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The Berakha Recited on Wine

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


            The gemara in Berakhot (35b) considers the special berakha assigned to wine. Generally all fruits and their by-products are assigned the berakha of borei peri ha-etz. In some instances (such as fruit juice in which the product no longer contains the essential fruit in its pristine form) even this berakha is not recited and she-hakol replaces it. However, no fruit or by-product is afforded an individual berakha. Yet, wine mandates a special berakha of borei peri ha-gafen.


            At first the gemara suggests that the new berakha reflects the transformation of grapes to wine. As wine is more valuable or precious than grapes, this metamorphosis represents an 'upgrading.' To reflect this promotion, a new berakha is recited. The gemara, however, questions this view since the process of squeezing oil from olives also represents a positive advancement and yet oil (if ingested) does not receive a unique berakha. Evidently, the aspect of 'positive promotion' does not itself mandate a unique berakha.


            Subsequently, the gemara adjusts its initial opinion and establishes a difference between wine and oil (which justifies the former receiving a new berakha but not the latter). Wine itself provides certain benefits which oil cannot. Ultimately, the gemara locates two characteristic benefits of wine which oil does not share. Wine provides a sense of satisfaction (sa'id - satiation) and it also causes cheer (mesame'ach - joy). As such wine deserves it own berakha and oil does not.


            We might pose a fundamental question about the final position of the gemara. Ultimately, what distinguishes wine from oil? We might assume that the gemara completely abandons the question of positive promotion and instead locates alternate factors to justify the berakha. Essentially, the gemara first considers the factor of positive promotion, subsequently abandons this line of reasoning and suggests a new direction - distinguishing between oil and wine based on their inherent features and the benefits they provide - rather than inspecting the process of manufacture. As such these two traits (causing satiation and cheer) are responsible for the special berakha.  We might, however, suggest an alternative approach. The gemara might have first distinguished along the lines of 'positive promotion' assuming that wine is the only product to undergo such a transformation. Realizing that oil as well appears to transform, the gemara then endeavors to prove that the transformation of wine is wholly different from the change in oil. The fact that the transformation to wine conveys the capacity to satiate and cheer indicates that wine's transformation is indeed a dramatic one. By contrast, the absence of these features in the case of oil demonstrates that its change is not as impressive as the change which wine undergoes. Ultimately, the issue of wine's capacity to satiate or rejoice is invoked to gauge the DEGREE of the POSITIVE TRANSFORMATION.  Ultimately, the special berakha is still based upon transformation but new criteria are introduced to determine which such promotion would warrant a special berakha. (See the commentary of the Or Zaru'a who clearly adopts this latter way of understanding the gemara.)


            This question would spawn a halakhic ramification as well. What type of wine deserves a special berakha? Wine which constitutes AN IMPROVEMENT over the original grapes or any WINE which can satiate and rejoice. Ultimately, which factor is essential and which one merely indicative? Is the positive transformation crucial - and this transformation is distinguishable from oil's transformation because IN GENERAL the transformation confers new features to wine? If so, then any case in which wine positively transforms even if in the specific case it neither satiates nor cheers, we would still award a special berakha. Conversely, wine which transforms in a negative manner - even if it exhibits the capacity to satiate and cheer - would not warrant such a berakha.  If we conclude that the character of the change is not as important as whether these factors - satiation and cheering - ultimately exist, we would mandate the berakha of borei peri ha-gafen for any wine which displays these characteristics.


            One such area to explore is  wine which has been cooked - known as yayin mevushal.  Many Rishonim assume that this transformation is not necessarily 'beneficial' to the grapes, as cooked wine is an inferior form of wine. Yet, undoubtedly the product still provides satiation and cheer. This subject is the center of a machloket Rishonim. Tosafot in Bava Batra (97a) cite the position of the Rashbam who maintains that no borei peri ha-gafen should be recited since the wine has, in fact, deteriorated. Tosafot argue, and possibly they would maintain that as long as the wine conveys the said benefits regardless of whether the wine itself has been upgraded from the grapes, the wine deserves a unique berakha.


            A reverse case might involve wine which hasn't been diluted but still exists in its concentrated state.  This is known in the gemara as 'yayin chai' - raw wine (or syrup) before it has been distilled with water. This is halakhically considered wine and has changed in a positive manner (since basically the concentrate can now be diluted to form wine). Yet, in its present condition the wine certainly is not tasty and does not provide the same cheer that regular wine would. The Yerushalmi in Berakhot (6:1) rules that a borei peri ha-gafen is recited on raw wine.


            A third case might involve wine which was made from grapes which have yet to ripen (known as boser). The Sha'arei Teshuva (Orach Chayim siman 202) rule that on such wine no borei peri ha-gafen is recited.  Would this wine also be treated as yayin chai which though considered wine might not merit a special berakha since it does not have the same taste?  Or might we claim that, in this instance, as the fruit has yet to ripen, we might not even consider his drink as wine and certainly no borei peri ha-gafen should apply? What might the halakha be regarding this type of wine which was touched by a Gentile?  Generally, wine touched by a Gentile is considered yayin nesekh and cannot be drunk. Would wine made from unripened grapes be considered wine in terms of yayin nesekh?


            An interesting parallel to our question can be located regarding the berakha of ha-tov ve-hameitiv. The gemara in Berakhot (59b) declares that this berakha (praising Hashem for being 'good' and bestowing 'good') is recited whenever a new wine is introduced to the meal. Tosafot question why new wines require this berakha and not new breads or new meat and answer - because wine, unlike breads and meat, has the capacity to both satisfy and cause cheer. In this instance, the berakha of ha-tov ve-hameitiv is clearly being recited on the change (in this case not the change which occurs to the wine but the change in the actual meal). However, to determine whether the CHANGE itself is meaningful, the introduced food has to contain some significance. This significance is measured in wine's capacity to provides the aforementioned benefits.  Ultimately, however, the berakha is not recited because of these BENEFITS but clearly because of the improvement.  To determine that this improvement is substantial, we must sense a meaningful addition.  Structurally, we might lodge the same claim in the case of borei peri ha-gafen.  The berakha is recited on the change in the grapes having been manufactured into wine.  The addition of these features indicates that the change was indeed productive and meaningful.





1. Whenever a gemara raises a possible explanation, subsequently rejects it and then offers a second answer we must question whether the gemara is dismissing its first attempt in favor of a completely different approach or merely updating and slightly modifying its original approach.  Did our gemara reject positive change as a new berakha factor or merely adjust the criteria necessary to prove what is considered a positive change?


2. If we would like to prove whether a halakha stems form x or y, try to locate cases where x applies without y and cases where y applies without x.  If we want to know whether borei peri ha-gafen is mandated by wine's higher caliber or by these specific features (satiation and causing joy), find cases where inferior wine causes this joy (mevushal) or cases where real wine doesn't cause joy (raw wine).





            When we make a berakha what item are we praising Hashem for?  Are we praising him for the wine which WE MANUFACTURED or for the fruit which HE grew from which we made wine.  See the Rosh 6:3 as well as Rashi (35b).  How might the two options sighted within the shiur relate to this question?


Shabbat Shalom