Ever since the days of Sammy Davis Jr.’s famous “Man Oh Manischewitz” ads, and as far back as most can remember, everyone knows that kiddush wine is sweet. At least in Ashkenazi circles, it’s a fairly new phenomenon to find fancier wines being poured into our kiddush cups.
Why do so many people associate kiddush with sweet wines? Various theories suggest that they were cheaper and therefore more accessible to our less affluent forebears, particularly in Eastern Europe, where raisins were easier to come by. Even those who could afford better wines often found their product spoiled by the time it reached them. The added sugar helped to preserve the wines. Those are some of the suggestions proposed for the ubiquity of sweet sacramental wine.
But the real answer may be more profound.
רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר יוֹסֵף וְרַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא וְרַבִּי אַסִּי אִיקְּלַעוּ לְהָהוּא פּוּנְדָּק דַּאֲתָא גּוֹי מָרֵי דְפוּנְדָּק בְּשַׁבְּתָא. אֲמַרוּ: מַהוּ לְמֵיגַר מִינֵּיהּ? שׂוֹכֵר כִּמְעָרֵב דָּמֵי — מָה מְעָרֵב מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם, אַף שׂוֹכֵר מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם. כאוֹ דִילְמָא שׂוֹכֵר כִּמְבַטֵּל רְשׁוּת דָּמֵי, מָה מְבַטֵּל רְשׁוּת וַאֲפִילּוּ בְּשַׁבָּת, אַף שׂוֹכֵר וַאֲפִילּוּ בְּשַׁבָּת? כארַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר יוֹסֵף אָמַר: נִשְׂכּוֹר, וְרַבִּי אַסִּי אָמַר: לֹא נִשְׂכּוֹר, אֲמַר לְהוּ רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא: נִסְמוֹךְ עַל דִּבְרֵי זָקֵן וְנִשְׂכּוֹר. אֲתוֹ שַׁיַּילוּ לֵיהּ לְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן, אָמַר לָהֶן יָפֶה עֲשִׂיתֶם שֶׁשְּׂכַרְתֶּם.
יפה עשיתם ששכרתם – לא דמי למקח וממכר ליאסר בשבת דלא הוי אלא כמתנה בעלמא שאין עושין אלא להתיר טלטול
Rabbi Chanina bar Yosef and Rabbi Chiya bar Abba and Rabbi Assi once came to an inn, and the gentile innkeeper returned on Shabbat. They said: What is the halakha with regard to renting from him now? Is renting from a gentile like making an eruv? If so, just as one who establishes an eruv may do so only while it is still Friday, so too, one who rents a gentile’s property must do so while it is still Friday. Or perhaps one who rents from a gentile is like one who renounces rights to his domain; just as one who renounces rights to his domain may do so even on Shabbat itself, so too, one who rents a gentile’s property may do so even on Shabbat. Rabbi Chanina bar Yosef said: Let us rent, while Rabbi Assi said: Let us not rent. Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said to them: Let us rely now on the words of the Elder, and rent. Later they came and asked Rabbi Yocḥanan, and he said to them: You acted well when you rented.
Tosfos: This is not like transacting business, which is forbidden on Shabbos. Because this is merely like a gift, for they only do so in order to permit carrying.
Our Gemara discusses three rabbis who arrived at a hotel before Shabbos. In the absence of the proprietor before Shabbos, they were unable to ask his permission to ‘rent’ the shared hotel space so that they could carry between their rooms on the holy day. When he showed up the next day, they debated whether they were allowed to lease the space on Shabbos itself. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t really a lease, as no money changed hands. Therefore, Tosfos concludes that it should be viewed more as a transaction-free ‘gift’.
The Shaar Hamelech (YT 6:9) comments that Tosfos does not mean that gift-giving is permissible on Shabbos, rather that the gift of space itself is “like a gift” inasmuch as it provides the ancillary benefit of permitting carrying in the building. His concern derives from the Rambam, who considers gift-giving a form of transaction, because it entails a legal acquisition, and therefore similarly prohibited on Shabbos.
So, if gifts are forbidden, what do you do when you’re invited to someone’s home for a Shabbos meal? (Of course, we’re only dealing with a locale with an eruv, thus permitting carrying). There are three potential solutions to the gift-giving conundrum. The first is for the giver to effectuate the acquisition before Shabbos. This is accomplished by asking a third party to physically raise the gift on behalf of the future recipient. The second solution is for the recipient to politely ‘accept’ the gift, but have in mind that the transfer of ownership will not actually take place until after Shabbos.
The third, and probably most straightforward, solution, that works for most typical gifts – such as a bottle of wine – is to enjoy it altogether at the Shabbos meal. This method works, because it is permissible to provide others with their food and drink needs for Shabbos itself.
This, of course, begs the question: When someone brings over a bottle of wine, are you expected to serve it with the meal? Etiquette experts suggest that there is no obligation to do so. The assumption is that the host has already chosen their wines to pair with the dishes and that the guest’s addition may be unsuitable. It is the host’s prerogative to enjoy the gift later.
But now we see that Shabbos meals may be a little different. For the technical halachic reasons mentioned, it’s probably more expedient to enjoy the guest’s wine immediately at the Shabbos meal.
That brings us back to the question of sweet kiddush wine. How did that happen? Perhaps we started drinking sweet wine for kiddush so that we could enjoy the special wine brought by the guests later in the meal. Not because we’re big drinkers. But because of the special bracha their wine will occasion.
Everyone knows the bracha we make on wine. Borei pri hagofen. That’s true in most instances. But sometimes, we make a different bracha: Baruch ata Hashem Eloh-einu melech ha’olam Hatov Vehameitiv. You make that bracha if you’ve enjoyed one bottle of wine and then proceed to crack open another, even nicer, bottle. And so, if you’ve made Hagofen during kiddush, you would make Hatov Vehameitiv on the white wine you’ve paired with your fish, or the red wine you’ve paired with your meat.
Why do many people use sweet wine for kiddush? Because it’s simple, it’s user-friendly and palatable for the whole family. But most importantly, it facilitates the recitation of an additional bracha over the wine you’ll savor later in the meal.
So, go ahead, take your host a nice wine for everyone to enjoy with their gefilte fish and cholent! The Gemara teaches (Eruvin 65b) that “if wine is poured in one’s home like water, there is blessing.” May your home forever be filled with a ‘cup that runneth over and may only goodness and kindness pursue you all the days of your life and may you dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days’!