Friday, August 18, 2006

Stomp: A Word on Wine Pinciples

Ari and I were cooking dinner sunday night. We made a yam, onion, lentil stew with ginger and all sorts of spicysweet goodness. Ari asked whether we should drink kosher or non-kosher wine. "On principle I prefer non-kosher wine," I said. I thought it might be an interesting principle to explain.

Wiki explains:
Because of wine's special role in many non-Jewish religions, the kashrut laws specify that wine cannot be considered kosher if it might have been used for "idolatry".

Some of these concepts include:

  • Yayin Nesekh (Wine that has been poured to an idol, or with idolatry in mind.)
  • Stam Yainom (Wine that may have been touched by someone who might believe in idolatry, but wouldn't have had it in mind at the time of contact.)
  • When kosher wine is mevushal ("cooked" or "boiled"), it thereby becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolater. See section below for more details.
  • Intermingling - There are prohibitions on several foods, including wine, in order to prevent intermingling amongst non-Jews in order to reduce the chances of intermarriage.
Does anyone have any idea what the last bullet point means? Is it some sort of bad joke that snuck through the wiki community?
There are also some agricultural rules including a prohibition on other crops growing in the vineyard and harvesting vineyards younger than three years. The primary rules though seem to be the ones concerning the interaction of non-jews and wine. The rules about idolatry and pouring wine to idols seems embarassingly quaint.

Non-Jews in this cannon of law are considered idolaters and contact in the wine production is thought to taint the wine making it stam yayin (one category of "unkosher" wine). If the wine was somehow used in a ritual (non-jewish) the wine becomes yayin nesech; this category is much less common. The common issue is whether the wines were picked, processed, etc by Jews or under the auspices of Orthodox Jews.

A few reasons I find this problematic:
  • The prohibition is based on suspicion of the other
  • This system takes for granted that Judaism is a superior religious form and delegitimized other methods of religious expression
  • The system delegitimizes progressive Judaism
Would I rather have an Orthodox guy in the occupied territories (who probably moved there from New Jersey) stomp on my grapes or a fellow who has been hired to work at a winery in a poverty ravaged portion of Chile. Clearly I'd prefer the second option.

Of equal importance is the idea that non-jews are just as trustworthy (in many cases moreso) as Jews. The days of spreading crazy attacks on pagans of various sorts ought to be over. I would be honored to make kiddush, to sanctify shabbat, over wine that has been blessed by other people in other ways. That doesn't take away from my religious experience, it adds to it. What a beautiful to thing to recognize the day of rest with other people in other parts of the world who subscribe to other religions and world views. This is not a loss, it's a gain.

This is why I prefer my wine free of restrictions on who has picked the grapes as a matter of principle.

11 Comments:

At 8/20/2006 , Anonymous give people some credit said...

The personal perspective on "idolatry" and particularism was interesting.

The lack of knowledge about normative Orthodox halacha was forgivable.

The clever analogy at the end was infantile and ugly.
- most kosher wines don't come from the territories
- kashrut as it relates to wine is about supervision, not who's doing the stomping
- there are plenty of needy orthodox jews, even from new jersey
- kosher vineyards and nonkosher vineyards in chile are employing the same people

Your crack seems to be based on an underlying theme of "Look at those ridiculous Orthodox Jews: how long will their racism and warmongering stand in the way of progress?"

I'm sure you've met at least one or two real live Orthodox people in your time. I doubt they deserve your scorn, being as real people usually don't. It's always open season on caricatures and strawmen, on the other hand.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

These conversations themselves are progress. That this issue is being openly engaged with is movement in the right direction. It is with that intention that I will happily respond to the above anonymous post.

