I was asked once by a curious Eastern Orthodox cyberfriend, who apparently was in cybercorrespondence with a Protestant friend of his, the following:
This is something I’ve always wanted to ask.
This is not an issue with Orthodox Christians, but…it was an issue with some Protestant Christians.
Do you know if it was true or not that anyone living in old Israel at the turn of the eras, (50BCE-100CE) could keep wine from fermenting? IOW, do you use fermented wine at your Pasha Festival? Or can you only use Grape Juice? This may sound like a stupid question to you, but it has caused great controversy in modern christian churches.
And my answer to him was…
I know that some fundamentalist Protestants have a big hang-up about alcohol and that some claim that Jesus never touched a drop of wine. If we allow that Jesus was born a Jew & lived as one (for at least part of his life, I suppose), this is impossible. The consumption of wine was part of Jewish practice then, just like it is now.
I suppose that anyone could make (unfermented) grape juice back then simply by squeezing/stomping grapes. I don’t know about preserving the unfermented) grape juice for any length of time simply because the only ways to preserve foodstuffs way back then was by pickling, salting or drying (which would make the grape juice rather yucky!).
First, wine libations were an integral part of the Temple service, in the order of offerings (see Numbers 28 and 29). The Hebrew word for “its drink offering” is nisko & refers to wine, *not *grape juice. The specific reference to wine per se in Numbers 28:14 is held to be illustrative example that holds for all of the various holyday offerings enumerated in Numbers 28-29.
The blessing “Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has created the fruit of the vine” is said before drinking wine and grape juice (but not over grapes or raisins; apples and apple juice/oranges and orange juice, etc. also take different blessings).
At the ceremonial Passover meal known as the Seder (jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm), we drink 4 cups of wine. Normally, during the year, when the blessing over wine is recited on Friday night & the evenings of major holydays, and again on Saturday morning & the mornings of major holydays, and on Saturday night when the Sabbath is over & the evenings after major holydays, grape juice may certainly be used (DW & I always have grape juice around for Da Boyz). But on Passover, it is strongly recommended by nearly all (orthodox!) rabbinical authorities that if one insists on drinking grape juice, that at least some wine be mixed in with the grape juice. (Recovering alcoholics & people who are banned from drinking wine for medical reasons, may use all grape juice.) No one is supposed to get drunk at the Passover Seder (we get drunk on our holyday of Purim, jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm). The Seder includes a very large meal & the minimal amount defined as a “cup” is not that large.
On the Nazirite’s having to abstain from wine (see Numbers 6:1-21), several of our Sages comment on the fact that at the conclusion of his vow, he had to bring (inter alia) a sin-offering. I believe that it is our very great medieval Sage, Nahmanides (ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/ramban.htm), who says that the Nazirite had to bring a sin-offering because he had taken upon himself a vow (which Judaism frowns upon unless absolutely necessary) that entailed having to deny himself some of the good things which God has permitted us.
I think that my Roman Catholic cyberfriends would agree with us that wine, when properly used, can be a vehicle for holiness. When improperly used, it can be a vehicle for vile unholiness. Wine is, in effect, a kind of tool. It is neither evil nor good; only the use to which it is put and the ends to which it is used can be good or evil. (Even Milton refers to “misused wine.”) The scriptures endorses neither teetotalism nor habitual drunkeness.
I read where the famous Protestant evangelist Billy Sunday, upon hearing that Prohibition had become law, said that, “The rein of tears is over…The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and comcribs” What a fool! The only people happier than him at that moment were all the gangsters & criminals. Organized crime in the USA made it to the big leagues thanks to Prohibition.