However, by popular demand, I have spoken with some Orthodox rabbis, studied with them, and done some research on the internet. Although this is far from comprehensive, I hope that what I have learned will help clarify this situation.
|Ancient beer ingredients included emmer |
wheat, wild yeast, chamomile,
thyme and oregano.
There is also a mention of hops (keeshoot in Hebrew), which I had no idea were present in the Middle East at that time. I thought that other ingredients were added to ancient beers for flavor and bitterness, while hops I associated with more modern times and northern climes. But the Talmud clearly says that hops were part of the brewing process, and the bitterness they produce protects the drinker from even snake venom which may be in the beer! Health food addicts take note.
Elsewhere in the Talmud, Rabbi Zeira relates that when he grew weary from too much studying(!), he would take a pitcher of beer to the entrance of Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ami's yeshiva and pour a mug for each Torah scholar as he left the building. That way, he said, even though he was not keeping the commandment of studying Torah, he was keeping the commandment of honoring Torah scholars.
This has remained the decision of later Jewish legal commentators as well: beer does not present any problems of kashrut, but just don't drink it in social situations with non-Jews, or you'll end up marrying their daughters. As the old joke says, if you drink enough beer, all women begin to look beautiful.
Moving into modern times, almost all of the internet sites which give rabbinic decisions agree that all un-flavored beer, made from the traditional ingredients of water, grain, hops and yeast, is generically kosher and does not need any certification. For beer drinkers who care about such things, that's good news. It puts the world of beer into our glasses.
|There are no oysters in|
Marston's Oyster Stout.
These additives and flavorings might cause kashrut problems, and therefore, kosher-only eaters and drinkers would want to look for certification on the bottle. Many beers in the U.S. and Europe, and as far as I know, all Israeli beers, are certified kosher by some rabbinical authority, so finding good beers with kosher certification should be no problem.
One of my neighborhood rabbis, remembering like me the old days in New York, said that no observant Jew then even thought of the kashrut question when drinking beer. Ditto for any booze except wine, which has its own more strict laws. These days, he continued, there has been a shift towards more and more stringency among religious Jews, and this has led them to look for kosher certification even on beer.
"Although halachic [Jewish law] problems regarding beer are a possibility, they are rather rare. Therefore, beer doesn't need a hechsher [kosher certification]."So there you have have it, my fellow beer lovers. If you thought I would give you an easy answer, I'm sorry. As with most things in life, the choice is yours.
I am perhaps not a good example of someone who listens to all rabbinical authority, but there is one decision that I refuse to even consider. It is reported that the founder of Hassidic Judaism, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (born 1698), often called the Baal Shem Tov or the Besht, taught that one should not say "L'chaim" over beer. Perhaps one of my readers could tell me the reason.
At any rate, I will continue to raise my beer glass with friends and family, over good food, bad food or no food, at quiet meetings or riotous celebrations, and say out loud, "L'chaim!"