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Additional Laws of the Four Cups

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
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In memory of Pinhas ben Shalom (Paul) Cymbalista z”l
Niftar 20 Nissan 5752.
Dedicated by his family.
These Pesach Shiurim are dedicated in memory of Sidney Gontownik, 
brother of Jerry Gontownik, 
on the occasion of Sidney's upcoming seventh Yahrzeit, on the 24th of Nissan. 
May his memory be for a blessing.
The Gontownik Family
Dedicated in memory of 
HaRav HaGaon R. Chaim Heller zt"l,
whose yahrzeit falls on the 14th of Nissan,
by Vivian S. Singer.




Regarding the definition of the mitzva of the four cups at the seder and the amount that one must drink, see here. In this shiur, we will address additional aspects of the mitzva of the four cups.

Grape Juice for the Four Cups?

The Talmud (Bava Batra 97b) states that one may use grape juice for kiddush: “A person may squeeze a cluster of grapes and recite kiddush over it.” This is indeed how the Shulchan Arukh rules (272:2). However, the Mishna Berura (ibid. subparagraph 5) rules that while one can fulfill the mitzva with grape juice, it is preferable recite kiddush over aged wine.

Some authorities maintain that although grape juice is acceptable for kiddush, it cannot be used to fulfill the requirement the four cups on seder night. Why not? First, some argue that one displays freedom only by drinking wine (Haggadat Kol Dodi, ch. 3, in the name of R. Moshe Feinstein). Second, some argue that the requirement of being joyful on a festival is only fulfilled by drinking wine (see Pesachim 71a), and one must therefore specifically drink “wine that brings on joyfulness” in order to fulfill the obligation of being joyful on a festival (Mikra’ei Kodesh – Pesach [R. Frank] 2:35 and note, based on Tosafot, Pesachim 108b, s.v. yedei yayin, and Mordekhai, Pesachim 37b).

Nevertheless, the generally accepted ruling is that there is no problem with using grape juice for the four cups. Therefore, if a person finds it difficult to drink wine, and certainly if drinking wine will adversely affect his ability to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt, it is preferable for him to drink grape juice. For such a person, drinking wine is not a display of freedom, but rather a disturbing and depressing experience. The Rambam (7:9) writes that one should dilute the wine with water so that it should be “a pleasant drink.” From this we learn that people who find it difficult to drink wine because of its flavor or because it causes them to have headaches, tiredness, etc. can drink grape juice.[1]

That was the Griz’s custom, as well that of the Chazon Ish and others (Siddur Pesach Ke-Hilkhato, vol. 2, ch. 3, n. 25; Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:243, and others). R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s custom was to use grape juice, but he would mix a little bit of wine into his grape juice (Kol Torah 40 [Nissan 5756]).

One who cannot even drink grape juice can fulfill his obligation with a common beverage of the country, “chamar medina” (Mishna Berura 472:37). What is included in this category? According to R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:75), it is a beverage that it is customarily served to guests as a sign of respect, rather than because they are thirsty (for example, fruit juice or another important beverage).

The Shulchan Arukh adds, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1), that the commandment is performed in a superior way if the wine (or grape juice) is red, unless one has a better white wine.

To summarize: The obligation of the four cups was instituted to demonstrate freedom, as well as to impart importance to the obligations of the night. The cup must hold at least 86 cc (2.9 fl. oz.). Preferably, one should drink the entire cup, or at least a majority of it. It is therefore not advisable to have cups that are much larger than a revi’it. It is preferable to use wine, but grape juice is permissible lekhatchila. Therefore, if a person is afraid that drinking wine will make him tired, etc., he may at the outset drink grape juice.

The Obligation of Women and Children

The Talmud (Pesachim 108a) explains that even though the obligation of the four cups is a positive commandment (by Rabbinic decree) that is time-related (she-hazeman gerama), women are nevertheless obligated to drink the four cups, “for they too were involved in that miracle.” This has been explained in two ways: 1) They too were saved by the same miracle, i.e., rescued from the Egyptian persecution (Tosafot, ad loc.). 2) The rescue came about through the women’s merit (Rashi and Rashbam, ad loc., based on Sota 11b).

