Weekly Daf: Can we use containers that have been used to store non-kosher wine?


Can we use containers that have been used to store non-kosher wine?

Rabbi Shmuel Wise, Maggid Shiur at RealClearDaf.com

Beginning on 33a, the gemara this week discussed this issue extensively. At the heart of all this discussion is the question of whether some of the forbidden wine gets absorbed in the walls of the utensil and later becomes mixed into the kosher wine and contaminates it. We discovered that many factors must be considered in order to make a judgment. For instance, how long was the utensil used for non-kosher wine? Is the utensil made from leather or pottery (the latter is more absorbent)? Does it have a lining of pitch (that would make it even more absorbent)?

The important factor of temperature also emerges from the daf this week in a discussion that starts on the bottom of 33b and continues to 34a. Mereimar there issues a lenient ruling on glazed earthenware vessels: the smooth glazed surface repels any substantial absorption and hence a simple rinsing will suffice to permit a Jew to use them for his wine. The gemara points out that seemingly this ruling contradicts an answer Mereimar gave when he was asked about these glazed vessels in a different context. Mereimar had been asked about using glazed vessels on Pesach that were used year-round with bread products. Mereimar responded that, based on his own observations, these glazed vessels were clearly absorbing some of their contents. And since hagolah (kashering the vessel using boiling water) is not an option by earthenware, the vessels simply cannot be used on Pesach. But (ay!) Mereimar ruled that these glazed vessels DO have the capacity to absorb non-kosher wine! Did Mereimar change his mind on this?

The gemara attempts to resolve the question by suggesting that these two prohibitions: 1) non-kosher wine, and 2) chametz on Pesach, are fundamentally different and therefore warrant different standards of stringency. For eating chametz on Pesach is a biblical prohibition whereas the prohibition of non-Jewish wine is only rabbinic. So perhaps the amount of forbidden substance that is absorbed in the glazed vessel is only cause for concern regarding the biblical chametz issue. But the gemara rejects this answer by citing the principle that the rabbis seek to model their enactments after the way the biblical halachah is structured. So, if the Torah regards this absorbed forbidden amount as substantial, then surely the rabbis would recognize it as such when setting down their own law.

This response seemed very puzzling to me. Throughout the Talmud we find countless instances where the halachah becomes more lenient based on “biblical vs. rabbinic” distinction. Perhaps the gemara means this: If we consider WHY the rabbis prohibited wine of idolaters then indeed it becomes difficult to argue for a more lenient standard here. For the rabbis’ concern here was that this wine might actually be an idolatrous libation (which of course would be a biblical problem). Thus, the gemara makes a very strong argument: If the laws of chametz tell us that the Torah regards the absorbed amount in this glazed vessel as significant, then that means that if an idolater kept his wine in the container, there possibly is a significant amount of biblically forbidden wine!

So how can we properly reconcile Mereimar’s rulings? The gemara answers by explaining that the chametz case presented to Mereimar involved hot chametz that was placed in the glazed vessels. When there is heat, then indeed the halachah assumes that a significant amount of forbidden flavor gets absorbed by the vessel – even a glazed one – and so in that case Mereimar ruled stringently.

The Ritv″a to 33a questions the Gemara’s entire discussion due to this critical factor of temperature. He wonders why the halachah is ever concerned about room-temperature wine that was kept in a vessel: it is established, the Ritv″a points out, that vessels only absorb foods when there is heat! Furthermore, if we accept that for some reason vessels can absorb even cold wine – why would the gemara’s method of leaving cold water in the vessel over a period of three days purge that forbidden flavor in light of other gemaros which clearly indicate that cold water cannot purge a vessel of forbidden flavors?

The Ritv″a answers by suggesting a new lower-level instance of transmission of a non-kosher substance into the walls of a vessel. He says that due to the sharp taste of wine, its flavor becomes somewhat absorbed into the walls of the vessel, putting wine somewhere in between a hot food and other typical cold foods in its capacity to transmit flavor to the vessel walls. With this we can understand why the unique kashering method of keeping water in the contaminated vessel for three days works: because we’re not dealing with the classic situation of a significant amount of flavor getting absorbed (i.e. where the food was hot), therefore, this less intense way of purging the forbidden flavor is effective.

One thing that’s clear from this week’s daf is, in halachah, not all vessels – or liquids – are created equal.