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Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War that Shaped Jewish History

Hosted By: Valley Beit Midrash

The Jewish preference for wine over beer and other beverages for sacramental purposes has extremely ancient roots. The taste for beer may have played an important role in the invention of agriculture and development of the first permanent villages. However, it also had a strong link with polytheism.

With cold or outright hostile relationships between farmers and nomadic herders from Cain and Abel to the range wars of nineteenth-century America, wine-drinking Israelites and beer-quaffing Egyptians, Canaanites, and Mesopotamians were inclined to view one another’s preferred drinks with skepticism or disdain. The ten plagues of the Exodus and the prohibition of leaven at Passover can be understood in this light. Wine-related halachot and midrashim such as the laws of kil’ei kerem and the link between Noah’s grapevine and the tree of knowledge provide additional depth of insight into the connotations that these drinks carry and how practical choices of natural products developed into social and theological schisms.

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