Flying High – A Traveler’s Guide to Kindling the Menorah

Question #1: “Rabbi…” I recognize Shlomo Rabinowitz’s voice on the phone. “My company is sending me to Japan next week, right in the middle of Chanukah,” he continues, “and to top it off, one of my flights has me on the plane the entire candle lighting time. How do I fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights five miles above earth? Furthermore, in Japan I will be busy at conferences all day long. Where and when will I light my menorah there? Can I kindle in a corner of the conference room?”

Question #2: Rav Mordechai, a fundraiser acquaintance of mine, asked me how to fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah when he is out of town soliciting tzedakah until late in the evening.

Question #3: The Schwartz family is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town. May they kindle the menorah at their friends’ home on motzei Shabbos, or must they wait until they return home?

(Although all names have been changed, each of these cases reflects an actual shaylah people asked me.)

True, most of us will not be collecting funds all of Chanukah or flying to Japan. However, resolving these shaylos provides a good opportunity to explain the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah in greater depth. First, we will go through the basics of the mitzvah, and then we will examine the details that apply to travelers.

Every Jew must light Chanukah lights or have an agent kindle for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). Many people do not know that the basic mitzvah requires kindling only one flame, whether oil or candle, for the entire household on each night of Chanukah, regardless of which night of Chanukah it is, and regardless of how many people live in one’s house (Shabbos 21b). Kindling the additional lights is in order to observe the mitzvah according to the exemplary standard that the Gemara terms mehadrin min hamehadrin.

In places where the custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, which is the predominant practice among Sefardim, the person who kindles functions as an agent for the rest of the family. Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is the common Ashkenazic practice, married women do not usually light (Elyah Rabbah 671:3; Mishnah Berurah 671:9), and most people have the custom that single girls do not either (Shu’t Shaar Efrayim #42; see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamihadrin and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). According to both the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic approach, the head of the household fulfills the mitzvah for those family members who do not light for themselves. In fact, he is their agent not only for the kindling, but also for the brachos he recites before lighting. (The difference between the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic custom reflects different interpretations of mehadrin min hamehadrin.)

WHAT ABOUT A GUEST?

So far, we discussed how the regular household members fulfill their mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. However, what about a guest who is not a regular member of the household? Does he have his own obligation to kindle Ner Chanukah or does the head of household’s kindling exempt him as it does the regular household residents? If he has his own obligation, how does he fulfill this mitzvah? The Gemara (Shabbos 23a) discusses this question in the following passage:

“Rav Sheishes said, ‘A guest is obligated in Ner Chanukah.’ Rav Zeira said, ‘Initially, when I was in Yeshiva, I paid my host a coin to include myself in his Ner Chanukah. Now that I am married but am still occasionally away in Yeshiva for Chanukah, I do not need to pay my host where I am staying because my wife kindles on my behalf in my house.’”

We see here that a guest must observe the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah himself and not through the head of household’s lighting. Rav Zeira described two methods whereby the guest can fulfill his requirement without actually kindling his own menorah. The first method is to become a partner in the candles or oil of his host, which he does by purchasing ownership in them. (An alternative way of fulfilling this approach is for the guest to acquire a portion in the items by picking them up with his host’s permission.)

The second method Rav Zeira suggests is when the guest is a member of his own household, although he is not with them for Chanukah. In this case, he is automatically included when his family kindles, even though he is not home.

By the way, the guest can fulfill his mitzvah in a third way — by kindling his own menorah in his host’s house. However, in this instance, if he wants to recite a bracha on his own kindling, he should decide that he is following this approach before his wife kindles (Mishnah Berurah 677:15). Otherwise, since he has already fulfilled his responsibility to perform the mitzvah through his wife’s kindling in his house, his own kindling is unnecessary and a bracha recited before kindling them is levatalah, in vain.

WHAT ABOUT TIME ZONES?

What happens if the guest is in a different time zone from his family? Can the guest fulfill his mitzvah with his family’s kindling even though he is in a different time zone?