The Talmud (ibid. 108b) records a dispute among Tanna’im as to whether children are obligation to drink the four cups. According to the Rabbis, they are obligated, whereas according to R. Yehuda they are exempt, because “what benefit do children derive from wine?” The Rishonim debate as to what age this refers and what the root of the dispute is.

It seems that the Rashbam (ad loc., s.v. ve-echad and ve-khi) is of the opinion that the dispute involves children under educable age. According to R. Yehuda, they are exempt from the four cups, just as they are exempt from all the other commandments, whereas according to the Rabbis, children are required to fulfill this commandment in this specific instance because “they too were redeemed.” According to this, all authorities agree that children who have reached an educable age must drink four cups, just as they are obligated to observe other mitzvot.

However, according to Rabbeinu David (ibid.) and the Ran (23b of the Rif’s pages, s.v. ma), there is no reason to obligate children who are not of educable age to drink the four cups, and the dispute is only with regard to children above that age. According to the Rabbis, they must drink the four cups, just as they are obligated to perform other commandments, whereas according to R. Yehuda, educating children to perform this commandment is not appropriate because drinking wine does not make them happy, and is therefore not a display of freedom for them.

The halakhic conclusion: The Rambam mentions the issue of education only with regard to eating matza (6:10), but not with regard to the four cups (7:7), which seems to imply that he rules in accordance with R. Yehuda that children (even of educable age) are exempt from the mitzva. This explanation of the Rambam was explicitly mentioned by the Peri Chadash (472:15). This also seems to be the Tur’s opinion (472), and the Bach (ibid.) explicitly interprets his opinion this way. The Shulchan Arukh (472:15) also rules that there is no obligation to give children four cups, but regarding children who are of educable age, “it is proper to have each of them have his own cup before him” (see Mishna Berura ibid., subparagraph 46, and Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun, subparagraph 60, where it is explained that this is not an absolute requirement).[2]

Thus, we can conclude that children are not obligated to drink the four cups. However, it is proper to give children who have reached an educable age[3] the four cups to drink and to accustom them to this Rabbinic commandment. In practice, the custom is to give children who are not yet of educable age four cups. It is permissible to give them cups that are smaller than the regular measurement.[4]

Based on that which was mentioned above in terms of using grape juice lekhatchila, children should be given grape juice for the four cups. This is true both because usually children prefer the flavor and because it is not appropriate to accustom them to drinking large quantities of wine, especially in this day and age in which children should to be taught to stay away from alcohol.

It should be added that even although we fill the (older) children’s cups with at least a revi’it,  they need drink only “a mouthful,” i.e., enough to fill one side of the mouth (Mishna Berura 472:47).

Must One Recite a Blessing for Each of the Cups?

According to the Rif (24a in the Rif’s pages) and the Rambam (8:5,10), one must recite the berakha of “boreh peri ha-gafen” for each of the four cups. The Tur (474) agrees with this ruling and mentions it in the name of R. Sherira Gaon and R. Hai Gaon. The Rif gives two reasons for this:

  1. Each cup is a separate obligation in and of itself, and one must therefore recite a berakha for each cup separately.[5]
  2. Between the cups of wine, we recite different sections of the Haggada (between the first and the second, Maggid; between the second and the third, Birkat Ha-Mazon; between the third and the fourth, Hallel). Since it is not permissible to drink while we recite these sections of the Haggada, these periods are considered to be an interruption between the cups, and one must therefore recite a berakha over each of the four cups.[6]

On the other hand, the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or (on the Rif, ibid.), the Rashba (Responsa 1:72), and the Rosh (10:24) are of the opinion that one only recites a blessing for the first and third cups. They reject both reasons given by the Rif:

  1. Even if each cup is considered an obligation in itself, that is still not a reason to recite a blessing over the wine each time, as long as there is no interruption or diversion of attention from the previous blessing.
  2. The times during which one may not eat or drink are not considered to be interruptions, as long as one does not consciously remove himself from involvement in food and drink. Birkat Ha-Mazon, which concludes the meal, is indeed considered to be an interruption and diversion of attention, and as such one must recite a blessing over the third cup, which follows it. However, reciting the Haggada and Hallel do not signify removing oneself from the meal. Therefore one does not recite the blessing over the second and fourth cups, which come after them.