The lack of knowledge about normative Orthodox halacha was forgivable.
I would be happy to update the post if I have erred in my representation of the theory or practice of the halacha. In the interests of proper argument it is important to not misquote or mislead. If there is a specific point, let me know.

most kosher wines don't come from the territories
I didn’t say that they did. I offered a hypothetical case to make a statement of geopolitical tradeoffs and how I personally value them.
The majority of kosher wine, I think, still comes from New York State. The majority of Israeli wine come from Northern Israel including winieries in the Golan and Galil. Some of the Golan wine is produced on disputed, formerly Syrian, territory. It would imprecise to refer to that territory as “occupied” as, to the best of my knowledge, it has been annexed and its inhabitants granted citizenship and given freedom of movement, association, etc.

kashrut as it relates to wine is about supervision, not who's doing the stomping
I am under the impression that anyone can pick the grapes but that only jews can handle the product once it is yayin (wine) and before it has undergone the process to become mevushal (cooked/boiled). Are you suggesting that this is not correct?

there are plenty of needy orthodox jews, even from new jersey
This is certainly true, and I am comfortable approaching wine with the idea that we should by wine from the people most in need of our business provided that the wine is of a reasonable quality and price. If those people are Jews, great, if not, that’s fine too. On average, Jews are among the highest earning religious groups in the world. Episcopalians are often #1 to our #2. Though some Jews are no doubt poor, the ones in NJ are rarely (never?) poor in the way that people living on less than $1/day in rural South America are or people living on less than $2/day in the occupied territories.

kosher vineyards and nonkosher vineyards in chile are employing the same people
this is true and a very good argument. First, little kosher wine is produced in Chile. Second, because only the people on the picking side can be the same. The folks on the processing side cannot be because of the risk of ending up with stam yayin or yayin nesech.
Though from a global poverty standpoint, it is better to buy kosher wine from chile than kosher or non-kosher wine from France.

"Look at those ridiculous Orthodox Jews: how long will their racism and warmongering stand in the way of progress?"
Are you suggesting that these rules are not discriminatory and potentially racist? Who said anything about warmongering.
I'm sure you've met at least one or two real live Orthodox people in your time.
I used to lead services in a northodox minyan occasionally. I have many good friend who are orthodox. But that's not the point, just a response to the ad hominem attack. I am not sure that knowing more frum people makes these laws more or less troubling though it is clear that studying classical jewish texts on business dealings with non-jews will make this more troubling. Like any other group some ortho jews are progressive and helping to fight racism actively and others are contributing actively in their lives and hearts. I am not making a broader argument about the raltionship of halachah to racism.

I doubt they deserve your scorn, being as real people usually don't.
Many things people do are deserving of praise and wicked and evil things are deserving of scorn. Real people do wicked things sometimes, and we have an obligation to them, to ourselves, and to our world, to stand up and be heard arguing against these things.

It's always open season on caricatures and strawmen, on the other hand.
Okay, let’s dispense with the critique of a single example and get back to the issues. If you think the halachic approach is defensible, defend it.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Blogger General Anna said...

Amen, selah. Thanks for a cogent argument about an uncomfortable issue.
I think the last bullet point in the Wiki article is talking about the fact that if you can't be at a non-Jewish feast/meal/celebration ('cause they will serve non-kosher wine and food) then you will be less likely to meet and marry a non-Jew. One of the issues with kashrut for me is that it definitely limits/defines who you can break bread with. This cements the kosher-keeping Jewish community together but isolates/ alienates the kosher-keeping folks from non-Jews.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Anonymous give people some credit said...

Okay, let’s dispense with the critique of a single example and get back to the issues. If you think the halachic approach is defensible, defend it.

Why should I care what you think of hilchot kashrut yayin? People can think whatever they want about anything they want. It's not my job to convince you to make arbitrary ritual decisions differently.

My point is that you can address your philosophical relation to the issue without politics and Ortho-baiting.

You should be able to discuss this issue without snarky cartoonish references to those you consider "regressive". There's no reason to equate Orthodox Jews who observe traditional kosher wine laws with your collection of villains: the wealthy, israeli settlers, bigots, etc.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Blogger ZT said...


Why should I care what you think of hilchot kashrut yayin?


well, i suppose when folks exchange opinions it generally leads to more information and learning for people. i am not sure what your motivation was in responding to the post, but i imagine it was to convince me or the blog's readers that your approach is worthwhile and should replace the one i began to lay out or perhaps augment it. you decided to make a crtique, so why not take on the bullet points that lay our reasons why i find hilchot kahrut yayin problematic instead of attacking an example or suggesting that i hate orthodox people?