The poskim who discuss this shaylah dispute whether one fulfills the mitzvah with his family’s lighting if their lighting takes place at a time when there is no mitzvah to kindle Ner Chanukah in his time zone. According to many, an Israeli resident visiting the United States will not fulfill the mitzvah through his family’s kindling and vice versa (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 7:46; however, see Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2 pg. 261, that Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach disagrees). Minchas Shelomoh II:56:2 s.v. ומ”מ (red edition) contends that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household; a guest has no household and therefore has his own mitzvah. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Rav Shelomoh Zalman held that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household when you are east of your family – it could be that he held this way only when you are west of the family, and thus they have fulfilled their chiyuv already and you never become chayov in the mitzvah. But where the individual is east of his family, and thus becomes chayov earlier, it could be that the halacha is different.

Nevertheless, someone traveling within the United States might fulfill his or her mitzvah through the kindling at home if the family kindles when people are still frequenting the streets in the city that he/she is visiting.

According to our analysis, if Shlomo Rabinowitz was flying from Chicago to New York instead of Japan, he could rely on the candle lighting in his house since the candles will be kindled at a time that he is obligated in Ner Chanukah. (We will discuss shortly whether he recites the bracha she’asah nissim upon arrival in New York.) However, if he is in Asia, it is unclear whether he can rely on his family’s menorah since his family will kindle the lights at a time when he cannot perform the mitzvah.

WHAT IF SOMEONE HAS NO REAL RESIDENCE ON CHANUKAH?

Rashi (Shabbos 23a) cites the following case: Someone traveling by boat who is unable to light a menorah should recite the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu (on the first night of Chanukah) when he sees a kindled menorah, even though he is not kindling himself. In other words, one recites the bracha of she’asah nissim in commemoration of the miracle of the lights and not for the actual mitzvah of kindling. Similarly, we recite the bracha shehechiyanu for seeing the lights of the menorah, not for fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling. However, in both instances one recites the bracha only on a menorah that fulfills the mitzvah, and not on a menorah lit in a shul or other public place. Kindling menorah in a shul or other public place is only a custom and does not fulfill the mitzvah (Shu’t Rivosh #111).

However, we still need to explore whether an airplane has the same halacha as the boat discussed by Rashi. To explain the possible difference, we will first discuss a teshuvah authored by Rav Shalom Mordechai Shvadron, the famous Maharsham of Brezan, the posek of his generation (late 19th century – early 20th century Galicia) about kindling menorah while riding a train.

RIDING THE TRAIN

Rav Shimon Valtuch, the Rav of Leipzig, Germany, sent a shaylah to the Maharsham asking whether someone traveling by train should light his Chanukah menorah on board. The Maharsham ruled that since he has paid for the entire night, it is as if he rented a house to eat and sleep, and the obligations of Ner Chanukah apply on the train.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOAT AND THE TRAIN?

But if so, why does Rashi rule that someone traveling by boat cannot fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights and instead recites the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu on the lights he sees on shore. Why does the Maharsham give a different ruling concerning a train than Rashi ruled concerning someone traveling by boat? The Maharsham explains that Rashi’s case involved an unroofed boat which cannot qualify as a house since it does not provide adequate shelter. This implies that someone spending Chanukah on a cruise ship or even on a yacht would have a mitzvah of kindling menorah on board.

The Maharsham considers whether the train is the same as a house even though it is constantly moving, and rules that this makes no difference. Thus, someone in a house trailer should kindle a menorah in its window, even if the trailer is on the move. However, it is unclear whether someone spending Chanukah night traveling in a car or truck should kindle Ner Chanukah there, since he has nowhere to sleep properly. Therefore, it might not be considered as lodging.

In addition, we should note that there is evidence that other authorities contemporaneous to the Maharsham did not accept his opinion, but felt that one fulfills the mitzvah only in a proper residence.

