Parashas Va’eschanan includes the Ten Commandments, one of them being the mitzvah of Shabbos. Among the mitzvos of Shabbos is the obligation: “Remember the day of Shabbos, to sanctify it” (Shemos 20:8). Chazal understand this as making Kiddush: “Sanctify it with a blessing; from here we derive that one must make Kiddush on wine as Shabbos enters” (Mechilta).

Havdalah this past Motzaei Shabbos reminded us that other beverages may be substituted for wine. As we will see, in the Havdalah after the Shabbos before Tisha Be’Av, some recommend using beer rather than wine, in order to refrain from drinking wine in the Nine Days.

Can this be done for Kiddush, too? What about the custom of making Kiddush on Shabbos in the daytime on a shot glass of scotch or whiskey, rather than the traditional full-size cup of wine? When can beer, or other beverages, replace wine for blessings recited over a cup (such as for bentching)?

These questions, among others, are discussed below.

Havdalah in the Nine Days

Havdalah is recited after the close of Shabbos—which is of course a weekday. On Shabbos Chazon this raises the problem of drinking the wine of the Havdalah since it is then part of the Nine Days. Three resolutions to this issue are mentioned by early authorities.

One approach is that the cup of wine should be drunk as usual. This is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 551:10)/ The Gra (see also Mishnah Berurah 551:67) explains that Havdalah is no worse than a seudas mitzva such as a Bris. Just as it is permitted to eat meat and drink wine at a Bris, so, too, one can drink wine for Havdalah as usual.

A second approach, mentioned by the Rema (551:10, based on Shut Maharil 15), is that one should find a child, and give him the wine to drink. The Mishnah Berurah (based on the Gra) explains that although it is permitted to drink wine at a seudas mitzvah, for Havdalah there is an opinion to give the wine to a child. This is preferable, since the person making Havdalah will not need to transgress the prohibition. The Rema concludes that if a child is not available, an adult should drink the wine as usual.

The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling, explaining that one cannot give the wine to any child. He must be on the one hand too young to mourn the destruction of the Mikdash, for if old enough he, too, is not allowed to drink the wine. On the other hand, he must be old enough to understand the concept of reciting a berachah over wine, so that brochoh over the wine can apply to him.

This means that the child needs to be in the 5-8 years old range. Many Ashkenazi Poskim prefer that a child drink the wine (See Chayei Adam 133:16; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 122:8; Mishnah Berurah 551:70). However, due to the uncertainty over the correct age of the child, some prefer that an adult drink the wine.

Using Beer for Havdalah

A third opinion is especially interesting to us. The Aruch Hashulchan (551:26) records a local custom to make Havdalah in the Nine Days over beer, rather than wine. Beer is cited by Poskim throughout generations as a chamar medina, a “drink of the land,” which can substitute for wine. This seems to be a very simple resolution to the problem of Havdalah in the Nine Days.

The idea of using beer for Havdalah is based on the ruing of the Shulchan Aruch (296:2), who writes that it is permitted to make Havdalah on beer, provided beer is chamar medina—a “national beverage.” This ruling is founded on the Gemara in Pesachim (107a), where we find that Ameimar used beer for Havdalah.

While there remains a preference of wine over beer, as noted by the Mishnah Berurah (296:8), it is generally permitted to use beer where wine is unavailable. In fact, the Rema notes the custom to use beer (if it is chamar medina) on motza’ei Pesach, because after seven days without it beer is a cherished beverage.

Thus, the solution of using beer for Havdalah during the Nine Days seems like an appropriate and easily available option.

Deferring the Beer Solution

Yet, many authorities are reluctant to use this option, the reason being the preference to use wine, and the lack of clarity over the definition of chamar medina.

As noted above, the Mishnah Berurah writes that one can only use chamar medina where wine is not available. A similar ruling emerges from a number of early commentaries. According to the Rashbam (Pesachim 107a), it is only permitted to use chamar medina if wine is unavailable in the entire city (noted by the Magan Avraham 272:6), while the Rambam (Shabbos 29:17) writes that chamar medina refers to majority use.

Furthermore, and as we will see below, defining a “national beverage” is tricky. While the Rema takes a lenient approach concerning beer (permitting chamar medina where this is subjectively preferred to wine), the Magen Avraham (296:6) writes that in Ashkenaz (Europe) beer does not have the status of chamar medina at all—a ruling agreed to by the Gra, and cited by the Mishnah Berurah.

