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Thought for the Day: Is Pasteurized Wine M'vushal?

Wine has always been a food in a category of its own.  There are other intoxicating beverages, but wine is the symbol of jubilant celebration; beer is for football games, whiskey for bars.  That's for the world at large.  Moreover, wine has always been an integral part of avoda zara; from ancient times till today.  For us, wine is used in every important ceremony -- kiddush, bris mila, weddings, etc.  On the other hand, wine has been targeted as a root cause in many downfalls; from Noach to Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu.  In fact, Chazal tell us that the parsha of nazir immediately follows the parsha of sota because one who sees the disgrace of a sota should take a vow of narirus (which includes refraining from wine and even circumventing vineyards) as protection.

It is not at all surprising, therefore, that we have the rabbinic prohibition of stahm yeinam/their ordinary wines.  The two basic reasons for this stringency are to keep us distant from both their avoda zara and marrying into their families.  Whereas there is relatively little actual wine being used for avoda zara (besides the Catholic church, of course), there is -- rachmana latzlan -- a distressing amount of intermarriage.  That is why wine becomes forbidden to us once a goy either touches it (the wine itself, not the bottle) or pours its.  (It's not a problem, though, if your cleaning lady moves the open bottle of wine in your fridge as long as she doesn't stick her finger in it or pour herself an afternoon drink.)

Unless, of course, the wine is "m'vushal"; then you are safe.  The goy can touch it, drink it, pour it... it's all good.  The word "m'vushal" of course, just means "cooked".  Most wine now a days is pasteurized at something like 130° - 180° F; nice and hot (to kill bacteria), but does it make the wine m'vushal?

R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is pretty sure that it does not.  In Minchas Shlomo, vol. 1, chap. 25 he goes through all the sources, and it doesn't sound good.  When Chazal said "m'vushal", then meant on an open pot over a fire.  It didn't necessarily need to come to a boil, but it certainly needs to lose volume due to evaporation.  Our modern pasteurization process is done on sealed bottles; specifically so that it does not lose volume nor lose valuable aromatics that would change the taste.  To further ensure that the taste is not significantly altered, the wine is "flash pasteurized"; that is, the heat is applied for a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

Let's take a step back.  Why did the g'zeira not extend to m'vushal wines?  The rishonim say two reasons: (1) it doesn't taste good, so the goy won't use it for his religious ceremony; (2) it is not very common, so he wouldn't usually have any around in any case.  Neither of those reasons apply anymore; the difference in taste is only discernible (if at all) to connoisseurs, and pasteurized wine is readily available.  That leads R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to conclude -- taking into account that this is a g'zeira d'rabanan, that we don't make our own g'zeiros, that is better to permit an action whenever possible  (yes... a gadol of his caliber certainly had clarity on all those issues and more) -- that there is no heter for saying our pasteurized wines have the status of m'vushal.

There are other poskim who are matir (ie, say the minhag is to be meikel); R' Moshe among them.  I'm just saying.


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