TRAVELING IN STYLE

There are two common ways of traveling by train – either in a private compartment, or, more commonly, on a seat in a public compartment. Since the Maharsham seems to consider even the second case enough of a lodging to light, this implies that one’s seat on a plane is also considered sufficient “lodging” to require kindling Chanukah lights on board.

Because of safety considerations, no one will permit you to kindle a menorah on an airplane. However, according to those opinions that one may fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights with a flashlight or an electric light (a subject we will iy”H discuss a different time), Shlomo Rabinowitz traveling to Japan in the middle of Chanukah has an interesting solution to his predicament. He can take a flashlight or other battery operated light onto the plane with him, turn it on for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah, and leave it burning for half an hour. Although this is only one light, I noted above that one fulfills the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah by kindling only one light. (If practical, he could bring along a few flashlights and fulfill the mitzvah mehadrin min hamehadrin.) For those interested in following this approach, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach contends that it is preferable to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah with a battery-operated light over other electric lights (Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2, pg. 283).

CAN HE KINDLE IN THE CONFERENCE ROOM?

Although kindling in the conference room may inform everyone that it is Chanukah, one does not fulfill the mitzvah with these lights, because one fulfills the mitzvah only in one’s residence.

LIGHTING IN A HOTEL

Does Shlomo Rabinowitz fulfill the mitzvah by kindling in his hotel room?

Yes, because the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is fulfilled even in a place that is his home for only one night (Chovas Hadar, Ner Chanukah 2:9).

SHOULD ONE PLACE THE MENORAH IN THE WINDOW OF HIS HOTEL ROOM?

If people can see the lit menorah from outside, it is preferable to light in a window. If no one can see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.

WHEN MUST HE KINDLE THE MENORAH?

Ideally, he should kindle the menorah around nightfall wherever he is. However, if this is not practical, he may fulfill the mitzvah at any time that it is common to find people in the streets of the town that he is visiting. If he cannot return to his room until even later than this time, he should kindle the menorah without reciting the brachos. This is assuming he is traveling alone. If he is traveling with someone else who is Jewish, he can recite the brachos even late at night, provided that both of them are awake to witness the kindling (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:215).

What about Rav Mordechai, our fund raiser? How does he fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah while he solicits tzedakah the entire evening?

I suggested that he appoint an agent (a shaliach) at the place where he is sleeping to kindle the menorah on his behalf. Alternatively, he could acquire partial ownership in the oil of his host’s menorah by paying him a token sum of money.

VISITING DURING CHANUKAH

Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner and I am not staying overnight?

Many people mistakenly think that one may fulfill the mitzvah by kindling the menorah at someone else’s house while visiting. I know of people who invite guests to their house for menorah kindling and dinner. The problem is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house, and kindling at the friend’s house does not fulfill the mitzvah. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then leave to join the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).

WHAT ABOUT THE SCHWARTZES?

Remember the Schwartz family that is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town? Must they come home to kindle on motzei Shabbos, or can they kindle at the home where they were Shabbos guests?

If one spends Shabbos at someone’s house, he may kindle the menorah there on Motzaei Shabbos (Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that one remain near the menorah until it has burned for a half-hour (see Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:394).

The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Shabbos and Ner Chanukah will merit to have sons who are Talmidei Chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling — since all observant Jews kindle these lights, why are there not many more Talmidei Chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this promise only applies to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). So it is certainly worthwhile to thoroughly review the halachos of Chanukah lights before the wonderful days of Chanukah catch up with us.

 

Non-Edible Oils for Lighting the Menorah

How is olive oil produced?

There are approximately seven hundred olive varieties, or cultivars, whose distinctive tastes and aromas are developed and marketed, just as viniculture develops distinctive varieties of fine wine. Specialty olive oil producers have mastered the methods whereby they breed, grow, and produce their oil. The highest quality olive oil is produced by painstakingly harvesting the fruit by hand to assure that it is not damaged, even though this method drives up the cost tremendously. Olives for quality oils are picked and milled within hours, to minimize oxidation and enzymatic reactions, which leave unpleasant tastes and odors in the oil and decrease its fragrant qualities. These bouquet oils, like vintage wines, compete among connoisseurs for their taste. These oils are the Rolls-Royce of the olive industry and are sold privately or in gourmet shops, similar to the way one would acquire vintage wines.

