What Can I Make Havdalah On Besides Wine?
Written by Rabbis Eli Gersten, Yaakov Luban and Moshe Zywica of the Orthodox Union
When wine is not available, chamar medinah, which is generally understood to mean, “a common beverage,” may be substituted for wine for Kiddush and Havdalah. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 2:75) maintains that chamar medinah is limited to beverages of distinction that are served to guests as a kavod (display of honor). Alcoholic beverages are chamar medinah because they are served to guests even if they are not thirsty, while soda is served to guests only to quench their thirst. Rav Moshe is not certain that milk and tea are drinks of kavod, but nonetheless in his final analysis, he allows milk and tea to be used for Havdalah, in cases of great necessity.
Rav Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg (Radiance of Shabbos, page 74) ruled that soda, orange and apple juice and milk are chamar medinah and may be used for Kiddush and Havdalah. The Aderet (Over Orach 296:2), considers tea and coffee to be chamar medinah, as one would honor a guest with a glass of tea or coffee, but does not consider milk to be chamar medinah.
The Maharsham (Daat Torah 296:2) in a previous Halacha Yomis cited the view of some that chamar medinah is limited to intoxicating beverages. The Maharsham suggests that milk is intoxicating based on Keritot 13b that a cohen may not perform the avodah in the Beit Hamikdash after drinking milk. (Presumably, milk is intoxicating in the sense that it causes drowsiness and affects a person’s mental state.) For the same reason, the Rogitchover (Shu’t Tzofnat Paneach 2:34) considers milk a more suitable choice than tea. On the other hand, Rav Y.D. Soloveichik (Mi’peninei Harav p. 72) rejects the comparison between avodah and chamar medinah. Milk invalidates a cohen for avodah because it causes drowsiness, while chamar medinah is limited to actual intoxication.
In conclusion, there are a wide range of opinions regarding chamar medinah, and it is difficult to make a definitive psak. As such, every effort should be made to use only wine, and when not available, a beverage of intoxication.