The strict prohibition against the use of gentile wine during the talmudic period, originally limited to wine used in idolatrous libations but later extended to include all non-Jewish wine (Av. Zar. 2:3, and 36b), must of necessity have concentrated the Jewish wine trade in the hands of Jews. Apart from this, however, there is no evidence of any specific Jewish aspect to the wine trade during this period. There are references to Jewish keepers of wine taverns (Lev. R. 12:1).
A certain difference may be detected between Eretz Israel and Babylonia. Whereas in the former, a Mediterranean country, Jews drank wine in preference to other alcoholic beverages, in Babylonia the brewing of beer and other alcoholic beverages was much more common. Some of the Babylonian amoraim were brewers, among them R. Papa, who was regarded as an expert and amassed a considerable fortune from it (Pes. 113a; BM65a). However, the vine was cultivated in the neighborhood of Sura and Jews were engaged in the manufacture and sale of wine (Ber. 5b).
As a result of both the historio-economic and the religious factors, during the Middle Ages viticulture was one of the branches of agriculture in which Jews had traditional interest and technical proficiency. The rabbinical responsa and takkanot provide ample instances of the endeavors made by Jews to obtain supplies of suitably pure wine and the arrangements made for doing so. This was perhaps one of the main reasons why the Jews continued to engage in viticulture longer than in other types of agriculture in this period, though from the 11th century the sources mention that Jews in Western Europe also drank mead.
In several areas, Jewish winegrowers or vintners also sold wine to Christians. In the region of Troyes, the teacher of Rashi (b. 1050) used to sell “from his barrel to the gentile” (Rashi, Resp., no. 159). The Jews of Speyer and Worms were licensed by the emperor in 1090 “to sell their wine to Christians” (Aronius, Regesten, nos. 170–1).
The antagonisms created by the sale of a product to which Jews and Christians attached divergent sacral usages and regulations are reflected in complaints such as that “on the insolence of the Jews” by archbishop Agobard of Lyons, who wrote (c. 825): “As to wine which even they themselves consider unclean and use only for sale to Christians – if it should happen that some of it is spilt on the earth, even in a dirty place, they hasten to collect it and return it for keeping in jars.”
The problem is even more strongly presented by Pope Innocent III in his letter of January 1208: “At the vintage season the Jew, shod in linen boots, treads the wine; and having extracted the purer wine in accordance with the Jewish rite they retain some for their own pleasure, and the rest, the part which is abominable to them, they leave to the faithful Christians; and with this, now and again, the sacrament of the blood of Christ is performed.” The description may apply either to Jewish vintners and vineyard owners or to Jews who made arrangements with Christian owners to permit the Jews to extract pure wine in accordance with Jewish law.
In the Muslim countries the Jewish wine trade assumed considerable proportions, as indicated by examples from 12th-century Egypt. It is reported in 1136 that “four partners [all Jews] joined in the production of wine with the enormous sum of 1,510 dinars”; upon liquidating the partnership and paying their taxes, all expressed their satisfaction (S.D. Goitein, Mediterranean Society (1967), 364). In about 1150, a Jewish estate included 1,937 jars of wine, worth about 200–300 dinars (ibid., 264). The amounts cited indicate that such thriving business had Muslim customers besides Jews and Christians.
In England, in the 12th and 13th centuries, Jews imported wine, and “were exempt from paying any custom or toll or any due on wine, in just the same way as the king himself, whose chattels they were” (Roth, England, 102–3; cf. also 115, note). In Central Europe, Jewish drinking habits were already gradually changing in the 13th century, as shown by the man who asked R. Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg for his opinion “about beer [i.e., whether this might be used for Kiddush], for in his locality there is sometimes a lack of wine.” R. Meir answered: “There is no wine in Westphalia, but in all [other] principalities there is abundant wine; and there is wine in your city throughout the year. It seems to me that you personally drink mostly wine; and if at the end of the year there is some dearth of wine you will find it in your neighborhood…. Certainly you know that it is proper to recite Kiddush over wine” (Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg, Resp., ed. by Y.Z. Kahana, vol. 1, nos. 72, 80).
