Wine in Mishnah Berakhot: An Introduction [DRAFT]

Introduction

Wine’s appearances in Tractate Berakhot in the Mishnah all appear in chapters 6-8, the chapters that deal with consumptive activities.[1] Out of the tractates of the Mishnah, Tractate Berakhot features the fifth-most appearances of wine,[2] seemingly due to that “the tractates in which wine appears most frequently is because these are tractates that focus on some of the everyday features of wine.”[3] So how does wine figure into the everyday nature of the Mishnaic rabbis?

 

Wine Possessing a Distinct Blessing

Wine first appears literarily in the opening mishnah in the sixth chapter, where we have two blessings: one regarding fruits, with wine being the singular exception to the blessing upon fruits of the trees, as wine receives a separate and special blessing, much like bread is the singular exception to things that grow from the ground, which appear later in the same mishnah (Berakhot 6:1):

כֵּיצַד מְבָרְכִין עַל הַפֵּרוֹת?
עַל פֵּרוֹת הָאִילָן אוֹמֵר, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ, חוּץ מִן הַיַּיִן, שֶׁעַל הַיַּיִן אוֹמֵר בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.
וְעַל פֵּרוֹת הָאָרֶץ אוֹמֵר בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, חוּץ מִן הַפַּת, שֶׁעַל הַפַּת הוּא אוֹמֵר הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ

How do they bless upon fruits?
Upon fruits of the tree, one says, “Creator of the fruits of tree” aside from wine, for upon wine, one says “Creator of the fruits of the vine.”
Upon fruits of the ground, one says, “Creator of the fruits of the ground” aside from bread, for upon bread, one says, “Bringer forth bread from the ground.”

There is a clear parallel between the uniqueness of wine amongst tree products with regards to blessings, as bread has amongst ground products. What is further striking is that this mishnah is at the very outset of this chapter regarding blessings over consumption, with wine being positioned as the first exception – seemingly marking it as something that occurs frequently, yet retaining a distinct nature to it: “So, right away at the beginning, wine is singled out together with bread as the two most significant parts of the diet.”[4] Moreover, “The point seems to be that both bread and wine are very much human production. Normally, we bless God for the food we receive from him – borei pri ha’adamah, borei pri ha’etz, or even shehakol niheyh bidvaro – but then you have the bread and the wine that, more than anything else, symbolize how human beings take a natural product and completely transform it. They give it a completely different shape and then it becomes not just a staple of the diet, but it becomes actually a focal point for human culture.”[5]

Furthermore, adds Walfish, “As you then go through chapter six, move into chapter seven and eight, you discover how central wine and bread are to the meal and, interestingly, in chapter six and seven, the main part of the meal is the bread. The bread is the staple of the diet and that’s the centerpiece of the meal. In chapter eight, bread has disappeared entirely and wine opens and closes the chapter, as well as appearing within the framework of Kiddush and Havdalah, which this chapter presents as always being part of a meal. So, you really have like two different perspectives on a meal in tractate Berakhot – you have the meal focusing on bread, which I would say is you know the meal as sustenance, but also the meal in these chapters is presented as a cultural event. … One of the reasons that wine and bread are singled out is not only because of the role they play within the framework of the meal, but I think also because of the way in which they’re produced and I think there’s a strong connection between the two of them. There are no food products or beverages that are consumed as part of a regular diet that require as lengthy and intricate a process of preparation as bread and wine.”[6]

 

Wine as Source of Disagreement Between the Academies of Shammai and Hillel

Amongst the disagreements that arose between the Academies of Hillel and Shammai with regards to meals in the eighth chapter, there are a few disagreements concerning wine. In fact, wine is presented as not only the first one, but the first two matters of disagreement between these two significant Academies in the Mishnah.[7]

 

The first of these concerns which takes precedence in order for Kiddush (Berakhot 8:1):

בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים, מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיּוֹם וְאַחַר כָּךְ מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיַּיִן
וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיַּיִן וְאַחַר כָּךְ מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיּוֹם

Shammai’s Academy says: “First, one blesses over the day and then over the wine.”
Hillel’s Academy says: “First, one blesses over the wine and then over the day.”

What’s interesting is that it is a situation that is not an everyday occurrence, but rather a situation which occurs on Shabbats and holidays. Presumably this kicks off the chapter as the chapter follows the order of a meal and, despite Kiddush only occurring for Shabbats and Holidays, it is something that takes place at the beginning of a meal temporally before anything else in the meal would take place.

Furthermore, what’s interesting is that there is no explanation provided here in the Mishnah,[8] preferring to feature the disagreement and not the reasoning behind this disagreement.