There's no reason to equate Orthodox Jews who observe traditional kosher wine laws with your collection of villains: the wealthy, israeli settlers, bigots, etc.

this is mostly a good argument. it is important to isolate what is problematic and deal with it directly. there should have been multiple examples that addresses issues of global poverty, gender bias in hiring, and bigotry seperately as they are seperately evil impacts of the normative halachic approach to wine.

however, since the laws are themselves bigoted any example would need to address that issue. discriminating about who can come in contact with wine largely because we fear their idolatry is simply bigoted. perhaps take a minute and come up with a counter argument to that. then we'd be having a more enlightening and interesting dialogue.

again, thanks for making the points you've made. though i think they were purposely incidiary (perhaps mine were also) they did bring up a pair of reasonable (if incorrect) insights that have caused me to reflect on why instead of my example i should have used a set of examples.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard of blood and egg whites actually being used as ingredients in wine? I first saw this in a post over at treehugger.com regarding organic wines. And a quick google search revealed that dried blood powder has been used to "clarify" red wine. I'm not a vintner so I don't exactly know what this means or why it's even necessary. But I can see an advantage to kosher wine, so long as the supervision ensures the wine remains vegan.

 
At 8/21/2006 , Anonymous give people some credit said...

i am not sure what your motivation was in responding to the post, but i imagine it was to convince me or the blog's readers that your approach is worthwhile and should replace the one i began to lay out or perhaps augment it.

You are wrong. As I've said before, I don't care what personal choices you make about what principles you organize your life around or what decisions you come to within the realm of faith. Are your personal opinions so important that everyone else is supposed to care to change them?

I am however glad that my objections caused you to think about the actual issue you brought up in a deeper, more contextual, and more systematic way, instead of just picking a class of people (the "orthodox") to Otherize and ascribe colorfully distateful mores to.

Do your "many good friend[s] who are orthodox" know that this is how you relate to them?

 
At 8/22/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

now that we have cut out the various unrelated pieces of the rhetoric, it seems the ikar of your argument is that i improperly cast orthodox jews as other.
this seems ironic given the extent to which my argument is about the ways in which the current understanding of wine kashrut is based around bigotry and suspicion of non-jews. i think i have criticized halacha in that context and not any specific people. non-orthodox folks observing this halachah have been similarly crticized.
perhaps you are refering to the example. i said i'd prefer to economically support folks born into poverty in the developing world. is this othering orthodox people?

 
At 8/22/2006 , Anonymous give people some credit said...

It is ironic. Look at that example you brought up:

Here are the choices for someone contemplating wine consumption:

1. "a fellow who has been hired to work at a winery in a poverty ravaged portion of Chile" - a model of virtue and social conscience

2. "an Orthodox guy in the occupied territories (who probably moved there from New Jersey)" - a model of imperialism, crassness, and false piety. Every word is used as a scare word, from "orthodox" to "occupied" to "Jersey".

You didn't use the word "halacha" once, but you did refer to "Orthodox Jews". You set up a fake choice between wickedness and yourself, tarring anyone who might deviate from your party line (among the millions and millions of possible contexts, comparisons, and understandings) with sheer ugliness.

Like I said, you should be bless with a brain and soul that help you make your own choices, but Other people aren't rhetorical devices for your use.

 
At 8/23/2006 , Blogger Ruby K said...

ZT-

An encapsulation of why, when I decided to be an organizer, I decided to not keep kosher; if someone I was housevisiting invited me to continue discussing building a union over dinner, I didn't want to be in a position where I would be rejecting their food and hospitality.

Intriguing post, as usual!

 
At 8/23/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

...it might be better from an economic justice standpoint to buy wine produced in Chile, your hypothetical.
But from an environmental standpoint, there is virtue in going with the NYState wine which did not consume as much fossil fuel getting to your shabbat table.
Pesticides figure in as well, since they not only polute, they also poison the workers. There are some organic kosher wines available, but not many. Check own BarnOwl. It's made in the Golan (good or bad depending on your perspective).
So that adds two more challenges - distance traveled and environmental impact of production!

 

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