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Wine and Purim


blogWine and Purim

It says in Mishle (Proverbs) : “And wine will gladden life” Kohelles 10:19 (Ecclesiastes)
Wine plays a major role in the story of Purim, which is retold each year in the public reading of the Megilla Ester (the Book of Esther), which details an early attempt to commit Jewish genocide, about 2300 years ago.

The first chapter in the Megilla tells us about several banquets. For the word “banquet” it uses the Hebrew word Mishte. The very root of the word is the verb infinitive “lishtot “to drink.”, and is understood to mean, the drinking of wine. After seven days of wine, King Achasahverosh is “happy” enough to call for his Queen Vashti. Later in the narrative, Queen Esther sets up two additional “banquets” and at the second one she warns King Achasahverosh of the treachery of Haman.

There is a widely-held custom to become inebriated on Purim until one doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai" (Talmud Megilla 7b). This is quite a difficult custom to observe in a kosher way. It is well-known that the rate of alcoholism among Jews has historically been very low. The aversion to alcoholism is supported as a cultural imperative and reinforced into Jewish consciousness from a number of biblical and Talmudic sources. "The wicked stray after wine." (Zohar) There are also the rebuking words of the prophets: Isaiah 28:1, Hosea 3:1 with Rashi, and Amos 6:6. For a “yid” to be a “shicker (literally a Jew to be a drunk) has always been seen as an appalling and rare violation of acceptable conduct. That being said, alcoholism is increasing at an alarming rate. Consequently, some believe that the influence of our culture is so powerful and destructive that we should suspend this custom in modern times. Perhaps one suggestion might be to achieve a temperance of sorts by using wine rather than stronger spirits to achieve a middle ground or balance.

If you are looking for higher alcohol content wine you won’t be disappointed with a selection called: Conditon by Hacormim. At 17% alcohol or 34 proof it is clearly a “high-test” version, more like the wines of Talmudic times which were often mixed with water. It is dark red, mevushal, heavy and very sweet but surprisingly smooth. It is best when chilled, as is often true with sweet wines. Most wines today range between 12% and 14% alcohol with “lite” wines being on the order of half of that. It may be interesting to note, that a practical reason for the mixing of wine with water may well have been to flavor water that had been sitting in cisterns for several months as much as to dilute the strong wine.

Whether you prefer sweet or dry wine, red or white wine or any of the other variations of this amazingly complex beverage, I follow a basic principal that “good wine is wine you like.” But like many things in life a deeper appreciation can come with a deeper understanding and in this case an educated palate.

The technology of vitaculture (the cultivation or culture of grapes) and oenology (science of wine and wine making) have progressed in recent years to combine with the ancient traditions to a marvelous synergy for us to appreciate in ways never before possible. Consequently, there are now thousands of kosher wines from 14 countries which include the largest wineries in Israel and from virtually all of the traditional wine grape growing regions. You can now treat yourself to kosher wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy in France and kosher wines from Tuscany or Asti in Italy. And, you need not sacrifice quality. Kosher wine production has now matured to unprecedented and world class levels