The halakhic conclusion: The Shulchan Arukh (474:1) rules in accordance with the Rosh that one should recite the blessing only on the first and third cups, and this is the custom of Sefardic Jews. It is preferable for them to think of the second cup while reciting the blessing for the first, as well as to think of the fourth cup while reciting the blessing over the third cup, so that the second and fourth cup will be included in the blessing.

However, the Rema (ibid.) rules like the Rif that one is to recite the blessing on each of the four cups, and that is the Ashkenazic custom.[7] The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 474:1) adds that it is appropriate when reciting the blessing on the first cup to specifically have in mind that the blessing does not include the second cup, and while reciting the blessing for the third cup to have in mind that it will not exempt the fourth cup.

There is a difference of opinion among the Rishonim regarding the concluding blessing (berakha achrona) after the wine. In practice, we recite the berakha achrona only after the fourth cup (Shulchan Arukh 474:1).[8]

Intention while Drinking the Four Cups

The first cup is also the cup of Kiddush, and therefore, before making Kiddush, one must have in mind that by making the Kiddush he intends to fulfill the obligation of Kiddush and the obligation of the first of the four cups of wine (Mishna Berura 473:1).

In addition, we have established that drinking the wine as a display of freedom also has an element of publicizing the great miracle that God did for us and our forefathers in the Exodus from Egypt. Therefore, the cups should be drunk with great joy and thanks to God for the miracles and wonders that He did for our nation, and we should teach our family members to do the same.

As mentioned, Ashkenazic Jews should have in mind that the first cup should not exempt the second cup and that the third cup should not include the fourth, whereas Sefardic Jews should do the exact opposite – when drinking the first and third cups they should specifically include the next cup in their blessing.

While reciting the berakha of Shehecheyanu at the end of Kiddush, one should have the intention of including the obligations of the night: the relating of the exodus from Egypt, eating matza, and the four cups. If a person forgot to recite this blessing, he should make the blessing when he remembers, even if it is in the intermediate days of Pesach, up to the end of the last day of the festival (Mishna Berura, ibid.).

Some have the custom of having the head of the household recite Kiddush for everyone, and everyone else must have the intention of fulfilling the obligation by listening to his recital. Others have a custom that on the seder night, when each person has his own cup of wine, everyone recites Kiddush in an undertone along with the head of the household.

Other Laws in Brief

  1. The time of Kiddush

The Shulchan Arukh (472:1) rules, based on the Terumat Ha-Deshen (137), that although generally on Shabbat and festivals one may recite the evening Kiddush before nightfall, on the seder night, one is required to make Kiddush after nightfall. The reason for this is that the Pesach sacrifice was only eaten at night, as the Torah states: “And on this night, they shall eat the meat” (Shemot 12:8). Therefore, the matza and the maror, which were compared to the Pesach sacrifice, must be eaten only at night (Tosafot, Pesachim 99b, s.v. ad shetechshakh, based on Tosefta 2:15). For that reason, too, the recitation of the Haggada must be after nightfall, which is “the time that matza and maror are before you.” The same applies to the four cups, which signify the exodus – they must also be drunk after nightfall. The Taz (472:1) adds that Kiddush is linked to the commandment of eating matza, given that “Kiddush is only valid when a meal takes place thereafter” (be-makom se’uda), and therefore one must recite it at the time that is appropriate for eating matza.

The Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) adds that the table should be set and all the preparations for the seder should be taken care of before the evening, so that it will be possible to begin the seder as early as possible after nightfall.

