Sunday, February 03, 2019

chamar medina, via Shivti

This morning, I attended a very interesting program at Beth Aaron with my son -- Shivta. Great egg salad and tuna, and a nice topic, namely chamar medina. First there was a chabura with the assistant rabbi, Rabbi Gabbai, and then a shiur continuing on from there by Rabbi Willig.

The presentation of Shivti in their pamphlet is a bit more elaborate than your typical shiur source sheet. The typical source sheet will have either (literal) cutouts from various gemaras and rishonim so that you see the tzuras hadaf or standard printed text from Bar Ilan. This is a combination, so that each full page is a source, in the original. So we will see the gemara in Pesachim 107a, together with Rashbam and Tosafot, in the full tzuras hadaf, with shading for what they deem the relevant material. And on the bottom, in plain printed text, just the excerpted material.

The order of presentation is also nice. It is chronological, so we start with the relevant gemara and meforshim on the daf, then on to Rosh, Rif, Rambam, and then Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Mishnah Berurah. A few others in between. The result is that you get to see the development of the ideas and how it is fleshed out or derived from the original sources.

Rabbi Willig presented his take on the sugya and his halachic position that, nowadays, it is impossible to justify using beer or whiskey for kiddush on Shabbat morning. I cannot do it justice, so don't rely on my presentation for an accurate representation of his position. But it can only be used as a substitute (according to Rashbam) where wine or grape juice is not readily available. And according to the Rosh who cites the Rashbam and also says:

ויש מפרשים דחמר מדינה היינו עיר שאין יין גדל בתחום אותנ העיר עד כדי מהלך יום סביב לעיר

that the unavailability (due to what is grown) has to be one of a day's journey around the city limits. And meanwhile, today with airplanes, the entire world is within a day's journey. Also, whiskey and beer are very low on the list, in terms of beverages Americans drink. Water comes first, then soda, then coffee, then beer, and finally milk (maybe among kids).

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My thoughts on the matter. First, as an aside, in terms of growing, it is certainly not that they did not have wine transportation back in those days. One can certainly point to gemaras of people who went into business to purchase wine in a certain locale, and then the wine prices went down or up.

In terms of understanding the Rashbam, he did not invent of whole cloth this idea of no accessible wine in that city. He gets it from the story in Pesachim 107, that the first time Ameimar came to town, he did not make havdalah on the date beer, and went to bed hungry. And the next day they made efforts and were able to bring him wine, at which point he made havdalah and tasted something. So Rashbam is looking to the unavailability as a requirement, even while other Rishonim might argue.

So too, the position some held, cited by the Rosh, of the unavailability within a day's journey, is also not surprising and without clear basis. Rather, it appears to be a clear outgrowth of the same story, that they only managed to fetch it the next day.

What about today, where every place is accessible? As Thomas Friedman wrote, The World Is Flat, and every place is accessible? I don't think that this matters a whit. Are we concerned here with lechatchila vs. bedieved, such that the only allowance to use this is where you couldn't access the wine? That is one way of looking at it, but the other is that, in terms of respectability of the beverage, this is the equivalent of wine. Where they don't grow wine in that region, and where they typically use this instead of wine, it has the chashivus of wine. That the word is more accessible and one could go further in less time does not change this from being the regular regional drink.

When Ameimar came the second time and they brought him date beer, maybe it made it clear to him that wine was not accessible in the region. Or maybe the repeating bringing for havdalah made it clear to him that they treated it as a respectable drink.

In terms of water (or soda, or coffee) being intermediately popular before whiskey or beer as national drinks, this may indeed differ by region. I would imagine there are areas of the country (like New York) that prefer their Starbucks lattes, and other, rural areas of the country that prefer their beer. Or even neighborhoods in New York.

But see Rashbam (ad loc, in fact same d.h. as before), who also says that water does not count as chamar medina. He says this in the sense that you can't use it as such, even, as he says, in the absence of wine and beer. But I would say that water also doesn't count in chashivus even to disqualify. It should be considered kemi she'eino. Among intoxicating drinks that people treat in the equivalence class of wine, beer is actually more widely consumed than wine. And who cares about water, soda or milk?

So for those who do make kiddush on chamar medina on Shabbos morning, I think there is a way to read through the sources in their defense. (I personally use wine or grape juice, because I can't really stand whiskey or beer.)

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