While by the 15th century Jews must have practically ceased to own vineyards and practice viticulture, trade in wine and other alcoholic beverages was becoming a major Jewish occupation in the German and west Slavic lands. This was part of the general trend of increasing commerce between town and country in this period in which Jews took an active part, not least because they were expelled from the larger cities (see Expulsions). The competition of the Jewish vintner was an object of complaints by the guilds, such as that of Regensburg in 1516 (cf. R. Straus, Urkunden und Aktenstuecke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg (1960), 291, no. 833). In part, this commerce was combined with credit extension, as explained by Jews in Regensburg in 1518, who lent money to the boatmen carrying wine to the city and were sometimes repaid in kind (ibid., 358, no. 988).
In both Muslim and Christian Spain, the sale and consumption of wine in the Middle Ages were subject to taxation by the autonomous Jewish communal administration. The unbroken records give evidence of the significant scale on which Spanish Jewry engaged in business. Copious wine drinking by the upper Jewish social strata is also frequently mentioned in Jewish poetry in Spain. After 1391, exiles from Spain carried their wine trade to Islamic countries, and occasionally aroused opposition from their hosts. These traditions and trends were in part continued, in part considerably modified, in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries.
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
From the 16th to the 19th centuries the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was a major industry in Poland-Lithuania and Russia. It also occupied an important place in the economy of Bohemia, Silesia, Hungary, and Bessarabia. As essentially connected with agriculture, it was carried out in rural estates and formed one of the main sources of revenue for their proprietors. The Jews entered this industry under the arenda (“rental”) system in the rural economy in which by the 16th century they played an essential role. The Jewish tavern keeper became part of the regular socioeconomic pattern of life in the town and village. The association of the Jew with this activity contributed another negative feature to the popularly created image of the Jew while also affecting Jewish living habits and standards. The alcoholic beverage industry afforded to the Jews a variety of occupations and a source of livelihood enabling them to raise their living standards.
In almost all the rural estates in Poland, the owners held the monopoly over the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, and the heavy drinking habits of the peasants in these countries made it a highly lucrative prerogative. The participation of Jews took the form of leasing in one of the following ways: The lease of breweries, distilleries, and taverns which was part of the wider arenda system in Poland and in Ukrainian and Belorussian territories: often, the lease of breweries and distilleries, together with taverns, formed a separate concession; the basic leasehold concession of the single tavern, which was rented either directly from the noble estate owner or from a larger-scale Jewish leaseholder. All leases were granted for a limited term, often for three years, sometimes for one year only. Jewish communal regulations (takkanot) effectively limited competition between Jews in bidding for the leases at least to the end of the 17th century (see Councils of the Lands). Tavern keepers were the largest group of Jews occupied in the industry. They frequently belonged to the poorer class of Jew who had contact with the peasants.
The industry also accounted for an appreciable number of brewers and distillers who worked for the brewery or distillery leaseholders as employees. They were sometimes also employed by taverners. In the middle of the 17th century, this group represented about 30% of the Jews engaged in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages on Polish territory. On the crown estates, the income from the production and sale of alcoholic beverages amounted to 0.3% of the total revenues in 1564, and to about 40% in 1789, an immense increase directly connected with the participation of the Jews in this industry.
Jews also played a similar role in the towns. The location privileges accorded to townships in Eastern Europe usually granted the municipality the right to lease production and sale of alcoholic beverages in the town to an individual local resident. Jews also often competed with other townsmen for this concession, and were generally more ready to supply credit than their Christian competitors. In 1600 the magistrate of Kazimierz complained: “The Jews are not permitted to keep taverns, and yet they deal openly in the sale of vodka, wine, and mead; they hire musicians to tempt in people” (M. Balaban, Dzieje Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 1 (1931), 197). Jewish sources confirm the nature of the competition that took place in the cities. The communal regulations for the district of Volhynia of about 1602 enjoin that:
In Belaya Tserkov in about 1648, 17 taverns were owned by Jews, although the Jewish population consisted of only 100 families. In towns in Poland and Lithuania where the monopoly was held by the city, it was also leased to Jews. The municipal prerogative was usurped by the manorial owners of the towns during the 17th century, and the concessions for production and sale of alcoholic beverages were leased to Jews on an increasing scale. In the old crown cities, Jews also often leased the tavern from the city authority.
