Category Archives: Holidays

Kosher for Passover Whiskey

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In the Jewish faith, one does not drink whiskey on Pesach (פֶּסַח, Passover.) Whiskey is made from a distilled grain mash, and the halakhah (הֲלָכָה‎, laws) of Pesach forbids Jewish people from consuming any products made from chametz (חָמֵץ ) during this time:

Chametz is any food made from wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye that is either leavened – or even left moist long enough to theoretically become leavened on it’s own.  This rules out the grain mash of almost every whiskey. Among Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) there is a further minhag (מנהג‎‎, custom) to refrain from corn during Pesach, which would rule out even pure corn whiskey.

Food Restrictions on Passover Explained: Chametz and Kitniyot

However, there is growing acceptance among at least some Ashkenazim to accept foods made from corn and other kitniyot ( קִטְנִיּוֹת) on Pesach. So a pure corn whiskey could be kosher l’Pesach. In the United States several are available.

One of these is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey, aged 3 years. Aging is the difference between whiskey and whitedog. When one distills whiskey, the initial product is alcohol, water, and in tiny amounts, nonvolatile organic compounds.  This does not actually become whiskey until it has aged in a charred wood barrel: this lets whiskey react with the wood, creating the molecules characteristic of a good whiskey.  Without the aging, the distilled spirit is just a moonshine called “white dog.”  Since many corn-based products are unaged, finding something aged for 3 years is special.

corn-whiskey-passover

To create a kosher-for-Pesach whiskey the mash bill would have to be chametz free: Either 100% corn – or corn and some other acceptable product, e.g. rice or quinoa. So I began my investigation: Is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey kosher for Pesach?

In the USA, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) defines Corn whiskey as any “Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood .”

Now, questions arise which could only be clarified by contacting the manufactuer, the master distiller, and rabbis with a detailed knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut ( כַּשְׁרוּת‎) (“laws of keeping kosher.)  The questions were:

  1. Most “corn whiskies” are not completely corn-based. For instance, “Mellow Corn” is 90% corn, and 10% chametz. Coppersea New York Corn is 80% corn, and 20% chametz. Under Federal labeling laws from the American TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) , “corn whiskey” can be 80% corn, and 20% other grains (incl. wheat, barley and rye). So for this whiskey, is there any wheat, rye, barley or oats, at all? Or is it truly all corn?
  2. What type of barrels was it aged in? Some barrel staves are held together with a glue that uses wheat. Such whiskey would be generally kosher for year round use of course, but it may not be considered as such for Passover
  3. Since this corn whiskey has been aged for 3 years in used barrels, what did these barrels hold previously? Wine, bourbon? And if so, would that matter?

I sent a detailed inquiry to Platte Valley Moonshine, and quickly heard back from them. The representative contacted the master distiller, and let me know the following:

The barrels that it was stored in did not have any wheat in the glue mix.  It is a pure corn whiskey has been aged for three years – in barrels that had previously held kosher certified bourbon! That bourbon liquid itself contains no wheat or gluten, but was distilled from a grain mash of more than 51 percent corn. Now, there was some amount of rye or barley in the grain mash for the original bourbon – none of which makes it through the distilling process itself:

So our pure corn whiskey entered barrels which one held kosher bourbon, that had some chametz as a source.  The next question is, does that matter?  No chametz enters the corn whiskey whatsoever.  Is the presence of residual bourbon in the barrels annulled?

I ran this by several people, including Elie Avitan, who studied at Yeshivat Reishit/Yeshivat Bais Yisroel/Yeshivat Mir.  He then spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia (who received his Semicha in 1991 from Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, after studying rabbinics at the Shehebar Sephardic Center.) The result. Elie Avitan reports:

I spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia. He said that 100% Corn whiskey that is purchased *before Pesach* is ok to drink on Pesach. This is true even if it was stored in bourbon casks because the flavor transferred from the barrel (as opposed to actual food hametz) is considered to be Halakhically nullified when its source is the same material – bourbon in this case.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first kosher l’Pesach whiskey!  Granted, this is not officially certified as such: as always, on important issues consult with your local rabbi.

Given this, perhas any 100% corn, or 100% seed-based whiskey would be kosher for Passover, which would include:

Corn whiskeys
13th Colony Southern Corn Whiskey
Balcones True Blue 100 Proof, 100% corn whiskey
Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, 100% corn whiskey
Fitch’s Goat 100% Corn Whiskey
Glen Thunder American Corn Whiskey, 100% New York Corn (80% Corn 20% Malted Corn)
Hudson Baby bourbon (look for the 100% corn label)
Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey
Raymond B. 100% Corn Whiskey
Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
Sipp’n Corn Bourbon, Coppercraft Distillery
Stillhouse Clear Corn Whiskey

Millet whiskey
Koval Single Barrel Millet Whiskey

My evaluation is that this whiskey is kosher Passover, for Jewish people who consume kitniyot on Pesach. But as always, consult your local rav.

