Under Charlemagne in the 8th century and the Carolingian emperors, Jews were official importers of exotic foods from the Holy Land;[1] they also provided wine for Christian mass.

At the time, what did the rabbis write about the following matters?:

  • What were the halachic issues involved? Food issues? Basar b'chalav? Providing wine for use in a Christian religious ceremony?

  • And, in the end, did they allow or forbid the Jews to provide the wine?

[1] Source.

(Related: a question which is not about historical responsa, but is about the practical halacha today regarding the wine question.)

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    Rabbi Levi Cash, welcome to the site; I hope you stick around and enjoy it. If you register, you'll be able to log in from other locations, so the site can keep track of your contributions better and provide you with a better experience on the site.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 19:40
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    Rabbi Levi Cash, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for what promises to be an interesting question! Could you please flesh out your question a bit more, in terms of references about the historical situation and in terms of the issues you think should have come up?
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 19:41
  • I think you need to start a bounty on this one already Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 3:01
  • Just saying, I highly doubt there will be anything written on this. The center of Jewish law had yet to move from the middle East to Europe. Any Jews who were there seemed pretty ignorant of basic Jewish law from the questions they were sending to the geonim.
    – user6591
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 20:04

3 Answers 3


I'll try to respond this question. The beginning is to define. 1) If christianism is idolatry in general. 2) If the reponse to the prededent question is yes, If it is problematic for Jew to provide products that are used for idolatry. 3) Source from this time (Charlemagne, 8th century).

  1. Is Christianism Idolatry?

    From Sefer Orchoth Chaym in name of Rambam and Rashba says that yes and the "First day" is day of A.Z.See here in the 5th paragraph of the left column
  2. Is wine a product especially destined to AZ?

    See the Mishna AZ 1, 5 The Mishna provides a list of products that it's prohibited to sell to non-Jews because they are very likely intended to idolatry. Wine is out of this list.
  3. If the emperor requires that Jews give him a product for its idolatrous worship and in exchange for that it will ensure them protection

    See here, the 7 last lines in the right column, the words of Rav Hay Gaon that permits.

I tried to find even older texts in Teshuvoth Hageonim and Bahag flipping on Hebrewbooks but I got discouraged.


Your question, as it is currently phrased, does not have an answer. You want Frankish halakhic sources from the 8th century?? They don't exist. In fact, good luck finding a Western European halakhic source from before the 10th. While it is true that Jews were purveyors of wine during the reigns of the Carolingian emperors, by the time we get to the turn of the millennium we find it being killed off by a variety of factors - one of which is the ban on gentile wine.

Were Jews unaware of this ban previously? Were those engaged in the trade simply disinterested? Those are good questions, but I don't know that it's possible to find good answers to them.

If you would like to read more about this issue, see Prof. Haym Soloveitchik, "Halakhah, Taboo, and Moneylending", Collected Essays I, 224-236. He sees the decline of trading and the rise of moneylending as inextricably related, and the role of viticulture as particularly relevant there. I quote one section (pp230-231):

Jewish law forbids drinking wine touched by Gentiles. Consequently, Jews had to produce their own wine - no small task considering the enormous quantities that were being consumed during the Middle Ages. In the Mediterranean lands, this was purely a question of manpower - as the grape is a sub-tropical fruit and grows there naturally. In northern Europe, however, viticulture is a constant struggle against the natural environment... When Jews first crossed the Alps or when any of them first moved into any new location in the temperate zone, they had to ensure for themselves a steady supply not only of kosher meat but also of kosher wine. The first was no problem; the second could be achieved only by either acquiring the skills of the vintners or forming a close tie with this relatively elite group of workers with whose accumulated skills, handed down from father to son over the centuries, no lord could dispense.

Jews in the Carolingian era... were traders, often of luxury items. They swiftly realized that their necessary skill in viticulture or their long-standing contacts with vintners could be put to very lucrative use and, as one way to a ruler's heart is through his stomach, purveying quality wine could also give them access to power - so crucial for their physical safety.


It is forbidden to derive pleasure/benefit from wine that a non-Jew touched since we suspect that it may have been used in an idolatrous ceremony (not so much the case nowadays, but we maintain the issur.

We learn from the Rema (Yoreh Daiah 123:1) that one cannot give wine, which can become an assar behana'ah, to a non-Jew as a gift, since the gift generates goodwill and thus benefit is derived. I think it's fair to apply the same logic to selling wine to a non-Jew which generates profit, or at least revenue.

See more at Chicago Kosher;

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    The Rema is only talking about wine that has already been touched by the non-Jew. The question could be asking about wine which hasn't yet been touched by a non-Jew. Moreover, do you have any evidence any of this was written in response to Charlemagne?
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 20:06
  • No, why does it specifically have to do with the Jews under Charlemagne? The Rema held that any benefit from something that is assur behana'ah is assur. Regarding whether the wine he was talking about was already touched - you could be correct. Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 22:12
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    Re "why does it specifically have to do with the Jews under Charlemagne?": because the question sought "halachic responses to these opportunities [under Charlemagne and the Carolingian emperors]".
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 6:40
  • The Rema does not say that all. In fact, according to the Rema you can derive benefit from wine of a non-Jew. Anyone who bothers to look in the Rema can see that clearly. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 12:52

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