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Wine

From my observations, wine has been the cause of the breakdown of many people's personal lives, marriages, and health. So why do so many Jewish ceremonies, (i.e. Kiddush, wedding ceremonies, Passover, Brit Milah) use wine?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah also states the danger of wine. When God warned Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, He said, "On the day you eat from it, you will die." The Talmud (Brochot 40a) states that the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was a grape, since "there is no other type of fruit that can bring man to howling to his death." (It is understood that Adam and Eve turned the grapes into wine before drinking it). Alcohol, according to the Da'at Zekanim, the 11th century commentator, is the cause of every death in the Torah.

So how is it possible that Jewish law could prescribe the use of such a toxic drink? Wouldn't it be better to use orange juice?!

In truth, grapes are a neutral object. When used purely for pleasure it causes death. Eve used the grape for her own pleasure, as it says "Eve saw that the tree looked delightful and was good for eating... so she took from the tree and ate it." (Genesis 3:6) But pleasure wasn't created to be an end in itself. Pleasure is to be enjoyed when combined with the Divine will. When combined with the Divine will, pleasure leads to holiness; when separated from God, it brings death.

With this principle, we now understand why wine is included in so many religious ceremonies. When a Jew makes Kiddush over wine, he takes something that causes base pleasure, and elevates it. When wine is used in all its holiness, the potential for abuse achieves a metaphysical correction.


Jephthah Sacrificing Daughter

My Bible class is studying the Book of Judges and we recently covered the story of Jephthah (Judges 11). Jephthah promises to God that if the Amonites would be delivered into his hands, then on his return home he would offer the first thing which emerges from his house as a burnt offering to God. In the end, his only daughter is the first one to come out and greet him. The Torah seems to say that after a 2-month respite, Jephthah fulfills his promise – although some in the class claimed it’s not to be taken literally. What is the meaning of the story?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are right that the story is at first glance shocking. The Torah clearly detests human sacrifice – or murder in virtually any form. Idolatrous practices which involve child sacrifice are especially abominable to God (see e.g. Leviticus 20:1-5 and Jeremiah 19:5). Likewise, one of the most difficult aspects of the binding of Isaac was that Abraham was forced to (almost) act in a way completely antithetical to the ethics and morality he had until then been preaching to the world.

In truth, the commentators to the Book of Judges unanimously explain that Jephthah (or Yiftach) did not literally sacrifice his daughter (Rashi, Radak, Ralbag, Metzudat David, Malbim). In fact, if one promises to transgress any law of the Torah, his promise is not binding (Rashi to Numbers 30:2 quoting Sifri).

(The Talmud (Ta’anit 4a) does quote an opinion that Jephthah did in fact slaughter his daughter. See also Nachmanides to Leviticus 27:29 who, following the Talmud, explains Jephthah’s (erroneous) rationale, feeling that it was within the power a ruler to put to death any subject at will.)

Rather, as the commentators explain, the promise was fulfilled in a different manner. Jephthah promised to offer up whatever emerged from his house to God. For an animal it would have meant sacrifice. For his daughter it meant devoting her life utterly to God. Jephthah’s daughter was thus not allowed to marry, raise a family, and interact normally with others. She had to live a life of isolation, fully devoted to Divine service. This is why the Torah concludes that as a result of his promise she never “knew a man.” The Torah does not state that she was put to death, but that she remained a virgin.

Even so, God was very critical of Jephthah. If a person makes an oath and afterwards finds it is impractical to fulfill due to unforeseen circumstances and the like, he can typically go to a great rabbi or a court and have it annulled. Jephthah’s promise was clearly one he regretted for good reason. Yet he and his daughter went ahead with it anyway.

God through the prophet Jeremiah later railed against Jephthah for not remedying the situation but allowing his daughter to remain single. “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no doctor there? For why was not the healing of the daughter of My nation forthcoming?” (8:22). Gilead was Jephthah’s region. As the Sages interpret, he was punished for not seeking out “balm” for his oath and bringing about his daughter’s healing. Likewise Phinehas, then the High Priest, was punished for not coming himself to absolve Jephthah of his oath (see Talmud Ta’anit 4a, Bereishit Rabbah 60:3).


Who was Shlomtzion?

There is a street near the Jerusalem city hall named after Shlomtzion HaMalka. Do you know who she was? While the name suggests that she was a queen, I have not seen any references to her. I would appreciate any information that you could provide.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Shlomtzion was the queen of Israel circa 100 BCE. She was a righteous woman whose brother was the famous Sage known as Shimon ben Shetach. In truth, her name was actually Shulamit, but she was called Shlomtzion (literally: "the peace of Zion") because the Jewish people loved her so much. She became the sole ruler of Israel after her husband died. This was a time of great peace and prosperity for the Jewish people.

The sources about Shlomtzion HaMalka are scattered throughout the Talmud and in the writings of Josephus. For a thorough treatment, I highly recommend the book "Echoes of Glory" by Rabbi Berel Wein (Shaar/ArtScroll).

The following beautiful story is from a book called "A Mother's Favorite Stories" (ArtScroll).

After the war in 1948, the government gave my father assistance to renovate a storefront in the area which was close to what is now Jerusalem City Hall. He was informed by the authorities that when the sign was painted, the address for the store should read “Princess Mary 15.”

My father came home that night, sat down at the small dinner table and said, “It's a shame to have such a name on the front of the shop. A street in the holy city of Jerusalem to be called Princess Mary! I won't have it. We are changing the name. As of right now, the address is Shlomzion HaMalka 15.”

We were accustomed to my father’s fierce love for Jerusalem and all things Jewish. No one questioned how he intended, single-handedly, to implement his decision. But he did, with my mother's help.

First, he instructed the painter to paint his address – the way he wanted it – in bold black letters. Second, every single time a letter arrived addressed to proprietor Princess Mary 15, he crossed it out and wrote, “Return to sender. Please use correct address.”

My mother would faithfully bring each and every one of these letters back to the post office. And, as everyone can see, his sincere love brought about a triumphant success. Very few people walking today on Shlomzion HaMalka know that the name was born from a heart of a fiery lover of Zion.


Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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