Halakhic details

Daniel Sayani explains the halakhah on this issue:

Following the Ashkenazi tradition, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision. Why? In other areas of kashrut, it takes normally a proportion of 1.6% (roughly 1/60) or higher of a non-kosher element (usually additives) to render the whole product non-kosher. For example: a marmalade that contains a non-kosher element in a proportion higher than 1.6% is not kosher. But, if the presence of that element is less than 1.6% of the whole product, then the product is kosher.

On Pesah, however, the rules are stricter. Even the smallest amount of hametz is enough to render the whole food prohibited. Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that the presence of a non-hametz ingredient in a food renders the whole product unfit for Pesah consumption, even if the proportion of that ingredient is as small as 0.001% of the total product.

Sephardic tradition holds, however, that if a hametz ingredient is mixed, accidentally or deliberately, into that food-product before Pesah begins, it will only render the final product as unfit for Pesah if that hametz ingredient is present in a proportion of or above 1.6%.

In other words, if a food made before Pesah contains a hametz element which is less than 1.6% of the total, that food will be kosher for Pesah.

Why? Because before Pesah, we apply the standard kashrut laws of 1.6%, and not the Pesah laws of 0.001%. And once a hametz element smaller than 1.6% is considered neutralized, it never “revives” again. According to the Ashkenazi tradition, however, if a 0.001% hametz element is present, it renders the whole food-product non-suitable for Pesah, regardless of when the food was prepared.

To explain in practical terms: Usually, in the food industry, an element found in a proportion of 1.6% or higher is one of the ingredients of that food-product, most probably an additive. On the other hand, an element present in a proportion of 0.001% is probably a consequence of an accident or a cross-contamination.

Outside kashrut, the presence of a 0.001% element might probably be the case of an allergen, like peanuts-residue, gluten, etc. Therefore, while identify the presence of a 1.6% ingredient is relatively easy, making sure that a 0.001% element is not present is virtually impossible – unless we completely clean and sterilize the factory, restrict the access of any unauthorized person or product; in other words, we make a special kosher for Passover supervision. In that case, the whole area where the food is produced, the machinery, etc., must be sterilized, and a supervisor should be present in the premises to avoid any accidental access of a hametz element, etc. Following the 0.001% rule, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision.

Now we understand why Sephardic Jews are in general more lenient with non-hametz foods, provided the food-product was bought before Pesah. Based on the above mentioned principle, Rabbi Obadia Yosef writes that according to the Sephardic tradition if a food, for example a marmalade, was produced before Pesah, and we know that it does not contain any hametz ingredient in a proportion of 1.6% or above, it will be permitted for Pesah even if it did not have any special supervision for Pesah.

Note: Does this apply to Ashkenazi Jews? In Israel, the custom is for Ashkenazi Jews to follow Sephardic dietary customs when there is an Ashkenazi-Sephardic marriage. Therefore, this includes a large and growing number of religious Jews there. Outside Israel, many Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews – even those who do not eat kitniyot – allow foods with kitniyot derivatives. And internationally, the rabbinical councils of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movements have officially ruled that Ashkenazim may eat kitniyot on Pesach.

Further reading

“A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah”, by Amy Levin and Avram Israel Reisner, CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) November 2015
Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesah, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, David Golinkin, Vol. 3, pp. 35-56
Nathan Jeffay (1 April 2009). “Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling”
Efrat Rabbi Tilts Against Passover Food Restrictions for Ashkenazi Jews
The Kitniyot Dilemma May Ashkenazim eat rice and legumes on Pesach?
TTB whiskey definitions

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Thanksgiving

Jewish prayers to recite on Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

(A) “Thanksgiving Day” “Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayerbook”, p.79, CCAR, 1977, Ed. Chaim Stern.