In the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, a considerable number of Jewish distillers, brewers, and taverners were thus occupied on the estates of the magnates situated in the Belorussian and Ukrainian territories under Poland. Ruin came in 1648–51, following the Chmielnicki uprising.
After the truce was concluded between Poland and Russia in 1667, Jewish taverners could again settle in the Ukraine in the region on the right bank of the River Dnieper; the lands on the left bank passed to Russia, from which Jews were excluded. Jewish taverners were not therefore found in the latter area until the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.
The proportion of Jews gainfully engaged in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages amounted in 1765 to 15% of the Jewish residents in the towns, and at the period of the partitions of Poland-Lithuania (1772–95) to about 85% of Jewish residents in rural areas. In 1791, it was estimated that if the Jews were to be debarred from leasing taverns, about 50,000 people would have to replace them in this occupation, and this was used as an argument against the Russian authorities when they wished to exclude the Jews, in territories then annexed to Russia, from this source of livelihood.
In the period before 1648, Jewish participation in the liquor trade as taverners gave rise to social tensions, which are reflected in contemporary Jewish works and communal regulations, while furnishing a source for anti-Jewish accusations and conflicts between the peasants and Jewish taverners. Antisemites ascribed the drunkenness prevalent among the peasants, and their permanent state of indebtedness, to the wily Jewish taverner, who also extended credit to them.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, there were uprisings against Jewish leaseholders on numerous estates in Poland, and the complaints of the peasants on the crown estates were often taken up by the courts. After 1648, as opportunities for employment narrowed with the progressive deterioration in Poland of the economy and culture, the hostility intensified and conditions became more difficult for the Jews, in particular for the keeper of the single tavern. He was at the mercy of the despotic noble who ruled the village. In his autobiography Solomon Maimon recalls vivid childhood memories of the tribulations of a Jewish leaseholder in the 18th century.
Toward the end of the 18th century, in particular after the Haidamack massacres of 1768, spokesmen of Polish mercantilist and physiocratic theories represented the presence of Jews in the villages and taverns as highly detrimental to Polish economy and society. With few exceptions, the opinion prevailed that the Jewish leaseholders were responsible for the deterioration of the towns and the misery of the countryside. To gain control of these concessions was of greatest importance to the impoverished Polish towns, as the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was a principal branch of the urban economy and its principal source of revenue. Elimination of Jews from this occupation became, therefore, one of the main slogans of the All-Polish middle-class movement between 1788 and 1892.
The Polish Sejm (“diet”) had passed a bill in 1776 establishing the prior right of the citizen to the lease of the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in smaller towns. However, few candidates with the necessary capital could be found, and these soon had to give it up. As a result, in these towns also the lease passed to Jews. In 1783, an order was issued in Belorussia debarring Jews from traffic in alcoholic beverages in the towns, and the income from taverns was given to the municipalities; but this was canceled in 1785.
Following the partitions of Poland-Lithuania, the Jews in the taverns and villages became the scapegoats of the Russian and Polish ruling classes for the poverty and wretchedness of the peasants. These classes were closely bound by social interests and class consciousness, although divided by national and religious enmities. In the large tracts now occupied by Russia the peasants were of the Greek Orthodox faith, and although despised socially, were now the concern of the Russian authorities. The allegation against the Jew as “the scourge of the village,” intoxicating the ignorant peasant because of the misery of his lot, became a spurious slogan for social reform for both the rulers of Russia and their Polish opponents. Elimination of Jewish taverners had started even before the partitions of Poland, and subsequently proceeded with the approval of the Russian governors.
The other states which had gained Polish territory also took up this policy, although with less concentration. The Patent of Tolerance issued by the Austrian emperor Joseph II in 1782 ordered all the owners of estates to discharge Jewish leaseholders from their domains within two years. This decision was, however, not carried out.
About 1805, the Prussian authorities prepared a ban against leasing taverns to Jews, but owing to the occupation of the country by Napoleon, it was never put into effect. In 1804, Russian legislation prohibited Jews from living in the villages. In the period of Napoleon’s ascendancy, the Russian authorities refrained from taking action and, in 1812, the orders were suspended. However, after 1830, the stereotype of Jewish guilt for the drunkenness of the peasants was widely propagated in the Polish press. Steps were taken for supervision of the Jews in the name of benefiting the peasant.