 

In the very next text in the second mishnah of the chapter, we have another disagreement (Berakhot 8:2):

בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים, נוֹטְלִין לַיָּדַיִם, וְאַחַר כָּךְ מוֹזְגִין אֶת הַכּוֹס
וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, מוֹזְגִין אֶת הַכּוֹס וְאַחַר כָּךְ נוֹטְלִין לַיָּדָיִם

Shammai’s Academy says: “We wash hands and then dilute the cup [of wine].”
Hillel’s Academy says: “We dilute the cup [of wine] and then wash hands.”

Again, we remain positioned prior to the eating of any of the food and now wine comes with the very outset of the meal. And once again, we are left with no reasoning provided,[9] as well as the wine following after the other action for Shammai’s Academy and the wine preceding the other action for Hillel’s Academy.

This is a rare appearance for wine-dilution in the Mishnah, as it appears primarily in the tenth chapter of Pesahim (10.2, 10.4, and 10.7), although also appearing in Sukkah 2.9, Pesahim 7.13, Demai 7.2 and Nazir 2.3. It should be noted that Pesahim 10.2 is strikingly similar to Berakhot 8.1, although Berakhot 8.1 does not include the language of wine-dilution.

 

With no disagreements remaining between these two academies amidst the meal regarding wine, at the end of the chapter, a return to wine occurs (Berakhot 8:8):

בָּא לָהֶם יַיִן לְאַחַר הַמָּזוֹן וְאֵין שָׁם אֶלָּא אוֹתוֹ הַכּוֹס
בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים, מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיַּיִן וְאַחַר כָּךְ מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַמָּזוֹן
וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַמָּזוֹן וְאַחַר כָּךְ מְבָרֵךְ עַל הַיָּיִן

If wine is brought ought after the meal and only one cup [of wine] remains there –
Shammai’s Academy says: “One blesses over the wine and then one blesses over the food.”
Hillel’s Academy says: “One blesses over the food and then one blesses over the wine.”

The first thing that is noticeable about this mishnah is that it happens in a case where there only remains one cup of wine, as if it is a rare, yet quite possible occurrence. In most situations, the mishnah seems to say, this problem wouldn’t arise, yet this situation can occur, resulting in this dilemma. Here, as opposed to the first two situations in this chapter, Shammai’s Academy places the wine blessing prior to the meal’s blessing, whereas Hillel’s Academy does the opposite. What is fascinating is that this mishnah is the reverse of the very first mishnah of the chapter. “If you look at the opening of chapter eight of Berakhot, it has a very beautiful structure: it opens and closes” with wine.[10]

 

While it’s not clear why Shammai’s Academy wants to envelope the wine within the meal and why Hillel’s Academy sandwiches the meal with wine before and afterward,[11] it does seem as if Shammai’s Academy considers wine to be connected to the meal, whereas Hillel’s Academy seems to make the wine independent of the meal.

 

One other note, “the cup” does not appear that many times in the Mishnah – also appearing Demai 7.2 (2x), Zevahim 11.7 (2x), Kelim 25.8 (4x), Nazir 2.3 (2x), and Shabbat 3.5. The term “cup” appears in Zevahim 8.8 (2x), Kelim 30.3, Sukkah 2.9, Pesahim 5.8, Pesahim 10 (3x), and Parah 2.5. The term “the cups” appears only a few times: Zevahim 8.8, Kelim 22.1, and Pesahim 10.7.

 

Throughout the discussion in chapter eight regarding wine, “the kind of formal and festive meal that’s described in Berakhot chapter 8 and in Pesahim chapter 10 has often been compared to the Hellenistic Roman symposium, and there, of course, wine also played a very, very central role throughout the meal.”[12] It almost feels as if these three mishnayot involving wine in the chapter understand wine to be present at a meal, but how does one incorporate the blessing over the wine or the mixing of the wine in relationship to other activities that are to take place in a typical non-rabbinic meal. In other words, these disagreements are how to Judaify a meal with regards to wine.

 

Fitness of Wine without Diluting with Water

One mention of wine that occurs in Mishnah Berakhot is where we see the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer with regards to the fitness of wine for wine’s blessing to be said at the end of the seventh chapter (Berakhot 7:5):

אֵין מְבָרְכִין עַל הַיַּיִן עַד שֶׁיִּתֵּן לְתוֹכוֹ מַיִם, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר
וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים, מְבָרְכִין

“We do not bless upon the wine until water is placed within it,” Rabbi Eliezer’s words.
And the Sages say: “We bless.”

Here, Rabbi Eliezer, who is one of the more frequently-appearing sages in the Mishnah,[13] requires that wine be diluted before it can receive the blessing fit for wine, while the Sages argue that wine is still wine, even if it has not yet been diluted.

