In the Biblical period vinegar was prepared either from wine or from cider, the former variety being termed "ḥomeẓ yayin," and the latter "ḥomeẓ shekar." It was used to moisten the flat loaves of the harvesters, and was also drunk when mixed with water, although thirst could not be quenched with it alone.
Since Jewish wine was not allowed to ferment, being intended for the altar, and therefore being necessarily clean Levitically, vinegar, which in Talmudic times was called also "the son of wine," was obtained from the lees or by the addition of barley to the wine or cider. The alteration usually required only three days, and the smell changed before the taste, although some wines were particularly liable to change. Though vinegar could become wine only by a miracle, the price of the former equaled that of the latter, and a fall in the value of the one depressed the rate for the other.
The chief varieties of vinegar were wine-vinegar and cider-vinegar, vinegar of late grapes, vinegar changed by barley, and soured vinegar. Pickles and meat were preserved in vinegar, and lettuce was dipped into it, while "The bitterer the salad of endives, the stronger must be the vinegar" was a Palestinian proverb. Vinegar was used with asafetida, the favorite condiment of antiquity and of the Middle Ages.
The effect of vinegar was astringent, but it was also used frequently because of its soothing and cooling effects. Medicinally, it might be employed for dandruff, and even for dressing wounds, while it was used as a gargle for toothache. Olives were sprinkled with vinegar to free them from their pits; it was used also in dyeing, and in adulterating oil. In view of the liability of wine to change, barrels containing 10 per cent of vinegar were deemed fit for purchase, but the dealer was responsible for a limited period only, except in the case of wine for the Temple, for which he was liable until the wine was used. The Halakah considered the question whether wine and vinegar were to be considered as one, and forbade the use of the vinegar of Gentiles, since it was prepared from forbidden wine. The question was raised whether wine which had turned to vinegar became subject to the prohibition when touched by a Gentile. On account of its calming effect vinegar was forbidden on the Day of Atonement;and the prohibition of vinegar in the case of Nazarites was fully discussed in the Halakah.
The passage in which Ruth was bidden to dip her bread into vinegar (Ruth ii. 14) was interpreted by the Haggadah as referring to Manasseh, one of her descendants, whose deeds were sharp as vinegar. Among the proverbs concerning vinegar, in addition to Prov. x. 26 and xxv. 20, were the following: "Mayest thou have neither vinegar nor salt in thy house!" and "Much vinegar makes the wine cheap."