Moreover, based on how beer is viewed today, particularly in Israel, the Chazon Ish (see Kovetz Teshuvos 1:57; Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. 2, p. 136) and others rule that beer is no longer considered chamar medina. However, he felt that perhaps natural orange juice might be considered chamar medina. This was also the opinion of Rav Eliashev zatsa”l

For these reasons, the Aruch Hashulchan’s solution is not the popular custom—though some have adopted it (see Rabbi Yehuda Spitz’s Havdalah During the Nine Days, available on, for more sources on this).

Kiddush on Chamar Medina

For Kiddush, the Shulchan Aruch (272:2) cites two opinions: one maintains that it is permitted to use chamar medina for Kiddush, while the other maintains that this is not permitted. The Shulchan Aruch proceeds to cite the Rosh, who makes a distinction between nighttime and daytime Kiddush: at night, somebody without wine should make Kiddush on bread. In the day, Kiddush should be made on chamar medina.

The Mishnah Berurah (27) points out that according to several authorities (notably, the Rambam, Shabbos 29:17), somebody who makes the nighttime Kiddush on any beverage other than wine does not fulfill his basic obligation. Thus, at night one should certainly stick to wine, and use bread in the absence of wine. What about Kiddush in the day?

As for Havdalah, the Mishnah Berurah (29) writes that Kiddush over beer remains bedieved relative to wine. Yet, he writes that because wine is expensive, the custom of some leading rabbis is to make Kiddush over other beverages (adding that wine remains better). The Mishnah Berurah (272:30) writes that where somebody prefers a different beverage to wine, he can use it for Kiddush even lechatchilah—reflecting the ruling of the Rema concerning Havdalah.

Note the Mishnah Berurah (182:4) states that chamar medina is acceptable for use in bentching, as for Kiddush in the day.

What Is Chamar Medina?

The Shulchan Aruch mentions beer. The Mishnah Berurah (272:24) explains that this refers to a place where beer is chamar medina—a “national beverage.” It is important, in this context, to define exactly when a beverage falls under the classification of a “national beverage.”

According to the Shulchan Aruch Harav (182:2-3), there are two criteria that must be met for a beverage to have the status of chamar medina. First, the drink must be one that people use as a primary beverage for a meal, as it was common to drink wine with most meals in ancient times (see also Aruch Hashulchan 272:14). Second, the beverage must not be cheap and trivial, but should have some significance.

Therefore, although borscht was commonly drunk with meals in Eastern Europe, due to its low status it is not considered chamar medina.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. 2, no. 75) defines chamar medina as a beverage one might serve to a guest to whom one wishes to show respect (and not merely for the purpose of quenching his thirst). This is also noted by Shut Tzitz Eliezer (8:16), while others add that it must be a drink that possesses inherent importance (Chayei Adam 2:8:13; Mishnah Berurah 296:10).

Rav Moshe explains that this rules out cheap sodas from being defined as chamar medina, also advising against using milk as chamar medinah (see also Mishnah Berurah 272:25, citing Shaarei Teshuvah and Birchei Yosef; 296:9). It is possible that since milk is served today as an everyday beverage, the halachah has changed. Rav Moshe argues that it is generally served as a health supplement or with coffee, which are insufficient to qualify as chamar medina (see also Aruch Ha-Shulchan 272:14, 296:13).

By contrast, most authorities agree that tea and coffee are considered chamar medina (see Daas Torah 296:2; Aruch Ha-Shulchan 272:14; Iggros Moshe, loc. cit.; Tzitz Eliezer 8:16), though some raise the concern that tea and coffee are in fact just “flavored water,” and therefore disqualified as chamar medinah (see Machazeh Eliyahu no. 34 who raises this concern, also claiming that because tea and coffee are generally not drunk during a meal, they might not be considered chamar medinah).

Moreover, according to Halachos Ketanos (1:9), a non-alcoholic beverage cannot be considered chamar medinah, though this ruling is not adopted by most authorities (though see also Maharsham, Daas Torah, Orach Chaim 296:4, and Shut Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:77 citing Rav Chaim of Volozhin). Many write that, while not preferable, one may use tea and coffee under extenuating circumstances (see Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:75; Shut Machazeh Eliyahu 34, noting that coffee must be prepared in the normal way, i.e. with milk-if one can drink it-often people can’t do so at Havdalah). Shut Teshuvos Vehanhagos (4:77) notes that the Brisker Rav was known (by testimony of his son) to have made Havdalah on tea and coffee.