What is curious about this disagreement is how ready the wine is in an undiluted state: “the wine already passed almost all the production stages: picking of the grapes, pressing of the grapes, fermentation and the like. Regarding the material that may be derived from the grapes, everything has already been done, but the wine is not yet fit for use, until it is diluted with water, a step that is usually carried out shortly before it is drunk, and not as part of the production process. Therefore, regarding wine, there exists a unique intermediate stage, when the food has been fully processed, but the final stage which readies it for use is still missing.”[14] What is striking about this disagreement is despite the wine’s fitness for consumption, how fit is it to receive the blessing as wine? Is it socially-culturally to be considered wine and receive the blessing over wine as it is typically consumed in civil spaces, or can one bless upon it as wine, even though it is not rendered as diluted as the way that society would expect it to be.

This is the only mention of wine in the seventh chapter and even seems to be somewhat out of place, even awkwardly appearing at the tail end of the chapter.[15]

 

Applicability of Pre-Prandial Blessing for Post-Prandial Consumption

How much does a meal interrupt one’s wine-blessing coverage? According to Berakhot 6:5, one’s pre-meal blessing is still operative for one’s post-meal drinking:

בֵּרַךְ עַל הַיַּיִן שֶׁלִּפְנֵי הַמָּזוֹן, פָּטַר אֶת הַיַּיִן שֶׁלְּאַחַר הַמָּזוֹן
בֵּרַךְ עַל הַפַּרְפֶּרֶת שֶׁלִּפְנֵי הַמָּזוֹן, פָּטַר אֶת הַפַּרְפֶּרֶת שֶׁלְּאַחַר הַמָּזוֹן

If one blessed upon the wine prior to the meal, one has exempted the post-meal wine.
If one blessed upon the accompanying dish prior to the meal, one has exempted the post-meal accompanying dish.

Just as with an accompanying dish, such as an appetizer, one’s blessing over wine from before the start of one’s meal is still operative even following the meal. It would seem from the language of this mishnah that one might have thought that the conclusion of the meal would conclude the coverage of the pre-meal’s wine blessing. Yet, the mishnah instructs us that one’s post-prandial wine-drinking is till covered.

 

Blessing for a Group

Can one bless upon wine for a group? According to Berakhot 6:6, the answer is yes, but amidst a meal, one should only bless upon one’s own wine:

בָּא לָהֶם יַיִן בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּזוֹן, כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מְבָרֵךְ לְעַצְמוֹ
לְאַחַר הַמָּזוֹן, אֶחָד מְבָרֵךְ לְכֻלָּם

If wine was brought out for them amidst the meal, each one blesses for oneself;
[If wine was brought out for them] after the meal, one blesses for all of them.

Just as with the previous mishnah, blessing upon wine following the meal comes up, yet we also involve drinking amidst the meal. While there is no reason provided in the Mishnah as to why people have to bless upon their own wines amidst the meal,[16] they are permitted to have a group blessing for post-meal wine-drinking.

 

Conclusion

What seems to emerge is that wine in the course of these three chapters of Berakhot is that wine receives a special place in rabbinic thought, as it receives its own unique blessing, similar to how bread receives its own unique blessing – not only the only beverage to receive its designated blessing, but also the only “fruit of the tree” to receive such a special blessing. Furthermore, we see that wine is positioned as a meal-related consumptive and that the sages had to consider how wine and its blessing fit into meals.

Furthermore, it comes across as if they are laying over a Judaifying aspect to wine consumption to the Greco-Roman context in which they find themselves. For instance, the disagreements at the outset of chapter eight regarding kiddush and hand-washing are rabbinic practices that the sages had to navigate into the Greco-Roman symposium. These sites of their disagreements are over this Jewish layering onto contemporary practices.

Also, wine is supposed to be diluted for consumption, but can be blessed upon even without the dilution (except for Rabbi Eliezer). The mishnah does not provide reasoning for various positions, yet these practices do receive explanations in the Tosefta. Finally, the mishnah describes the blessings regarding wine, whether before a meal, during a meal, as well as following a meal, none of which are ever negatively portrayed. In fact, it comes across as more of a matter of fact part of life that plays a noticeable part in one’s enjoyment of life and blessings.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Cf. “All of the references to wine in Masekhet Berakhot are concentrated in the three chapters that deal with berakhot over food” (Rabbi Dr. Avraham Walfish, interview with Rabbi Drew Kaplan, “Wine in the Mishnah”, JewishDrinking.com Podcast episode #9, podcast audio, 4 December 2019, http://jewishdrinking.com/beverages/wine/wine-in-the-mishnah-with-rabbi-dr-avraham-walfish/).

