1) CHAMAR MEDINAH
QUESTION: The Gemara gives apparently contradictory indications whether one may use Chamar Medinah (such as beer) for Havdalah or not. First, the Gemara relates that Ameimar recited Havdalah on beer in a city in which beer was the Chamar Medinah. The Gemara then quotes Rav Chisda in the name of Rav who said that one may not recite Kidush or Havdalah on beer, and Rav Tachlifa, who said this ruling in the name of Shmuel. Finally, the Gemara relates that Rebbi was prepared to recite Kidush over a very tasty beer, and that Rav himself recited Kidush over beer.
What is the conclusion of the Gemara? Is one permitted to recite Kidush and Havdalah over Chamar Medinah or not?
(a) The RASHBAM (DH Mahu), as explained by the ROSH (10:17), says that Rav Chisda and the other Amora'im who say that one may not recite Kidush or Havdalah over Chamar Medinah indeed argue with Ameimar. However, the Halachah follows Ameimar's opinion that one may recite Havdalah over beer when it is the Chamar Medinah (because "Ma'aseh Rav" -- he conducted himself in practice according to that opinion). The Rishonim debate whether Ameimar would also permit one to use Chamar Medinah for Kidush.
Later, when the Gemara mentions that Rebbi and Rav permitted the recitation of Kidush over beer, it refers to a situation in which beer is not the Chamar Medinah. The Rashbam (DH Chamar Medinah) writes that a popular drink is considered the Chamar Medinah only when there is no wine in the city. Rebbi and Rav were both very wealthy, and it is extremely unlikely that there was no wine available in their cities. Rather, it must be that beer is an acceptable substitute for wine even when it is not the Chamar Medinah, as long as it is tastier to the person (as the Gemara says about Rebbi, "The beer was especially sweet"). Similarly, as Rav Huna pointed out, beer was especially cherished by Rav, and that is why he used it for Kidush. (See MAHARSHA.)
(b) TOSFOS (106b, DH Mekadesh) suggests that these Amora'im prohibited the use of beer only in a place where it is not the Chamar Medinah. Rebbi and Rav recited Kidush over beer even though it was not the Chamar Medinah, because they were particularly fond of beer.
The RASHASH points out that this might be the Rashbam's intent as well (in contrast to the way the Rosh understands the Rashbam).
(c) The MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 296:12) rules that even where beer is the Chamar Medinah, it still should not be used l'Chatchilah if wine is available. However, if a person is especially fond of beer and it is also the Chamar Medinah, then he may use it l'Chatchilah.
Accordingly, perhaps when the Amora'im ruled that beer is unacceptable, they referred even to a case in which beer is the Chamar Medinah, and they meant only that beer may not be used l'Chatchilah. Rebbi and Rav, however, used beer l'Chatchilah because they were especially fond of it. The entire Sugya, then, from beginning to end, discusses beer when it is the Chamar Medinah. (M. KORNFELD)
This interpretation depends on the definition of Chamar Medinah. Those who learn that Chamar Medinah means that no wine is available in the place cannot explain that beer may be used b'Di'eved when it is the Chamar Medinah. Every case of Chamar Medinah is b'Di'eved, for a beverage is considered the Chamar Medinah only when no wine is available. However, this interpretation is consistent with the RAMBAM who defines Chamar Medinah as any beverage which most of the people in the city drink and view as significant. (See following Insight.)
2) HALACHAH: USING CHAMAR MEDINAH FOR KIDUSH AND HAVDALAH
OPINIONS: The Gemara discusses whether one may use Chamar Medinah for Kidush and Havdalah, and it quotes several opinions (see previous Insight). What is the definition of Chamar Medinah, and what is the Halachah in practice?
(a) What is Chamar Medinah?
1. The RASHBAM (DH Chamar Medinah) defines Chamar Medinah as a beverage used as a substitute for wine in a city where no wine is available.
2. The ROSH (10:17) cites the Rashbam's definition and says that others define Chamar Medinah as a substitute for wine in a place where wine is not produced anywhere within a day's journey of that city.
This can be understood in two ways. The TUR (OC 272) implies that it is more stringent than the Rashbam's definition. That is, in order for a beverage to be considered Chamar Medinah, not only must there be no wine available in the city, but there also must be no winery near the city (within a distance of one day's travel). However, the Acharonim (see MAGEN AVRAHAM OC 182:2) understand it to be more lenient. That is, even if there is wine in the city, another beverage is considered Chamar Medinah if the wine is not produced locally. In such a case, the second most significant beverage in the city becomes the Chamar Medinah.
The MORDECHAI adds that even if grapes usually grow near the city, but one year they did not grow, then the significant beverage in that city is also considered Chamar Medinah.
The Acharonim (see BEIS YOSEF) point out that the presence or absence of wine is relevant only when it is Jewish-made wine. Wine produced by non-Jews does not affect the status of the Chamar Medinah.
3. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Shabbos 29:17) explains that a beverage is considered Chamar Medinah when most of the people in the city drink it instead of wine. It seems from the Rambam that even if wine is common in the city, and even if it is present in the person's home, if beer is often consumed in lieu of wine in that city, then beer is called Chamar Medinah (BI'UR HALACHAH OC 272:9).
