This week’s parashah includes the Ten Commandments, which include the mitzvah of Shabbos. Specifically, the Commandment of Shabbos states that we must “Remember the day of Shabbos, to sanctify it” (Shemos 20:8).
Chazal interpret the concept of remembering the Shabbos as an instruction to make Kiddush: “Sanctify it with a blessing. From here we derive that one must make Kiddush on wine as Shabbos enters” (Mechilta).
In this week’s article we will discuss the halachah of making Kiddush on wine. In particular, we will analyze the halachic validity of the fairly widespread custom of making Kiddush, in the Shabbos morning Kiddush after davening, on a shot glass of scotch or whiskey, rather than on the traditional full size cup of wine.
Is it permitted to make Kiddush on beverages other than wine, and is there a halachic basis for the custom of making Kiddush on a shot glass of whisky or other ‘hard’ drink?
Deviations from Wine: Kiddush on Bread
The Sefer Ha-Chinuch (31) summarizes the ruling of the Gemara (Pesachim 106) concerning making Kiddush over wine. Although the Torah does not mention the use of wine in Kiddush, the Sages enacted that Kiddush should be recited over wine, because of its special virtue as a satisfying beverage, which also gladdens the hearts of men.
The Gemara adds that if one feels happier with bread, Kiddush may be made over bread.
These halachos are ruled by the Rambam (Shabbos Chap. 29) and by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 271:12; 272:9): Although the Sages enacted that Kiddush should be made over wine, if a person prefers bread to wine, he can make Kiddush on bread.
The Rema (272:9), concerned for the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam (who maintains that one cannot ever make Kiddush on bread, and understands the teaching of the Gemara in Pesachim in a different light), rules that one should only make Kiddush on bread where no wine is available.
Though he expresses some doubt as to the ruling, the Biur Halachah (272:9) writes that one who prefers bread over wine should nonetheless make Kiddush on wine. However, he adds that one who actually dislikes wine can rely on the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, and make Kiddush over bread lechatchilah.
Kiddush on Beer
Another possible deviation from making Kiddush on wine is making Kiddush on a ‘national beverage,’ a drink that is a popular beverage in the relevant location.
In fact, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 289) writes that in the absence of wine and beer (a ‘national beverage’), all beverages other than water are suitable for Kiddush. However, the halachic ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (289:2; 483:1) is that only a ‘national beverage’—chamar medinah—can be used.
For the nighttime Kiddush, the Shulchan Aruch (based on the Rosh) writes that bread, which is part of the Shabbos meal, is preferable to beer. For the day Kiddush, however, the Shulchan Aruch rules that beer, and not bread, should be used for Kiddush: Since there is no special berachah for the Kiddush (other than the berachah of the food being used), making Kiddush on bread effectively means starting the meal without Kiddush. Thus, for the day Kiddush beer (or another chamar medinah) is the only acceptable alternative to wine.
Here, too, poskim explain that one should not deviate from wine without due cause, and the entire ruling of the Shulchan Aruch refers to a “place where wine is not found.”
The Mishnah Berurah (29) writes that Kiddush over beer remains bedieved relative to wine, yet mentions that on account of wine being expensive, the custom of some leading rabbis is to make Kiddush over liquors. The Mishnah Berurah (272:30) goes on to write that where somebody prefers a different beverage to wine, he can use it for Kiddush even lechatchilah.
This refers specifically to Kiddush during the day. For the nighttime Kiddush, the implication is that one should certainly try to avoid making Kiddush on anything other than wine.
What Constitutes a ‘National Beverage’?
As noted, the Shulchan Aruch makes specific mention of beer, the Mishnah Berurah (272:24) explaining that this refers to a place where beer is chamar medinah—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 attain the status of chamar medinah. First, the drink must be one that people use as a primary beverage for a meal, much the way it was common to drink wine with most meals in ancient times. Second, the beverage must not be cheap and trivial, but should have some significance.
Therefore, although borscht was commonly drunk with meals, due to its low stature, it would not be considered chamar medinah.
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).
In a practical sense, a number of poskim write that milk is not considered chamar medinah (see Mishnah Berurah 272:25, citing from Shaarei Teshuvah and Birchei Yosef). However, it is possible that this applies to times and locales where milk was not commonly drunk. Today, milk is far more common as an everyday beverage, and it is possible that the halachah will change accordingly—though there remains room to argue that it is drunk as a health supplement and not as a standard beverage (see also Aruch Ha-Shulchan 272:14, 296:13).
By contrast, most authorities agree that tea and coffee are considered chamar medinah (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 “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).
Note also that according to the Halachos Ketanos (1:9), a non-alcoholic beverage cannot be considered chamar medinah, though this ruling is not adopted by most authorities.
Whisky and Liquor for Kiddush
Regardless of which definition of chamar medinah we adopt, it appears that beer and liquor (whiskey, brandy, and so on) are considered chamar medinah. Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah (272:30) rules that liquor is considered chamar medinah, 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 custom appears difficult, in view of the particularly strict definition found in the Mishnah Berurah (272:24), who writes (citing from the Magen Avraham 272:6) that a beverage can only be considered chamar medinah where wine is not available. The Biur Halachah does mention that according to the Rambam, any commonly drunk beverage is considered chamar medinah, yet the custom to substitute wine remains odd.
The Mishnah Berurah explains the leniency based on a combination of two considerations. First, wine was extremely expensive, and had fallen out of common use in favor of other drinks. Second, people felt that one may be lenient for the daytime Kiddush because the obligation to recite Kiddush during the day is only Rabbinic in nature.
Rabbi Shmuel Wosner (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 attain 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 lenient view, and 150cc or 5.36 fl. Oz. according to the stringent view) of wine, and must actually drink the majority of a revi’is.
Drinking the proper measure of wine does not present any particular 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.
Yet, 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 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 already deemed significant. In fact, most people usually drink far less than a revi’is of liquor.
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 from Rabbeinu Tam) mentions that the required amount for drinking (melo lugmav) is a ‘satisfying amount,’ and we can therefore understand that the amount will change for liquor.
Although some poskim 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 that people commonly drink different quantities of. The Mishnah Berurah (190:14; 272:30) rules in accordance with the opinion of the Magen Avraham.
It is noteworthy that the custom among many Chassidic leaders was to use a shot glass of whiskey for Kiddush in the day, as the Maharsham (1:175) testifies. However, for those who do not have such a tradition, the full shiur should therefore be used.
- It is best to make Kiddush over wine, both in the night and in the day.
- Somebody who prefers bread to wine can make Kiddush over bread, though this remains bedieved. This applies to the night Kiddush; for the daytime Kiddush, bread cannot be used. If wine is not available, bread is preferable to beer or other ‘national beverages’ for the nighttime Kiddush.
- Beer, as well as tea and coffee, are generally qualified as chamar medinah, and suitable for making Kiddush where wine or grape juice is not available. One should ensure that the beverage is not too hot to drink the required amount. Milk should only be used under extenuating circumstances.
- Many have the custom of using whiskey or liquor for the daytime Kiddush, and this custom has grounding in halachah. However, those without a specific tradition of using small cups should use a cup holding the standard shiur, and the required amount (melo lugmav) should likewise be drunk.