The Jew And The Carrot

Sip on This: 'The Kosher Grapevine'

By Peter Hellman

  • Print
  • Share Share

At first glance, Irving Langer’s “The Kosher Grapevine” would seem to be just another wine primer. Langer guides the novice through the usual wine primer topics: Which grapes make what kind of wine, how it’s done, how to taste wine, what kind of stemware to pour it in, how to match wine with food, and even how to face down a snobby restaurant wine steward. And, of course, Langer explains what makes wine kosher. It’s the sort of “how-to” guide of which there seem to be a jillion on the shelves of Barnes & Noble — some worse, some better than this one.

But Langer, a retired real estate maven, is up to much more than plodding through the basics one more time. He’s got an agenda, and an unusual one at that. Langer wants to show that the traditional “sacramental” wines, loaded up with sugar, are not what observant Jews (like himself) should consume. It’s dry, modern wines that are called for, and the more nuanced the better. “I am convinced,” he says, “that the fine kosher wines being produced today provide us with an opportunity to relearn the skill that the sages of the Talmud certainly possessed: the ability to experience pleasure as uplifting and edifying.”

Langer looks to those Talmudic sages to make his case that dry wine is not only the right wine for us, but that it was also the right wine for them, and that it was even the right wine for the Temple Alter. He quotes Rav Ashi, the first editor of the Babylonian Talmud: “The sweetness of the sun is not disgusting; the sweetness of the fruit is disgusting.” This seemingly contradictory statement rightly fascinates Langer, who probes it carefully. A dry wine, he suggests, having used up its sugar in the fermentation process, “is like a person’s soul going beyond the realm of physical pleasure to enter the realm of spiritual joy.” If, on the other hand, the grape has more natural sugar than can be consumed during fermentation (“sweetness of the fruit”), it symbolizes an “incomplete transformation.” That realm of spiritual joy has yet to be fully entered.

But what makes the “sweetness of the sun” not disgusting? To answer that question, Langer first notes that the Mishnah states that, hewing to a standard quite different than that for Kiddish, sweet wine should not be offered at the Temple alter. Even one drop of honey renders it unfit. What the Mishnah called “Heliston” wine, however, while not desirable, can be offered at the alter and declared kosher “after the fact.” Just what is Heliston wine? Langer goes to the Greek root, “helios,” meaning sun, and argues that Heliston refers to wine that has been dried by the sun, or what is now called “late harvest” wine made with fruit that’s been dried and made sweet by the sun. That’s provisionally permitted as a Temple offering. Nothing is absolute in rabbinic matters, of course, and the Shulchan Aruch, Langer points out, declares that sweet wine can be used for Kiddish. And indeed most of us do.

If you’re looking for a highly detailed guide to today’s vibrant Israeli wine scene, the late Daniel Rogov’s “Ultimate Guide to Israeli Wines” remains authoritative. But for a lively exposition of how fine kosher wine can uplift Jewish lives, “The Kosher Grapevine” fills a worthy niche. And it affirms that the hour arrives for Kiddish, you can scrap that bottle of syrupy sticky stuff and connect to our tradition by pouring as fine a kosher wine as you can afford.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Kosher Grapevine, Kosher Wine, Kosher Wine Books

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.