According to all of the opinions, the status of Chamar Medinah does not depend on what beverage is popular in a particular person's household, but it depends on the state of that beverage in the whole city. That is why Ameimar did not recite Havdalah over beer the first year he visited a certain city. Only the following year did he realize that the entire city used beer and not wine.
(b) In practice, may one use Chamar Medinah for Kidush and Havdalah?
The Gemara relates that Ameimar used Chamar Medinah for Havdalah. The Halachah follows his opinion, because "Ma'aseh Rav" -- he conducted himself in practice according to that opinion. Even though several Amora'im in the Gemara argue that one may not recite Havdalah on beer even when it is the Chamar Medinah, the Halachah follows the opinion of Ameimar.
What is the Halachah with regard to Kidush?
1. The ROSH says that since Ameimar disagrees with the other opinions as far as Havdalah is concerned, he presumably also argues with regard to Kidush (because the Amora'im who argue with him equate Havdalah with Kidush). Since the Halachah follows Ameimar, Chamar Medinah may be used for Kidush as well.
TOSFOS (106b, DH Mekadesh) suggests that the Amora'im who maintain that one may not recite Kidush on beer refer to a situation in which beer is not the Chamar Medinah. In a place where beer is the Chamar Medinah, perhaps they agree that one may recite Kidush over it. (See (b) in previous Insight.)
2. However, the ROSH cites RAV AMRAM GA'ON who disagrees and asserts that Chamar Medinah may be used only for Havdalah (as was Ameimar's practice), but not for Kidush. He argues that the other Amora'im did not permit beer to be used for Kidush, and Ameimar never argued with them explicitly with regard to Kidush. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Shabbos 29:17) agrees with this approach, and the HAGAHOS MAIMONI writes that this is the ruling of "all of the Ge'onim v'Kadmonim."
What is the logic to differentiate between Kidush and Havdalah? TOSFOS and the RAN suggest that since one may recite Kidush over bread when no wine is available, the Rabanan did not allow one to recite Kidush on Chamar Medinah. Havdalah, though, has no connection to any meal, and there is no option to recite Havdalah on bread. Therefore, the Rabanan instituted the option to use Chamar Medinah for Havdalah.
The same logic permits one to use Chamar Medinah for Birkas ha'Mazon. Since there are opinions that Birkas ha'Mazon does not need to be recited over a cup of wine altogether, one may certainly be lenient and use Chamar Medinah for Birkas ha'Mazon.
HALACHAH: The TUR (OC 272) and SHULCHAN ARUCH quote the ruling of the ROSH, who presents a compromise. The Rosh rules that for Kidush at night, since one may use bread for Kidush, he should use bread and not Chamar Medinah. The morning Kidush, however, is comprised of only the blessing for wine. If one were to use bread, it would not be recognizable as Kidush, because the blessing for bread is recited anyway at the start of the meal. Therefore, one preferably should use Chamar Medinah for Kidush in the morning and not bread. The RAN points out that even the Rambam, who maintains that Kidush at night may not be recited on Chamar Medinah, would agree that in the morning one may recite Kidush on Chamar Medinah.
For Havdalah, one certainly may use Chamar Medinah (SHULCHAN ARUCH OC 182:2, 272:9, 296:2).
As noted above, where wine is available no other significant beverage is considered Chamar Medinah. The BACH (OC 272), therefore, expresses his bewilderment at the widespread practice in his time to recite the morning Kidush over whiskey. Since wine was readily available, whiskey should not have been considered the Chamar Medinah. The Bach writes that this issue was raised at the annual conference of rabbinical leaders of that time, and although everyone acknowledged that the practice of the great sages was to recite Kidush during the day over whiskey, no one had any clear reason why. (See ARUCH HA'SHULCHAN OC 272:14.)
It seems that the practice to recite Kidush during the day over whiskey even where wine is available is based on the opinion of the Rambam. The Rambam rules that even if there is wine in the city, if most of the people choose to drink beer instead of wine most of the time, then beer is considered the Chamar Medinah. Similarly, since most people, in the time of the Bach, drank whiskey more often than they drank wine, it became the Chamar Medinah (see SHA'AR HA'TZIYUN OC 182:4). Even though others rule that Chamar Medinah may be used only b'Di'eved, it is possible that the Rambam maintains that it may be used even l'Chatchilah.
The REMA (OC 296:2) rules that one may use Chamar Medinah only b'Di'eved, even though he seems to follow the Rambam. He adds, however, that if the person considers the Chamar Medinah to be more tasty than wine, then he may use it l'Chatchilah (this is based on the Gemara that relates that Rebbi and Rav would use beer l'Chatchilah, even though they undoubtedly had wine available; see (c) in previous Insight). Perhaps this addition of the Rema provides another answer for why whiskey, which was very tasty, was permitted l'Chatchilah. The MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 272:29) concludes that since the requirement to recite Kidush during the day is mid'Rabanan, one may be lenient and use whiskey l'Chatchilah.
The MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 272:30; see also ARUCH HA'SHULCHAN OC 272:13) writes that if a person uses whiskey or other spirits for Kidush or Havdalah, he must be careful to use a cup that holds a Revi'is, like the cup one normally uses for Kidush over wine. Furthermore, one must drink a "Melo Lugmav" (a majority of a Revi'is; see Insights to Pesachim 109:1). It suffices for a majority of the Revi'is to be consumed between everyone present.