Olives are almost unique among oil sources, in that olive oil can be consumed in its crude form without refining. Almost all other edible oils: soy, canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, palm, etc., require extensive refining using heat and chemicals to make the oil palatable. Furthermore, unrefined olive oil conserves most of its nutrients, whereas refining often destroys them.

What is extra virgin oil, and what is virgin oil?

Oil produced without refining is called virgin or cold-press oil. The term cold press can have many meanings, but in common parlance it refers to oil that is extracted without heating the olives or the use of chemicals. However, one should bear in mind that the term “cold press” actually has no legal meaning. Someone selling refined oil as cold press would be violating an industry standard, but cannot be prosecuted for violating the law. It is also important to note that the term virgin oil has no legal meaning in the United States, although there are many countries in the world where the term has a legal meaning. In those countries, someone selling refined olive oil as virgin oil can be prosecuted. However, someone selling refined oil as virgin olive oil in the United States is exempt from prosecution, either civil or criminal.

There are four categories of virgin oil: extra virgin, virgin, ordinary virgin and virgin lamp oil.

Extra virgin oil

The official Italian standard for extra virgin oil is that its taste is excellent and has no defects, and that the oil has an acid content of less than 1%. The lower the acid content, the better the taste. Extra virgin oil is the Cadillac of the olive industry.

Virgin oil is not required to meet as high a standard for taste, but still has a positive taste profile, and can have an acid content of up to 2%.

Ordinary virgin oil

Never heard of this? There is a reason why – either its taste is considered inferior or its acid content is greater than 2%. These are the Chevies of the olive industry. Usually, this oil undergoes further processing, which is called refining, to remove the excess acid and make it more palatable, and the resulting product should not be called virgin oil, but should be sold as “refined olive oil” or “olive oil” missing the adjective “virgin.” This is the type of olive oil that is used in canned sardines packed in olive oil.

Technically, if the oil is exclusively refined olive oil it may not be sold as “olive oil,” but if it is a blend of “refined olive oil” and “ordinary virgin” oil it can be called “olive oil.”

Virgin lamp oil

The most inferior category of cold press or virgin oil is called virgin lamp oil, or sometimes by its Italian name – lampante. This is oil whose taste is considered inedible, and therefore will probably not be used for food, but more likely for kindling or other non-food use. This raises a very interesting observation, since the Torah was more concerned that the oil used for kindling in the Menorah in the Mishkan should be only of the highest quality and was less concerned about the quality of oil used to produce the korbanos mincha, the meal offerings. This curiosity is not lost on the Midrash:

In the custom of the world, if someone has bad oil, he kindles it, and his good oil he cooks with. In the Ohel Moed and the Mikdash, one did not do this. Only the purest oil went for lighting, and the second quality went for the menachos (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 6).

Olive oil for kindling

Olive oil for kindling is usually refined from inferior oil not considered acceptable for human consumption. Is there any halachic problem with use of this oil for kindling Chanukah lights?

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this issue is the Rashba, in his Toras Habayis (Bayis IV, Shaar I, page 28), the work he wrote, as the title suggests, as a handbook for proper household mitzvah observance. In his discussion about kashrus, he mentions the case where someone discovered a mouse in the oil he had intended to use for food, and whether this oil can now be donated to illuminate a shul. The Rashba compares this to the Talmudic discussion that results from the prophet Malachi’s (1:8) derisive rebuke: “And when they offer a blind animal as an offering, have they perpetrated no evil? And when they offer a lame or sick animal, is this not evil? And if they offered it to their idol, would he accept it or view it favorably?” We see from this verse that it is unacceptable to offer an inferior item in the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara then derives from this verse that one may not use inferior items for Kiddush or to perform other mitzvos. One should use only quality items for serving Hashem, not items for which one has no other use. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 154:19) specifically includes the oil one uses for Ner Chanukah under this prohibition.