[2] See my “How Frequently Does Wine Appear In The Mishnah?”, JewishDrinking.com (17 November 2019) [http://jewishdrinking.com/beverages/wine/%d7%99%d7%99%d7%9f%d7%91%d7%9e%d7%a9%d7%a0%d7%94appearances/]

[3] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[4] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[5] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[6] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[7] These two academies are significant not only for rabbinic literature, but also the Mishnah, as they appear the 8th and 9th most-frequently referenced sages (or, in this case, groups of sages) in the Mishnah (see my “Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally]”, Drew Kaplan’s Blog (5 July 2011) [http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2011/07/rabbinic-popularity-in-mishnah-vii-top.html]).

[8] Although the Tosefta does provide the reasoning behind the disagreement (tBerakhot 5.25).

[9] Although the Tosefta does provide reasoning behind these two houses’ positions (tBerakhot 5.26).

[10] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[11] One possibility of this sandwiching is to consider that “Bet Hillel wish to frame the meal with blessings over wine, whereas Bet Shammai prefer to frame the meal with blessings having specific ‘content’” (Rabbi Dr. Avraham Walfish, “Mishnah Brachot, Chapter 8”, The Mishnah Project (ND) [https://drisha.org/brachot-ch8/]), while another formulation could be that “you sort of wind down from the sanctity again to your normal, everyday human experience, which Beit Hillel sees as a continuum and Beit Shammai sees a great divide between the secular realm and the sacred realm. Beit Shammai says, ‘No, no, no: you have the same way you open with sanctity, you have to close with Birkat Hamazon and you sandwich the blessing over wine in between within that framework that’s framed on either side by spiritual blessings, by theological messages. Within that framework, you can find the meaning in drinking wine as well, but you can’t let their blessing over the wine depart from that framework, so the envelope structure really reflects something very profound about how Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai see the role of wine from different perspectives” (Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”).

Furthermore, Walfish suggests “According to Bet Hillel, the meal opens and closes with a blessing recited over wine, thus emphasizing that wine defines the meal at both ends. ‘Song is only [recited] over wine’, and the wine that frames a meal bestows a festive character to it. The blessings recited over the wine give meaning and sanctity to the mundane pleasure associated with wine drinking, and all the mitzvot connected to the meal draw their sanctity and meaning from this. A blessing is recited over the special pleasure and joy of drinking wine, and an opportunity is thereby created to sanctify Shabbat. Bet Shammai, on the other hand, maintain that the wine draws its meaning and sanctity from the blessings that – according to them – frame the meal: the blessing of ‘the sanctity of the day’, on one end, and birkat ha-mazon, on the other. These blessings create a framework of a mitzvah meal, a Shabbat meal, and within this framework the wine drinking – accompanied by the appropriate birkat ha-nehenin – receives meaning and sanctity. That is to say, kiddush and birkat hamazon sanctify the Shabbat meal, and through them the blessing over the wine and its drinking become sanctified. Let us summarize this point in schematic manner: According to Bet Hillel, the wine sanctifies the day of Shabbat and the meals that are eaten in its honor; according to Bet Shammai, Shabbat sanctifies the meal as well as the wine that is drunk at its beginning and end” (Walfish, “Mishnah Brachot, Chapter 8”).

[12] Walfish, “Wine in the Mishnah”.

[13] Rabbi Eliezer is the sixth-most frequently-appearing sage in the Mishnah (see my “Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally]”, Drew Kaplan’s Blog (5 July 2011) [http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2011/07/rabbinic-popularity-in-mishnah-vii-top.html]).

[14] Rabbi Dr. Avraham Walfish, “Mishnah Brachot, Chapter 7”, The Mishnah Project (ND) [https://drisha.org/brachot-ch7/].

[15] “R. Hanokh Albeck (Introduction to Tractate Berakhot, p. 12) sees this ruling as ‘a supplement to chapter 6’, and according to him, it doesn’t really belong to our chapter and was apparently appended to it for technical reasons” (Walfish, “Mishnah Brachot, Chapter 7”). Furthermore, “Here, Albeck offers no explanation for this arrangement, but elsewhere he explains why, in many places in the Mishnah, we find addenda and supplements. According to him, the redactor of the Mishnah had before him earlier collections of mishnayot that had been taught orally. Since the contents of these collections had already been committed to memory in a particular formulation and in a particular order, he did not want to confuse the students by inserting new material in the middle of a collection. Accordingly, the redactor only introduced new material at the end of the unit – at the end of the collection, at the end of the chapter, at the end of the unit and sometimes even at the end of the tractate. If we regard chapters 6-7 as the unit of ‘blessings before and after eating’, the supplement to chapter 6 was inserted by the redactor at the end of the unit. Albeck’s general thesis regarding supplements to collections of mishnayot that were inserted not in their proper place has not been accepted by all scholars for a variety of reasons” (Ibid., n. 2).

[16] Although the Tosefta does provide a scene in which Ben Zoma is asked about this ruling and he provides an answer (tBerakhot 4.10).

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