Ethiopians and Wine: Not so Fast, Rabbi Cardozo


By Avrohom Gordimer

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo’s new article, Scandalous Halachic Decisions: Ethiopians and Wine, pushes many hot buttons. Exuding an overdose of self-confidence and much dismissiveness, this article exhibits an extremely erroneous understanding of Halacha.

Rabbi Cardozo argues that the prohibition on stam yaynam – non-Jewish wine – should be rescinded, writing that:

“I call such a prohibition a “defensive law,” the outcome of tragic circumstances while the Jews lived in exile in earlier centuries. It was once of value but today is more or less meaningless. Idol worship has disappeared; most non-Jews believe in God and are civilized… The original reason for this law was that many non-Jews were idolaters and immoral people. Since wine was the main drink at the time (water was too dangerous to drink), the Sages introduced this law to keep Jews away from idolaters and vile people, who often used wine for their worship of idols, or during orgies… I am sure that if the talmudic sages were alive today, they would agree. Ultimately, we –including our well-behaved non-Jewish friends — are all created in the image of God, and that alone is reason enough to let this prohibition be a law of the past… The time has come to abolish the prohibition.”

Rabbi Cardozo seems unaware that the rabbinic prohibition on such wine, decreed millenia ago and codified in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 29b), Mishneh Torah/Rambam (Hil. Ma’achalos Asuros ch. 11-13), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah ch. 123-138), is a davar she-b’minyan – a prohibition that in effect is permanently binding, even if its reason no longer pertains. The Rambam rules specifically (Hil. Ma’achalos Asuros 11:7) that even the wine of gentiles who do notworship idols is forbidden to be consumed. This is clear as well from the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 123:1), and it dispositively contradicts Rabbi Cardozo’s presentation of the matter.

Furthermore, the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 36b) records that the Sages prohibited stam yaynam as a precaution against intimate relations with non-Jews/intermarriage; when one is free to engage in “social drinking” with anyone, the likelihood of it leading to an intimate relationship looms large. Tosafos and Ritva (ibid. 29b) elaborate that the prohibition on stam yaynam was formulated primarily as a measure to prevent such relationships, but the Sages modeled the prohibition after the Biblical prohibition on wine that was used for idolatrous sacrament.

Thus, contrary to Rabbi Cardozo’s assertions, the prohibition on stam yaynam is not subject to rescindment, and such wine may not be consumed regardless of whether or not non-Jews engage in idolatry and regardless of whether or not there is a likelihood of intermarriage, for the prohibition is a davar she-b’minyan and in effect is permanently binding. Rabbi Cardozo writes that “The time has come to abolish the prohibition“, but he is seriously uninformed as to the Halacha.

The prohibition of stam yaynam as an enactment against intimate relations with non-Jews/intermarriage is more relevant today than ever before, with skyrocketing and hair-raising intermarriage rates among non-Orthodox Jews (71% as documented in 2013, and assuredly even higher today). Rabbi Cardozo is unaware that the Talmud states that the prohibition on stam yaynam was formulated as a preventative to intimate relations with non-Jews/intermarriage, but were he to know what the Talmud says, he would probably reconsider and take back his words.

Rabbi Cardozo proceeds to harshly attack the Edah Ha-Chareidis for not accepting Beta Yisrael from Ethiopia as definitive Jews, writing that:

“The ruling by the Eida HaHareidit is scandalous and deeply embarrassing, as well as discriminating toward the Ethiopian Jewish community. It disgraces Judaism and is as anti-Jewish as can be.”

Although Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled that members of Beta Yisrael are definitely Jewish — a ruling strongly promoted by his son, the current Sephardic chief rabbi — most halachic authorities, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Menachem Mann Shach and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, disagreed. Furthermore, genetic testing does not indicate any serious link between Beta Yisrael and the rest of world Jewry, and many major historians do not accept that Beta Yisrael have Jewish roots. (The great religious dissimilarities between Beta Yisrael and the rest of world Jewry further militate against Beta Yisrael’s claims of Jewish origins. Whereas the native Jews from regions east of the Land of Israel, who inhabited those regions since the Exile of First Temple era, have texts and observances nearly identical with those of the rest of world Jewry, Beta Yisrael ‘s texts and observances, claimed to be from not too much earlier, are vastly different.)

Thus, the whole matter of Beta Yisrael’s status is one of legitimate dispute, and for Rabbi Cardozo to launch a blistering attack on the halachic opinion of the Edah Ha-Charedis, which accords with the majority opinion, is totally uncalled for, to put it kindly.