Regarding  our mouse in the cooking oil, the Rashba concludes that if the oil is halachically not kosher, one may not use it to illuminate the shul, similar to the prohibition against use of a sick or otherwise inferior animal as a korban. However, if the oil is halachically permitted to eat, such as when the rodent parts can be filtered out, one may kindle this oil in shul. The rationale appears to be that one is not attempting to pawn off inferior items by using them for a sacred purpose, which is the despicable activity that Malachi decried. When one could use the item for oneself, but chose not to, it is appropriate to use it for a mitzvah.

Other authorities prohibit lighting shul lamps with this contaminated oil, even when it is halachically kosher and one could eat it (Magen Avraham 154:19, quoting several earlier authorities). These authorities contend that serving Hashem with an item that one personally considers disgusting is prohibited.

Based on the above discussion, I have heard people say that one may not use oil that one cannot or would not eat, either because of kashrus concerns or because of health concerns, for Chanukah lights. It is very common to find olive oil sold as “not for human consumption,” or “for kindling only,” either because the solvents or other chemicals used to extract or refine the oil were not food grade, or because this oil was produced from inferior olives or in such a way that the oil tastes bitter, or the oil was prepared in a less than sanitary environment. Are we indeed required to purchase the far more expensive food-grade olive oil for the menorah?

One may argue that, in this case, the oil does not have a disgusting appearance, as opposed to Malachi’s lame and blind animals. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 154:12) implies that it is a concern only if the oil appears to be disgusting: If you found a mouse in the oil meant for synagogue use, if it is disgusting, one may not kindle it in the synagogue.

In addition, Malachi’s lame and blind animals would be unable to be worked and therefore may have no suitable use other than being offered as korbanos ­­-– and perhaps this is exactly the prophet’s concern.

Several authorities permitted kindling Chanukah lights with oil that is too bitter for consumption (Ben Ish Chai, Vayeisheiv 12; Kaf Hachayim 673:11). It seems to this author that our case is comparable to their ruling, and that it is permitted to purchase lamp oil for one’s menorah.

Conclusion

Whereas Shabbos and most of our holidays include festivities that we celebrate with the use of wine, on Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle that happened with the olive oil in the Beis Hamikdash. Many of our customs, including the consumption of doughnuts and latkes, are to remind us of the miracle of the oil.

It is interesting to note the many comparisons made between olives and grapes, and this also has halachic overtones. Both vineyards and olive groves are called kerem in Tanach and Mishnaic Hebrew (see Berachos 35a). Wine and olive oil are the only fruit products used in korbanos on the mizbeiach. They are the only liquids whose brocha is not shehakol, but is ha’eitz in the instance of olive oil, and hagefen for wine or grape juice. They both have the halachic distinctiveness of being the only fruit with a Torah requirement of separating terumos and maasros; and they are the only fruits that may be squeezed for their product when they have terumah sanctity.

On the other hand, there is an interesting technical difference between grapes and olives, one with major hashkafic ramifications. Whereas it requires much tending to coax the vine to produce quality wine grapes, the olive tree requires relatively little attention to produce quality olive oil. Once one has chosen the proper site for planting the trees, the main efforts required to produce quality oil are to harvest the olives exactly when they are ready and to crush them immediately without damaging them. Any delay reduces significantly the quality of the oil extracted. This is also reflected in the halacha, which rules that one may harvest and process olives on Chol Hamoed, when work is usually prohibited, because delaying causes major loss (Mishnah, Moed Katan 11b).