  1. Pouring the wine for the head of the household

Every single participant at the seder acts as a free person, but in order to demonstrate this more concretely, the head of the household acts in a particularly free manner. That is why the Rema (473:1) writes: “The head of the household should not pour [the wine] for himself, but another should do so for him in a free manner.” There are those who do not do this, and the head of the household pours for himself.[9]

  1. Filling the cup

The Talmud in Berakhot (51a) lists a number of laws relating to the cup to be used, e.g., it must be full, it must be clean both on the outside and on the inside, etc. In the simple sense, the Talmud is referring to the cup used for Birkat Ha-Mazon (Rashi, ad loc.), but the Shulchan Arukh (471:10) rules in accordance with the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 9:7) that the same applies to Kiddush, and according to a number of Rishonim and Acharonim, it appears that these laws also apply to the four cups (Leket Yosher, p. 86; Maharil, Seder Ha-Haggada 9; Chayei Adam 110:10, and others).[10]

As mentioned, the Talmud states that the cup has to be full. What is considered to be a full cup? The Rema (183:2) writes: “He is to fill the cup for the blessing up to the rim.” However, the Taz (183:4, cited in the Mishna Berura ad loc., subparagraph 9) writes that many are accustomed not to fill the cup entirely, evidently because they are concerned with the wine spilling, and thereby being causing embarrassment.[11] In any event, even if the cup is not full, it is acceptable if there is at least a revi’it of wine in the cup (Mishna Berura 183:9).

  1. Holding the cup

The Talmud also addresses the manner in which one is to hold the cup: “He takes it with both his hands, and places it in his right hand, and he then raises it a handbreadth from the ground, looks as it, etc.” The Shulchan Arukh (183:4) rules in accordance with this.

Thus, one should pick up the cup with both hands and afterwards transfer it to his right hand.[12] (A left-handed person should hold the cup with his left hand [ibid., 5], although there are those who use the right hand nonetheless; see Kaf Ha-Chaim, subparagraph 29, based on the Zohar.) After the cup is held in the right hand without the assistance of the left hand,[13] one raises the cup a handbreadth (8 cm., somewhat over 3 inches) above the table and begins to recite the blessing. During the blessing, one should look at the cup in order not to divert his attention from it. All of these are just refinements of the performance of the obligation, but if they are not done, it is acceptable (Mishna Berura 183:20).

  1. Disposable cups

According to R. Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe 3:39), disposable cups are not valid for ritual use, as cups for ritual use must be intact (Shulchan Arukh 183:3), and even the slightest external crack in the cup renders it invalid (Magen Avraham, ad loc. subparagraph 5), and if such an aesthetic defect renders the cup invalid, that is all the more true when the material of which the utensil is made is of inferior quality and will be discarded once it has been used.

In contrast, the Tzitz Eliezer (12:23) maintains that one may use such cups lekhatchila, as they were manufactured specifically in that way (and according to him they are better than regular cups which cracked). This is especially true when these cups can be used a number of times and are only thrown away because they are inexpensive.

In practice, it is preferable lekhatchila not to use simple disposable cups for the four cups, Kiddush, Havdala, etc. However, if these are the only cups available, they may be used. One may use disposable cups lekhatchila if they are aesthetic and relatively strong. Although they are defined as disposable, many people reuse them due to their durability and beauty.

  1. The order of the Kiddush on Motza’ei Shabbat

When the seder takes place on a Motza’ei Shabbat, the order of the Kiddush recited can be referenced by the mnemonic YaKNeHaZ: namely Yayin – the berakha on wine; Kiddush – the Kiddush text; Ner – the berakha on the havdala candle; Havdala – the berakha of “Ha-Mavdil Bein Kodesh Le-Chol;” and finally Zeman – the berakha of Shehecheyanu.

  1. Drinking between cups

The mishna (117b) states that one may not drink wine between the third and fourth cups, but one may drink between the other cups. However, the Beit Yosef (473) quotes the Kolbo and Rabbi Yehonatan, who explain that the mishna might be telling us that one it is only permissible to drink between the second and third cups, i.e., during the meal, but one may not drink between the first and second cups, lest the person become drunk and unable to read the Haggada. This is the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (473:3), as well as that of the Mishna Berura (ad loc., subparagraph 14). However, under the strict letter of the law, one may drink non-alcoholic beverages between the first and second cups (Mishna Berura, ibid. subparagraph 16).[14] In such a case, one would assume that he should not recite a blessing before drinking, because it would be covered by the berakha of the wine (as long as the drink was on the table at the time of Kiddush, or if he intended to have the blessing of Kiddush cover anything that would be brought to him later to drink; see Mishna Berura, ibid., 13). However, there is reason to question this (see Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun 473:18), and it is therefore preferable to specifically have in mind at the time of reciting the berakha over the four cups to include any other beverages that may later be brought.

