Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who was the Pope's Posek (decisor of Jewish law)

I saw a bizarre and fascinating anecdote over in a archive while looking for something unrelated. I'm curious 1) whether it is accurate and 2) what people think of it.

Question 6.17:
Must Jews use wine?


Actually, grape juice can be used, even if it's just because you like it more.

By the way, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that Catholics are allowed to use grape juice for the eucharist. To be more precise, R' Dr Aaron Twersky is both a rabbi (from a long line of Chassidic Rebbeim, but I mean "rabbi" in the sense of having a synagogue, not the head of a community) and a psychologist who works in a substance abuse center. One of his patients was a preist who was being cured of alcoholism. This means he can't drink even a drop of wine again; a problem for a priest who must take communion. His self-control just isn't reliable. So what is he supposed to do during Mass? He voiced this concern to Rabbi Twersky, who asked why he didn't just use grape juice. The priest asked his cardinal, and eventually the problem made it all the way to Rome. Can grape juice be used for communion? Well, the Vatican heard that we consider the grape juice a kind of wine, but they wanted to know more. So the question went back to the priest and Rabbi Twersky. R' Twersky sent back a citation of a responsum of R' Moshe Feinstein, allowing the use of grape juice for the seder. The Vatican concluded that if grape juice is okay for the seder, then it was usable for the Last Supper, and therefore when Jesus said at that meal "this is my blood" he meant grape juice too.

Obviously there is a major logical problem here: that one would have to study contemporaneous rather than contemporary halacha to determine what jesus would have (or could have) drunk at the final seder. The possible popes were smart dudes and wouldn't have missed this logical wrinkle, right? Perhaps it was a creative offering of willful obliviousness to offer a merciful ruling to a guy who needed it.


At 8/23/2006 , Anonymous Desh said...

I heard a similar thing about a girl who had a severe case of celiac disease, who couldn't take communion with a real wafer because even a speck of wheat was harmful to her. And they wouldn't let her take communion with a wafer without it. Though that one's a bit different because rice matzah wouldn't be okay for a seder either.

Here we go.

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

a new possibility for a bracelet!

At 8/24/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

We have always been at war with Eurasia.

At 8/24/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

But spelt matzah would be just fine.


At 8/25/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

it's more than likely that the responsum of rabbi feinstein quoted sources contemporaneaous with jesus's time period which allowed grape juice. i haven't read it, but that's the way these things usually work

At 8/25/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

it is unlikely that they would have known about grape juice the way we conceive of it now. the reason grape wines are so common is that grape juice quickly ferments due to the yeast on the grapes. to make grape juice you need to pasteurize the liquid. Pasteurization didn't come into use until 1862.
Thomas Welch created a grape juice specific process in 1869. He was a temperance backer. Ironically, he produced grape juice to replace wine for sacramental reasons in his NJ church but the other churchgoers continued to prefer wine.

i suppose its possible that responsa discussed the state of freshly squeezed grape juice in the hours before it becomes alcoholic, but it wasn't commonly available until a couple thousand years later.

At 8/25/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

yayin migito? (wine straight from the press)


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