Those who studied the daf this week were forced to challenge their long-rooted understanding of the finer points of the Chanukah miracle.
The Gemara in Shabbos tells us that the Yevanim purposely defiled the oil designated for the Menorah and rendered it tamei, ritually impure. When the Bnei Yisrael retook the Beis HaMikdash, they discovered one jug of oil that was intact with the seal of the kohen gadol. This oil, which was clearly tahor, was enough oil to light the Menorah for one day. Miraculously, they were able to use the oil to light the Menorah for eight days. (The issue of whether the Menorah burned continuously for eight straight days or was relit every day is discussed by the commentators. Simply understood, they fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting the menorah every night.)
The issue is that our Gemara in Pesachim (16a) quotes Rav’s opinion that liquids in the Beis HaMikdash could not become tamei. The rabbis decreed that outside the Beis HaMikdash, liquids such as olive oil are susceptible to tumah; however, in the Beis HaMikdash that rule was suspended. How did Rav understand the Chanukah story? How was it possible, according to his understanding, that the olive oil designated for the Menorah became tamei? Olive oil in the Beis HaMikdash is impervious to tumah!
The commentators offer vastly different approaches to answer this question. The Shoel U’Meishiv suggests that once the Greeks breached the walls of the Beis HaMikdash, it lost some of its sanctity. While the walls were intact, the rabbinic rule that olive oil in the Beis HaMikdash could not become tamei remained in force. After the breach, due to the decreased sanctity, the olive oil became susceptible to tumah. Alternatively, the Pri Chadash suggests that the oil did not become tamei because of a standard source of tumah. Rather, the oil became tamei because it was used in the service of the Greeks’ idols. When a liquid is used for idolatry it can become tamei, even in the Beis HaMikdash.
The Teshuvah Mi’Ahavah suggests that the olive oil in the Beis HaMikdash congealed. All olive oil will congeal at some temperature. Olive oil in that state is considered a food and not a liquid. Hence, congealed olive oil is susceptible to tumah. According to this explanation, if the Chashmonaim had actually found liquid olive oil, no seal of the kohen gadol would have been required. According to Rav, that liquid would have been impervious to tumah. The problem was that all the olive oil became congealed and all the jugs of oil were susceptible to tumah. The only way that they could be sure that the congealed jug of olive oil remained tahor was from the kohen gadol’s seal.
HaRav Finkelman, mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, advises his talmidim not to use pre-filled olive oil cups for the menorah. He remarked that people should get their hands dirty and be more actively involved in the mitzvah. Nevertheless, as one can see, the pre-filled menorah cups have become readily accepted by the masses.
The pre-filled cups have covers that one removes to reveal the oil. Sometimes the seal isn’t tight enough and the oil leaks. Other times the oil may splatter when one tries prying open the tightly sealed cup. One solution to this problem is to use congealed olive oil. Olive oil does not congeal at room temperature and must be adulterated to achieve this effect. Rav Elyashiv opined that any additives to the oil are batul b’shishim and are irrelevant to the following discussion.
There is a mitzvah to use the fuel that burns the nicest for the Chanukah menorah. The Rema adds that there is an extra mitzvah to use olive oil. The miracle of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash occurred with olive oil, so there is a mitzvah to use specifically that. The poskim discuss whether one fulfills this added hiddur with congealed olive oil. There is no question that one certainly fulfills the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah menorah with any oil or wax. The question is solely related to the fulfillment of the added hiddur.
Rav Moshe Shternbach, shlita, advises that one who wants to fulfill the hiddur of olive oil should not use the congealed oil. He reasons that certainly the mitzvah in the Beis HaMikdash was to light using liquid olive oil. The congealed oil is considered a food, and not kosher for the Menorah. If the whole reason to use olive oil is to be similar to the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, one should use olive oil that was permitted for use in the Beis HaMikdash.
Rav Nissim Karelitz, zt’l, was not so sure that one could not use congealed olive oil for the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. But conceptually he agreed that if it was not valid for use, one should not use it for the hiddur of Chanukah either.
The Shevet HaLevi disagreed. While he was of the opinion that congealed oil can’t be used in the Beis HaMikdash, he reasoned that it doesn’t carry over to the hiddurim of Chanukah. After all, one can make the argument that none of the olive oil we use today can be used in the Beis HaMikdash. Only shemen zayis zach was allowed. The Rambam (Issurei Mizbei’ach 7:10) codifies strict rules for what is kosher for the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Since such oil is anyway unavailable, the comparison of the olive oil used in the Chanukah menorah does not have to be complete and cannot be complete with the Temple Menorah. The Shevet HaLevi further points out that the congealed oil melts rather quickly anyway. The main light does come from liquid olive oil. Therefore, it is close enough to the Temple olive oil and may be used even by those seeking a hiddur. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, is reported to have said likewise that congealed olive oil may be used, even initially. The Kovetz Halachos also concurs with this leniency.
Rav Yehuda Aryeh HaLevi (quoted in Beis Aharon Vol. 70, pg. 147) opined based on the aforementioned Teshuvah M’Ahavah that there is actually a hiddur to use congealed oil! The miracle of the oil occurred when the oil became congealed, so the best way to recall that aspect of the story is to use congealed oil.
It seems that the accepted practice is to use the congealed oil without reservation. However, one should ask a halachic authority for practical guidance.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.