[Adapted from R. Yosef Zvi Rimon’s book, The Seder Night – Kinor David (Jerusalem, 2014), available here or here.]


[1] It is true that the Talmud (Nedarim 49b) relates that when R. Yehuda would drink the four cups on Pesach, he would have a headache until Shavuot, and it appears from this that a person should force himself to drink wine even if it is very difficult for him, which is in fact the Rashba’s ruling (Responsa Rashba 1:237), as well as the ruling in the Shulchan Arukh (472:10). However, several observations are in order.

a) The Mishna Berura explains that even according to the Rashba and the Shulchan Arukh, if one would become sick by drinking wine, he does not have to drink it, because that does not express freedom.

b) The case mentioned in the Talmud is about one who enjoys drinking wine, although it will cause him suffering later on. We cannot derive from this that a person who does not enjoy drinking wine and suffers from the actual experience is obligated to drink wine, because in this case it is not a display of freedom. It is true that both the Rashba and the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) write that even one who detests wine must still force himself to drink it. Yet this can be explained as referring to a person who does not particularly enjoy wine. However, one who in all truth detests wine and drinking it causes him agony is exempt from drinking wine because forcing him to drink it would be the exact opposite of an experience of freedom. R. Elyashiv (see Siddur Pesach Ke-Hilchato, vol. 2, ch. 3, n. 9) agrees with this ruling.

c) The Talmud refers to a person who has difficulty drinking even the grape juice or to one who does not have grape juice etc. This person must force himself to drink wine, and he is not exempt from the obligation due to his difficulty in fulfilling it. However, one who can fulfill the obligation by drinking grape juice (or even by using a common respectable beverage [chamar medina] – Mishna Berura, subparagraph 27) certainly need not force himself to drink specifically wine. This is true even when drinking wine will result in a minor discomfort, and certainly it is the case if the result will be dizziness or fatigue that would inhibit the relating of the exodus from Egypt, which is the major requirement of the night. There is no reason to be stringent in regard to the four cups, which is a Rabbinic ordinance, and thereby affect the relating of the exodus from Egypt, which is a Torah commandment.

If that is so, why did R. Yehuda not drink grape juice? The answer is simple. Today, grape juice is available throughout the entire year, but in the past it was only available during the season when the grapes were being harvested. (It is difficult to preserve grape juice, as it quickly turns into vinegar unless one pasteurizes or refrigerates it.) This is the reason that the Talmud does not say that one recites kiddush over grape juice, but rather that one may squeeze the grapes and then recite kiddush. In other words, in ancient times, people did not keep the grape juice in the house; rather, they would squeeze the grapes right before Shabbat and then recite kiddush over the juice. Therefore, since Pesach is celebrated at a time of year when the grapes are not available, R. Yehuda could not fulfill the four cups with grape juice.

[2] The Peri Chadash himself ruled in accordance with the opinion of the Rabbis that children of educable age are obligated to drink the four cups just as they are obligated to fulfill other commandments. However, children who have not reached educable age are, in his opinion, exempt.

[3] Educable age for this matter is about five years old (see Shulchan Arukh 640:2 and commentators), provided that the child is old enough to understand the concept of the Haggada and the story of the exodus (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 472:25).

[4] See Chok Ya’akov (472:27), who writes in the name of the Maharil that according to the simple interpretation of the Talmud, even children under educable age are obligated to drink four cups (which is the Rashbam’s understanding of the Rabbis opinion), yet they may be given less than a revi’it.

