Among the discussions of the many details of Jewish life recorded in the Mishna, the first written compilation of the oral law, is the following: “If a Jewish laborer is hired by a heathen to work with wine for [idolatrous] libation, the wages are prohibited…” (Avodah Zarah 5:1).
One only has to think back to high school history class lessons on the feasts of Bacchus to realize the connection between wine and idolatry. The Greeks were not unique in using wine for religious ceremonies. For this exact reason–because many religions consecrate religious activities through wine–Jewish law prohibits the consumption of wine prepared by non-Jews out of concern that the wine might have been consecrated to worshiping other gods.
Because of the unique and complex fermentation process necessary to create wine, the process of kosher wine supervision is also a bit more complex than regular non-wine kosher supervision. The chemical reactions that take place during the natural fermentation can be affected by even the slightest agitation of the crushed grapes. Therefore, the entire wine-making process must be supervised and handled by Jews. (Even after the wine is bottled, there are rules on how the wine should be handled.) Thus wine, which technically contains no non-kosher ingredients, must have kosher certification (as do drinks that include wine or grape juice).
In Jewish law, there are two types of kosher wine: mevushal and non-mevushal. The Hebrew term mevushal means cooked/boiled (significantly increasing its temperature, if even for only one minute).
Mevushal: “Boiling” the wine destroys the natural yeasts that create fermentation and creates an inferior beverage–so inferior, in fact, that boiled wine was not permitted to be used in the sacrificial ceremonies in the Temple that require a wine offering. However, since the wine has now lost its use in consecration, it may now be handled by anyone.
Non-Mevushal: Wines that do not go through the “boiling” process maintain the ability to be rendered un-kosher if improperly handled.*
Wine connoisseurs should not panic at the thought of kosher wine. In the last twenty years, new processes of making mevushal wine have been implemented, resulting in vastly improved quality and varieties of kosher wines.
*The complex laws of handling non-mevushel wine should be discussed with one’s own rabbi or Jewish authority.
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