Prohibition holdover Sacramental Wine and Liquor For Passover From your Synagogue Tax-Free
This article is to share with you some fascinating information. This is not a false statement, nor will we take legal responsibility for it. During prohibition, the four cups of wine were considered sacramental, and therefore you were permitted to purchase such wine through your Synagogue or Rabbi. As a holdover from this law, you can still legally buy wine from your synagogue or Rabbi tax-free for Sabbath and Yom Tov. There are lots of restrictions. Feel free to share and to reach out to me directly.
As you see from the picture Rabbi Mayer Hirsch with barrels of sacramental kosher for Passover wine during Prohibition in San Francisco, ca. 1930. (The Magnes Collection)
What to Know About Wine and Liquor For Passover Tax Free
The Volstead Act included a few interesting exceptions to the ban on distributing alcohol. Sacramental wine was still permitted for religious purposes (the number of questionable rabbis and priests soon skyrocketed). Drug stores were allowed to sell “medicinal whiskey” to treat everything from toothaches to the flu. With a physician’s prescription, “patients” could legally buy a pint of hard liquor every ten days. This pharmaceutical booze often came with seemingly laughable doctor’s orders such as “Take three ounces every hour for stimulant until stimulated.” Many speakeasies eventually operated under being pharmacies, and legitimate chains flourished. According to Prohibition historian Daniel Okrent, windfalls from legal alcohol sales helped the drug store chain Walgreens grow from around 20 locations to more than 500 during the 1920s.
Fake rabbis and “sacramental” wine, whiskey, and champagne
In June 1922, the American Jewish Committee documented how this law was being abused, not only “to obtain wine for family use.” “From The American Israelite, “but also for illicit purposes, bootlegging, to call the traffic by its proper name.”
It was almost too easy an opportunity to pass up. Anyone – no matter how unlikely – could say they were a rabbi as there is inherently no structured formal school to be recognized as a Rabbi.
A dozen Jews or even non-Jews can get together and call themselves a Jewish congregation. They can proceed to elect one of themselves or anyone else, male or female, Jew or non-Jew, as their “Rabbi” and there is absolutely no authoritative, central Jewish body that can dictate to the pseudo-congregation what qualifications its rabbi must possess, or even interfere in any way with its management.
For many in the Jewish community, the issue wasn’t so much that people were blatantly disregarding the law – American Jews had a complicated relationship with Prohibition4, which the author of this article considered “a farce.” The main issue was “pseudo ‘Rabbis,'” and fake congregations formed for “the special purpose of obtaining wine illegitimately, without fear of prosecution,” bringing negative feelings to legitimate congregations. There is no mention of such storied family names as the Jewish magazine Mishpacha in an interview with Seymour Terebelo, documented were very much involved in the bootlegging trade across lake Erie, with family members operating Terebelo Distillery till this day.
The Jewish owner of Seagram’s, Samuel Bronfman, had Jewish bootleggers floating so much illegal booze into America over Lake Erie that it became known as the “Jewish Lake.” Jewish bootleggers were so prolific that around half the bootleggers who fueled America with alcohol during Prohibition were Eastern European Jews, Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” told Forward magazine.
By the fall of that same year, The New York Times reported on new Federal rules significantly restricting access to sacramental wine. These ordinances were meant to crack down on fraud. Still, they impacted the entire community, penalizing legitimate practitioners as much as those who peddled sacramental wine on the black market.
Such measures were a nuisance for law-abiding folks but did little to deter bogus rabbis. The problem would only continue to worsen. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch6 reported in 1926 on a Senate committee investigation which found that hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine were distributed by thousands of “fictitious rabbis.” How pervasive was such fraud?
“There are Irish rabbis and rabbis of every description,” said the committee’s counsel, Earl J. Davis, who testified, “Not only wine, but whiskey, and in some cases, champagne is released for religious uses.”
The history of bogus rabbis and black market “sacramental” wine (whiskey, gin. and champagne!) will be further explored in upcoming articles.
NEW RULES GOVERN SACRAMENTAL WINE: Are More Stringent in Attempt to Check Great Abuse of Privilege. Change Plan of Apportioning Wine—methods of Distribution. FAKE RABBIS ELIMINATED Head of Church Must Authenticate Applications or Designate Some Official.
Exempt Sales and Uses of Alcoholic Beverages Tax Bulletin AB-245 (TB-AB-245)