This is far from the first time that Rabbi Cardozo has painted in broad strokes against halachic norms, lacking basic familiarity with the sources. I ask that Rabbi Cardozo please exercise caution, learn the material first, and not be so quick to pass judgment in areas with which he lacks adequate knowledge.

(This article originally appeared at Times of Israel and is published on Matzav with permission of the author.)



  1. Well, he does have a point. Because these Halochos has caused our children say and think Horrible things against All Non-Yidden. Think of that disgusting song, “Amol bin Ich Gegangen Oif di Gass Hob Ich Gezein ah Goy Hob Ich …).
    How about the usage of words like Sheigitz, Shiksa Peiger, and also the saying, “Bei zei zol es bleiben”. How about on a small innocent child, “Ah Klein Mamzerill”.
    If we want Hashem to stop instigating the Nations to make Holocausts and Pogroms against us, we must show Him that we love every decent Human being, even if he was born to a Non-Yiddishe mother.

      • Not true. It was the German Frayeh Jews that looked down at any Non-Jew. They made up songs like “ah yiddisher Mama”, “ah Yiddishe Kopf”, “Ah Yiddish Hartz”; because they said that non-jews don’t have all those things.
        The only thing left to their yiddshkeit, was, to demean a non-yid.

        • Your information is incorrect.

          Those songs didn’t come from German Jews, who didn’t speak Yiddish then generally.

    • Very nice sentiments.
      But htis has nothing to do with a kashrus organization trying to keep with the halacha, as determined by the majority of poskim, including the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which requires them to do “Giyur Lechumra”.

    • In response to the first comment –

      You paint with too broad a brush. While there may be some people and some sects that are not careful with their speech (in general, not only in one specific area), and perhaps you grew up around such unrefined people, other Jews are more careful, thoughtful, and sensitive, and deport themselves as holy people should.

    • Please read the link.
      The very first sentence is “When I joined the Jewish people as a young man of 16, being the child of a mixed marriage”
      The very last sentence is “It is time we return to genuine Judaism, which I embraced when I was 16. I love it as never before.”
      Actually these two quotes make it superflous already to read the article.

      Also it is unclear whether he thinks that “Jewish employees of Ethiopian descents” are in fact Jewish and thus fit to work with kosher wine production, or whether he is convinced they are not Jewish “discriminate against non-Jews”. According to logic, one can not have both.

      Allow me one last quote which is probably both sincere and truthful: such and such “are not part of the Judaism I converted to.”

  2. Reb Shlomo Zalman Aurebach, Z”L told me that the cause of the rate of intermarriage in our time is because of unacceptable kulahs in wine and Bishul akum.

  3. To #!
    You’re right.
    I could not believe my ears when a Rabbi spoke at the RCCS dinner, and said, that we pray to HKB”H that he should take away that Machla R”L, from Yidden and give it all to the Non-Yidden, and everybody applauded. Now what does the Creator of all beings say to such vile and loathsome behavior on our part? Hashem Yerachem.

    • Some people/sects may at times have certain vulgar aspects in their behavior, sometimes retained from persecutions over many centuries. Others, however, are more up-to-date in their expressions.

  4. Don’t go off the point of this article. Cardozo has just authored a book refuting Halacha. His opinions should be banned. He isn’t a reference for G-d fearing Jew. Nevertheless decent behavior and speech to all of Hashem’s creations should be second nature to each and every Jew.

    • To Rk.
      Look at the ugly comment right above yours, from Shirley. She sings a song that is sung in all Heimishe Yeshivos, or they’ll sing “Ah Urell Bleibed An Urell…”.
      Lets first straighten out our real problems, and then we’ll worry about wine that was touched by someone.

      • If we had operated according to William we would’ve long ceased to exist or perhaps closeted on some island without any global influence
        After all we were always with some sort of blemishes/problems

      • It is not true that that song is sung in all ‘heimishe yeshivos’. Yes, there are extreme sects that do extreme things. But a sect is a sect, not mainstream Yiddishkeit.

        P.S. Heimish does not mean Hasidic.

        • Listen to the YouTube where Rabbi Eisenberg of BP sings with all the children, “Ah Mohl bin Ich Gegangen oif di gaas hob ich gezain ah goy, hob ich eim ah Patch Gegaiben hut err geshrigen oy!”
          All the children were jumping with delight at this “beautiful” song.


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