A harsh argument is causing a stir in the ultra-Orthodox world, after a group of rabbis declared that whiskey no longer meets kosher certification standards, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.
The issue was discussed in the past by the Council of Torah Sages, which ruled that whiskey is completely kosher because it is not wine. In addition, the rabbis relied on the ancient and strict wine production methods in the different whiskey breweries and decided that there was no fear that the whiskey was being mixed with wine produced by non-Jews, which is not kosher.
Following the decision, kosher keepers were free to drink whiskey.
However, the Landau kosher supervision services of Rabbi Moshe Landau, head of the Bnei Brak Rabbinate, recently published an article claiming that whiskey is not kosher. The Landau kosher supervision system is considered to be one of the most prestigious kosher systems among the ultra-Orthodox public, and is the one which supplies the kosher certification to Coca Cola drinks.
According to the article, whiskey is aged in oak barrels which were previously used to produce wine. The aging in old barrels gives the whiskey an extra taste which is not present in new barrels.
The rabbis claimed that since the wine produced in the barrels is not kosher, neither is the whiskey. Among the brands that age whiskey in old barrels are Johnny Walker, Chivas and Grant's.
'Most whiskey brands are kosher'
The issue was also widely discussed in kosher conference held in Brussels last week. Rabbi Akiva Padwa from the London Beth Din's kashrut division, ruled that most of the whiskey brands are kosher, but that some brands undergo a special "finish" in barrels previously used to produce wine. The taste of the wine can still be felt in the drink, thus making it non-kosher, the rabbi said.
Rabbi Padwa added that the whiskey's label indicates whether it had undergone an additional finish, using the words "two wood," "special finish" or "double matured."
On the other hand, an American group of rabbis dealing with kosher issues claimed that it had thoroughly investigated the issue and discovered that the oak barrels undergo a process of fire and vaporization, which removes the wine taste. Other rabbis wrote that aging in barrels of non-Jews' wine does not disqualify the whiskey.
One way or another, the controversial debate has stirred up emotions among the ultra-Orthodox public. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which is responsible for supplying import permits for kosher food, will also have to deal with the issue.
In the meantime, kosher keepers will be forced to avoid drinking away their sorrows with a shot of whiskey.