A specific problem with tea and coffee is their serving temperature. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach makes this point (Maadanei Shlomo on Moadim, Bein Hameitzarim, p. 59), arguing that it is almost impossible to use either of them for Havdalah (or Kiddush). The reason is that while they are considered chamar medina, halacha requires drinking a mouthful of the cup, which is not possible while hot. If one waits until cooling, the tea or coffee loses its status of chamar medina, since nobody drinks lukewarm coffee. It is perhaps possible to differentiate in this matter between tea (drunk hot) and coffee (drunk colder).

Whisky and Liquor for Kiddush

The Mishnah Berurah (272:30) notes that whisky or liquor is considered chamar medina, and records the common custom to use whiskey for Kiddush on Shabbos day, even when wine was available (see also Minchas Yitzchak Vol. 10, no. 22).

This leniency—we have noted that wine should generally be used if available—is based on a combination of three considerations. First, wine was extremely expensive, and had fallen out of common use in favor of other drinks. Second, there is more room for leniency at daytime Kiddush, since the obligation to recite Kiddush during the day is only Rabbinic. And third, the Mishnah Berurah writes that people preferred whiskey over wine, so that based on the Rema (concerning Havdalah) there is room to prefer whiskey.

Rabbi Shmuel Wosner (Shut Shevet Halevi Vol. 3, no. 26; Vol. 5, no. 32) suggests an additional reason to allow other beverages even where wine is available. He explains that in Talmudic times people drank wine very regularly, to the degree that in some towns wine was so popular that people barely drank any water. When wine had such widespread popularity we can understand the obligation to use wine for Kiddush rather than settling for liquor or beer.

Today, however, most people do not drink wine regularly, and other beverages are therefore not considered inferior to wine for the purposes of the mitzvah of Kiddush. This idea is similar to the rationale mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch Harav, whereby today people drink other beverages during their meals, and other beverages can therefore be used for Kiddush.

How Much Wine/Beverage is Required?

The Shulchan Aruch (271:13) rules that one must recite Kiddush over a cup that contains a revi’is (86cc or 3.07 fl. Oz. according to the smaller view, and 150cc or 5.36 fl. Oz. according to the larger view) of wine, and must drink the majority of a revi’is.

Drinking the proper measure of wine does not present any special difficulty. However, the question is what to do when Kiddush is made over whiskey or liquor? The average shot glass can only hold one fluid ounce (30cc), and drinking more than this is certainly inconvenient (for most people). What quantity of whiskey is required for Kiddush?

According to the Mishnah Berurah (272:30), the measure of a revi’is is required regardless of the beverage one uses for Kiddush. Most leading poskim concur with this view, and therefore rule that one may not fulfill one’s obligation of Kiddush on Shabbos morning with a one or two ounce shot glass of whiskey. Mishnah Berurah notes that it suffices if all participants together drink the required amount—but at the very least a revi’is in the Kiddush cup is required.

The opinion of the Taz (Orach Chaim 210:1) is that although normally one must drink a revi’is of any drink in order to be required to recite a berachah acharonah, one need not drink a revi’is of liquor to require a berachah acharonah. The logic for this contention is that while one is usually not considered to have drunk a significant amount of a beverage until he has had a revi’is, a much lesser amount of liquor is generally deemed significant. In fact, most people usually drink far less than a revi’is of liquor.

Following the old Chassidic tradition (see Shut Maharsham 1:175), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi Vol. 1 no. 159) extends this leniency of the Taz to Kiddush, stating that according to the Taz one may recite Kiddush on less than a revi’is of liquor. The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halachah 271:14, quoting Rabbeinu Tam) mentions that the required amount for drinking, melo lugmav, is a “satisfying amount,” and we can therefore understand why the amount changes for liquor.

Although some authorities support the opinion of the Taz (see Chasam Sofer 49), the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 190) rejects the opinion, and states that Chazal established standard measurements for all liquids, without distinguishing between liquids. The Mishnah Berurah (190:14; 272:30) rules in accordance with the opinion of the Magen Avraham.

As noted, the custom among many Chassidic leaders was to use a shot glass of whiskey for Kiddush in the day. However, for those who do not follow this tradition, the full shiur should be used.  As we have noted, wine should preferably be used if available.

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