In Bessarabia, the participation of Jews in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was limited in 1818. Legislation passed in Russia in 1835 prohibited the Jews from selling alcoholic beverages on credit to the peasants, and canceled all the peasants’ debts to Jewish taverners. A law of 1866 permitted Jews to lease breweries and distilleries only in towns and villages inhabited by Jews. These measures had little result.
In Belorussia between 1883 and 1888, 31.6% of the distilleries in the province of Vitebsk and 76.3% in that of Grodno were Jewish-owned. Full rights to produce and trade in alcoholic beverages in Russia had been permitted to Jews belonging to the category of “merchants of the first class,” but after 1882 restrictions were also applied against them.
The part played by Jews in the liquor industry continued to concern the Russian government well into the 20th century, even though assuming other forms. The emancipation of the peasants, cancellation of the compulsory quota of consumption, and abrogation of the monopoly of the estate owners changed the economic character and social aspects of the problem. In independent Poland between the two world wars, various economic and legal measures were taken to drive the Jews from this branch, including regulations for hygiene and manipulation of the state monopoly on the sale of vodka. The development of capitalist industry and trade in the second half of the 19th century and freer access to Jews to take up crafts, enabled many Jews in Eastern Europe to enter other branches of the economy. Even so, the image of the Jew invoked by antisemites in Eastern Europe still made frequent use of the hated Jewish taverner.
The feelings of loathing with which the Jew regarded his place behind the tavern counter is powerfully expressed by the poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik. The taverner and his family saw themselves placed at the:
In addition to the prohibition against partaking of non-Jewish wine, its ceremonial use for various occasions, such as Kiddush and on all festive occasions, as well as the need for all wine and liquors to be kasher for Passover, observances both practiced even by those who were not particular with regard to non-Jewish wine for ordinary use, resulted in a specific Jewish trade in wine (and for Passover in other liquors) for specific Jewish consumption in all countries. The needs of the Jewish population were met by local manufacturers especially where wine could not be imported from Eretz Israel.
U.S. Jews tended to make their wine personally or in small shops. The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages, made an exception in favor of such beverages when needed for religious purposes. Abuses of this privilege by some Jews to supply the illegal liquor market disturbed U.S. Jewry. They led to the issuance of a controversial responsum by the talmudic scholar Louis Ginzberg, Teshuvah al Devar Yeinot, etc., permitting grape juice to be used for religious purposes instead of wine.
Following the end of Prohibition in 1933, the business of several Jewish wine manufacturers reached national proportions, supplying the non-Jewish as well as the Jewish market. In the U.S. few Jews were tavern keepers. However, they were prominent among distillers and retailers. Such families as Bernheim, Lilienthal, and Publicker were important distillers, and the general prominence of Jews as retail merchants included the selling of bottled liquor.
Some Jewish firms grew to considerable proportions in Europe as well as the U.S. Many expanded their activity to include general trade in wine and liquors and this may be the origin of the extensive representation of Jews in the English public house trade, for example, the firm of Levy and Franks.
Sedgewick’s, owned by the Bronfman family of Canada, became one of the largest distilleries in the world.
In Eretz Israel a few small winepresses were owned by Jews, mainly in the Old City of Jerusalem and in other ancient cities inhabited by Jews, before the beginning of modern Jewish settlement in the second half of the 19th century. These were simple household wine-presses, catering chiefly to local consumption. The raw material was supplied by Arab vineyards in the surrounding hill regions.
The first vines of European variety were planted at the Mikveh Israel agricultural school founded in 1870. The school also built the first European-style wine cellar, which is still in use. With the beginning of modern Jewish settlement, the first vineyards were planted at Rishon Le-Zion and later in other moshavot. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who sponsored early Jewish pioneer settlement in Eretz Israel, had high hopes that viticulture would develop as one of the main economic bases for the Jewish villages. He invited specialists from abroad, who selected high-grade varieties in order to produce quality wines. After the harvest of the first crops, he built large wine cellars at Rishon le-Zion (1889) for Judea, and at Zikhron Ya’akov (1892) for Samaria. These cellars were equipped with refrigerators to retard fermentation and thereby improve quality.