[5] Rabbenu David (Pesachim 109b, s.v. Ravina) notes that this does not mean that each cup is a mitzva in itself; the Sages ordained that one must drink four cups in an expression of freedom, and a person who drinks fewer than that number of cups has not fulfilled the commandment. He therefore explains that because each cup is accompanied by one of the segments of the Haggada (Kiddush, Haggada, the Birkat Ha-Mazon, Hallel), each has importance in its own right. It is still difficult to understand the Rif’s opinion, because the blessing for wine, “Borei Peri Ha-Gafen,” is not a blessing of the type that is recited before fulfilling a commandment, but is rather a blessing of the type recited for physical enjoyment. The rule regarding this type of berakha is that as long as there is no interruption since the berakha was recited, there is no need to recite another berakha. Tosafot Rabbenu Peretz (Pesachim 103b, s.v. Rav Ashi, mentioned in the Mordechai, Pesachim 36b) explains that since each cup is accompanied by a separate obligation, that creates the interruption between the cups, and therefore one needs to recite a berakha for each. Similarly, the Taz (474:1) writes that it is as if a person had made a condition at the time of the blessing that he wants the blessing on the wine to relate only to that cup of wine.

[6] This view is explained at length by the Ramban (Milchamot Hashem on the Rif, ibid.) and Ran (on the Rif, ibid.).

[7] A number of Acharonim write that even though the Rif’s second reason was not accepted within Halakha – as in the laws of blessings we rule that fulfilling a commandment in the middle of a meal is not considered to be an interruption, even if at that time one is forbidden to eat or drink (see Shulchan Arukh 178:6) – we nevertheless accept the Rif’s opinion because of the first reason (Maharshal, Yam shel Shlomo, Chullin 6:10; Taz 474:1; Magen Avraham 474:1:1).

[8] The reason is that even if we say that reciting the Haggada, the Birkat Ha-Mazon, and Hallel are considered to be interruptions (hefsek), as in the view of the Rif, there is only significance to an interruption or diversion of attention with regard to the initial blessing, and not with regard to the concluding blessing (Ramban, Milchamot Hashem 24b in the pages of the Rif; Ran ad loc.). The initial blessing must be close to the actual eating, and thus one must take care not to have any interruption or diversion of attention between the blessing and the eating, whereas the concluding blessing need not be close to the eating, but can be recited later on, as long as one is still satiated (Rosh, Chullin 6:5). See also Mikra’ei Kodesh – Pesach 2:30 and Minchat Shlomo 18:10, who discuss the question as to why we do not recite a concluding blessing after the first cup, even when we spend much time relating the Exodus from Egypt beyond the time that the wine has been digested, before drinking the second cup.

[9] There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom: a) When the Talmud and the Rabbinic authorities mention pouring, it refers to mixing strong wine with water in order to dilute its potency, and this is not the type of action a free man would take. However, pouring wine into a cup does not disturb the freedom of the person, because even important people pour for themselves (see Va-Yaged Moshe 6:11). b) Arukh Ha-Shulchan (473:6) writes that to ask someone else to pour for you suggests haughtiness. (However, if others realize that this is merely a symbolic gesture and the head of the household thereby represents everyone else, there is no haughtiness involved.)

[10] However, from the Rema (472:15) it appears that the laws of the cup used for Kiddush only apply to the first cup, that of Kiddush, and the third cup, that of the Birkat Ha-Mazon, and not to the second and fourth cups.

[11] Mevakshei Torah, part II, p. 565, writes in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach not to fill the cup entirely, but in the way one would fill it when giving it to an important person: “That which is customary among people in Kiddush and other times which require a cup: to fill the cup up to the very top is not proper. A “full” cup means that it must be close to full ... for it is not respectful to an important person to be honored with so full a cup.”

[12] “I heard from my father, of blessed memory, that this is to show how high a regard one has in picking up the cup, where he wants with all his might to receive it, and afterwards he should hold it with one hand, so that it should not appear to be a burden to him. In any event, the right hand is the important one, which is more important in honor of the cup” (Taz 183:2).

[13] Based on Kabbala (mentioned in the Mishna Berura 183:15, in the name of the Shela), one should hold the cup in the palm of one’s hands, with the fingers straight along the sides.

[14] However, according to the Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (473:13), one should not to drink any beverages that are considered to be chamar medina, “beverages of the country,” if he will have to recite the preliminary berakha, such as if he did not intend to drink any other beverages at the time of the blessing and they were not on the table at that time. The reason for this is that in such a case, it appears that he is adding beyond the four cups (cited in the Mishna Berura 479:5). According to the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (473:7), one should refrain from drinking any beverage except for water.

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