinking? As in Exodus 12:15 “for anyone who eats (ochel) hametz that soul shall be cut off from Israel..”.

  16. Justin

    Hi Shawn,

    I know this is a fairly old post, but I thought this might be interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the Elephantine papyri (a Jewish community in Egypt around 400’s BCE) regarding not eating leavened bread OR fermented things:

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