The Beginnings of the Post-Shulhan Arukh Debate Over the Ratio of Nullifying Libated Wine [YD 134:5]

A fascinating wine-related dispute breaks out over Rabbi Yosef Karo’s (1488-1575) statement (שו”ע יו”ד קל”ד:ה):

מה יהא במים ויהא בהם כדי לבטל טעם היין
ששה חלקים כנגדו
וכל שיש במים כשיעור הזה מותר אפילו בשתייה

How much of a ratio is there with water to cancel out the taste of [libated] wine?
Six parts [of water] to one [part of wine].
And all that there is in the water with this ratio, is permissible, even for drinking.

Having mentioned this text previously in regards to the dilution of the wine’s taste in that much water, we now turn to a further question of this text: does this dilutional nullification only work in water or does it work in other beverages?

On this question, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) remains silent here, although he wrote a parenthetical comment that seems to not accept this ruling, where he requires there to be sixty times amount of a beverage to nullify libated wine (הגה לשו”ע יו”ד קי”ד:ד). Thus begins the debate.

This comment of Rabbi Isserles strikes Rabbi David HaLevi Segal (1586-1667) as surprising, who writes (טורי זהב יו”ד קי”ד:ד):

תמהתי למה הצריך ס’ הא קיימא לן בסי’ קל”ד סעיף ה’ דיין במים בטל בששה חלקים והוא הדין בשאר משקים דזה פשוט דהם מבטלים טעם היין יותר ממים

This baffles me! Why would one need sixty? Behold: wine is nullifed in six parts of water, as it is in section 134:5 [of the Shulhan Arukh]. And this is the case with other beverages, since they cancel out the taste of wine moreso than water.

Rabbi Segal makes a significant point: if water, which provides no flavor can cancel out wine’s taste with just six parts, shouldn’t any other beverage that actually brings its own flavor to smother up wine’s flavor more easily diminish the wine’s flavor?

Somewhat bothered by this suggestion, Rabbi Shabbatai ben Meir HaKohen (1621-1662) wrote (נקודות הכסף יו”ד קי”ד שם):

לא קשיא מידי דדוקא במים סגי בששה חלקים מה שאין כן בשאר משקין וכן מבואר באו”ה הבאתיו בש”ך סימן קל”ד ס”ק כ”א

This [supposed issue that Rabbi Segal finds as a contradiction] is not a problem from this [statement of Rabbi Isserles], since it is specifically in six parts of water that wine is nullified; this is not so with other beverages. And I explained it in Priest’s Lips 134:21.

So, let’s check out what he wrote there (שפתי כהן יו”ד קל”ד:כ”א):

כתב האו”ה כלל כ”ג סוף דין ט”ו דוקא יין נסך במים אבל ביין או בתבשיל שמשביחו ודאי אסור הכל עד ששים ע”כ ופשוט הוא

It’s written in the book Forbidden and Permitted: “It is specifically libated wine in water, but in wine or in a cooked dish that improves it, that is certainly forbidden until reaching a 1:60 ratio” (Section 23, at the end of law 15). And this is obvious.

The problem, however, is that neither Forbidden and Permitted nor Rabbi HaKohen there specifies that libated wine in other beverages need a 1:60 ratio versus the 1:6 ratio as stipulated by Rabbi Karo in his Set Table.

Thus, it seems that the beginning of this debate is over the effect of the six parts of water on the libated wine: is the intention of the water to simply make it no longer enjoyable, but if put into another beverage, it could improve it (more along the lines of Rabbi HaKohen’s thinking) or is it taken out of the category of “wine” and no longer a problem for libation (more along the lines of Rabbi Segal)?

This debate was really opened up by the lack of previous stipulation of where the wine can and cannot go: while Rabbi HaKohen rightly points out that the libated wine going into another wine or a cooked dish can improve it, there is no precedent for forbidding it in other beverages. Rabbi Segal, on the other hand, keeping this lack of precedent in mind, also applies logic to his calculation: if water, which brings no other flavor with it and can dilute libated wine enough to nullify its taste in six parts, wouldn’t any other beverage that actually brings flavor would more easily conceal the libated wine’s flavor?

To be continued….

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