The Baron paid high prices for the grapes in order to assure the settlers a decent standard of living. Economic prosperity resulted in a rapid development of viticulture, and, at the end of the century, vineyards covered about half of the total Jewish land under cultivation. In the course of time, millions of francs were paid to maintain high wine prices, and many settlers concentrated on making wine as their sole occupation. A large overstock of wine accumulated, and wine surpluses continued to increase until a crisis was reached. It was decided to uproot one-third of the vineyards in order to reduce the size of the crop and maintain prices. The winegrowers were compensated by the Baron, and, instead of vineyards, planted almond trees, olives, and the first citrus groves. In 1890–91, the vineyards in Samaria and Galilee were attacked by phylloxera, which ruined the Rosh Pinah plantations. The infected vines had to be uprooted and replaced by pest-resistant plants brought from India.
In 1906, the management of the wine cellars at Rishon le-Zion and Zikhron Ya’akov was handed over to the farmers, who founded the Carmel Wine Growers Cooperative. At the same time, several private wine cellars, such as Ha-Tikvah and Naḥalat Ẓevi were established. Their wine was sold both locally and abroad.
During World War I, the local wine found a greatly increased market among the German, British, and Australian troops passing through the country. After the war, however, the Eretz Israel wine industry lost its principal markets: Russia, because of the Revolution; the United States, because of Prohibition; and Egypt and the Middle East, because of Arab nationalism. The industry had to undergo a period of adaptation. The acreage under grapes was reduced, chiefly in Judea, where vineyards were replaced by citrus groves. On the other hand, additional areas were planted, mainly in the Zikhron Ya’akov area. During World War II, new plantations were developed on a smaller scale, and with the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), the wine-growing areas covered about 2,500 acres (10,000 dunams). At that time there were 14 wine cellars in Israel.
Large new areas were planted in the Negev, the Jerusalem area, Adullam, and Galilee – some of which had never previously been considered suitable for wine growing. With successive waves of immigrants, drinking habits have changed. During the earlier period 70%–75% of the wine consumed was sweet, but later, two-thirds of the total consumption was dry wine.
The Israel Wine Institute, established in cooperation with the industry and the government, undertakes research for the improvement of wine production in Israel. Preference is given to wine plantations in the hilly regions. Varieties of better quality are selected, and new varieties are introduced. Israel wine is exported to many countries of the world. It is widely in demand among Jews for ritual purposes but efforts have been made to broaden the market.
The Israeli wine industry underwent a revolution starting in the 1970s and now numbers hundreds of wineries, ranging from leaders like Golan Heights, Carmel, and Barkan Wine Cellars to boutique wineries like the prize-winning Domaine du Castel in the Judean Hills. Israeli wines are now served in quality restaurants in 40 countries. Around 7,500 acres of vineyards produce about 50,000 tons of grapes a year
S.B. Weinryb, Neueste Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden in Russland und Polen (1934); J. Hessen, Istoriya Yevreyskogo naroda v Rossii (1925); R. Mahler, Yidn in Amolikn Poyln in Likht fun Tsifern (1958); I. Rychlikowa, Studia nad towarową produkcją wielkiej własności w Małopolsce w latach 1764 – 1805 (1966); J. Burszta, Społeczeństwo i karczma (1951); R. Rozdolski, Stosunki poddańcze w dawnej Galicji, 2 vols. (1962); Ringelblum, in: Sprawy narodowościowe, 8 (1934); I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937); Ettinger, in: Zion, 20 (1955), 128–52; 21 (1956), 107–42; H.H. Ben-Sasson, ibid., 21 (1956), 83–206; Goldberg, in: BŻIH, 59 (1966); C. Roth, in: JHSET, 17 (1953), 39–43; J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis (1961), index; N. Hochberg, Giddul ha-Gefen, 2 vols. (1954–55); D. Idelovitch (ed.), Rishon le-Ẓiyyon 1882 – 1941 (1941); A. Ever ha-Dani, Toledot Aguddat ha-Koremim (1966); Z. Carmi, Anaf ha-Gefen ve-Ta'asiyyat ha-Yayin be-Yisrael (1963).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.