(B) Some rabbis have proposed this order of tefilot: Page numbers are from “Siddur Sim Shalom” (Ed. Jules Harlow, 1985). Most of these readings can also be found in the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Weekday Prayer Book” (Ed. Gershon Hadas), the “Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book” (Ed. Morris Silverman.), “Siddur Hadash” (Ed. Sidney Greenberg) and the newer versions of Siddur Sim Shalom.

a) Pslam 100 (Mizmor L’Todah) [p.60]

b) Prayer for Thanksgiving. p.816. One version has verses from Psalms, Ben Sirah/Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah

c) “America: Founded on Biblical precepts”, p.821-823. Verses from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and Biblical verses which inspired these documents.

d) Shulkan Orekh: The Thanksgiving meal

f) End with the traditional grace after meals (Birkat HaMazon)

Also see:

A Seder for Thanksgiving, by Reform Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
A Prayer for Thanksgiving By Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ)

Halakhah

Many in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish hold that there are theological and halakhic issues with Jews observing Thanksgiving as a holiday – as “observing a holiday” is a specific theological and halakhic issue within Judaism. This isn’t an issue of fundamentalists attacking secular culture; they are asking some deep questions about (a) what does it mean when the government asks us to observe a holiday, (b) especially one involving prayer, and (c) does accepting this annual celebration as obligatory become tantamount to adding a new holiday to the Jewish calendar?  The great majority of religious Jews in Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism accept Thanksgiving as valid and meaningful. An overview of the issue is here. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/is-thanksgiving-kosher/

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Jews should not say tachanun (penitential supplications) during Shacharit (morning prayers) on Thanksgiving.

Question: What would Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, as we give thanks every day in our prayers?

Answer: Jews have three separate Thanksgiving / harvest festivals in Judaism: Shavuot (feast of weeks), Sukkot (feast of tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover). The first Thanksgiving was actually based on Sukkot by the Pilgrims, who were very much influenced by the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.)

Question: Why commemorate a holiday instituded by Pilgrims, as they were Protestant Christians, who neither shared our faith, nor shared our belief in religious and national freedom?

Answer: It is true that first Protestants that came here were not seeking a country in which to have religious freedom, but rather to have religious freedom for themselves only. All other religions, including all other forms of Christianity were anathema to them. Their thanksgiving was on July 8, 1630, and marked the first Thanksgiving of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However – and this is not well known – this was only the beginning of an evolutionary process. That event is actually _not_ the Thanksgiving festival that we observe today.

Over a century later, the first issue of the First Continental Congress as they met at Carpenters Hall was “Can we open the business with prayer?” Despite their diversity of religions, after fierce debate, inspired by delegate Sam Adams, their first official act was prayer. The First Prayer Proclamation of 1775 asked the whole continent to set aside a day to pray and fast together. It had an electric effect, uniting the American people in spirit, a year before the Declaration of Independence.

The next act in the evolution of Thanksgiving was from the era of President George Washington. A few months after his inauguration, he issued “Presidential Proclamation Number One”, his Thanksgiving. He voiced his personal conviction that “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.” His last Thanksgiving in 1795 captures a nobility never exceeded by any president when he asks God to: “…impart all the blessing we posses, or ask for ourselves, to the whole family of mankind.”

Thanksgiving was celebrated by Americans for a number of years, but eventually fell into disuse. Then in 1863 president Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven…we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God.” He restored the neglected Presidential proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving during the tragic years of Civil War. “Intoxicated with unbroken success,” he wrote, “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and reserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in many years; since then every President has issued at least one a year. And it is _this_ which is the root of the modern Thanksgiving.

Some material quoted and adapted from the Thanksgiving Square homepage:
http://www.thanksgiving.org/

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America’s Biblical Heritage

From Siddur Sim Shalom

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution of the United States
 
Justice, justice shall you pursue,
That you may thrive in the land
Which Adonai your God gives you.
– Deuteronomy 16:20
 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
– The Bill of Rights
 
Proclaim liberty through the land for all of its inhabitants.
– Leviticus 25:10
 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
– The Declaration of Independence
 
Have we not all one Creator? Has not one God created us?
– Malakhi 2:10
 
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln – Second Inaugural Address
 
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift sword against nation,
and they shall not again experience war.
People shall dwell under their own vines, under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid.
– Micah 4:3-4.
Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays

Interfaith Thanksgiving in the Merrimack Valley

Nashua, NH, Interfaith Council annual Thanksgiving service
Held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua.  11/22/16, 7:30 pm

Reflections, prayers, readings, and music, with refreshments. An interfaith choir will provide music during the service.

Limited parking is available off Lemon Street and Grove Street. Additional parking is available in large Margarita’s parking lot across the street from the church. Park at the east end of the lot, beyond the Jersey barriers, as the restaurant may tow non-patrons parked nearer the restaurant.

The Scroll of Pain and Sorrow

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations….

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief and heartbreak….

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations.*

Eicha does not mean “lamentation.” As with all the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible, it is the first significant word of the text, in this case, the very first word. It is both a word and a howl of pain: “HOW?”

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief. It is both highly structured (an acrostic) and full-throated in its expression of heartbreak.

We don’t…

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