The root of the word Chanukah is the same as that of chinuch; both instances include the concept of training or the beginning of performing mitzvos. Thus, the true, correct translation of chinuch is not education, but training.  Similar to the grape, some children require constant involvement in their education. If you take your eyes off their chinuch for a moment, they will be in trouble. However, when you attend to them carefully and constantly, they’ll produce high quality wine. Other children resemble the olive. They require less overseeing. Once they are planted correctly, they will do fine if left to grow on their own. This is indeed a manifestation of the other aspect of chinuch/Chanukah. As parents and teachers, it is our task to understand our children and apply the correct approach to maximize the potential of each child. As Mishlei (Proverbs) tells us, chanoch lanaar al pi darko, each child needs to be trained according to his own specific requirements.

May the lights of Chanukah symbolize for us the dedication of our ancestors to guiding their children and students in the way of Torah, and serve as a beacon for us to continue in that mission.

 

Non-Edible Oils for Lighting the Menorah

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How is olive oil produced?

There are approximately seven hundred olive varieties, or cultivars, whose distinctive tastes and aromas are developed and marketed, just as viniculture develops distinctive varieties of fine wine. Specialty olive oil producers have mastered the methods whereby they breed, grow, and produce their oil. The highest quality olive oil is produced by painstakingly harvesting the fruit by hand to assure that it is not damaged, even though this method drives up the cost tremendously. Olives for quality oils are picked and milled within hours, to minimize oxidation and enzymatic reactions, which leave unpleasant tastes and odors in the oil and decrease its taste and fragrant qualities. These bouquet oils, like vintage wines, compete among connoisseurs for their taste. These oils are the Rolls-Royce of the olive industry and are sold privately or in gourmet shops, similar to the way one would acquire vintage wines.

Olives are almost unique among oil sources in that olive oil can be consumed in its crude form without refining. Almost all other edible oils: soy, canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, palm, etc. require extensive refining using heat and chemicals to make the oil palatable. Furthermore, unrefined olive oil conserves most of its nutrients, whereas refining often destroys them.

What is extra virgin oil, and what is virgin oil?

The oil produced by the methods described above is called virgin or cold-press oil. The term cold press can have many meanings, but in common parlance it refers to oil that is extracted without heating the olives or the use of chemicals. However, one should bear in mind that the term "cold press" actually has no legal meaning. Someone selling refined oil as cold press would be violating an industry standard, but cannot be prosecuted for violating the law. It is also important to note that the term virgin oil has no legal meaning in the United States, although there are many countries in the world where the term has a legal meaning. In those countries, someone selling refined olive oil as virgin oil can be prosecuted for violating the law. However, someone selling refined oil as virgin olive oil in the United States is exempt from prosecution, either civil or criminal.

There are four categories of virgin oil: extra virgin, virgin, ordinary virgin and virgin lamp oil.

Extra virgin oil

The official Italian standard for extra virgin oil is that its taste is excellent and has no defects, and that the oil has an acid content of less than 1%. The lower the acid content, the better the taste. Extra virgin oil is the Cadillac of the olive industry.

Virgin oil is not required to meet as high a standard for taste, but still has a positive taste profile, and contains acid content of up to 2%.

Ordinary virgin oil

Never heard of this? There is a reason why – either its taste is considered inferior or its acid content is greater than 2%. These are the Chevies of the olive industry. Usually, this oil undergoes further processing, which is called refining, to remove the excess acid and make it more palatable, and the resulting product should not be called virgin oil, but should be sold as "refined olive oil" or "olive oil" missing the adjective "virgin." Technically, if the oil is exclusively refined olive oil it may not be sold as "olive oil," but if it is a blend of "refined olive oil" and "ordinary virgin" oil it can be called "olive oil." This is the type of olive oil that is used in canned sardines packed in olive oil.

Virgin lamp oil

The most inferior category of cold press or virgin oil is called virgin lamp oil, or sometimes by its Italian name – lampante. This is oil whose taste is considered inedible, and therefore will probably not be used for food, but more likely for kindling or other non-food use. This raises a very interesting observation, since the Torah was more concerned that the oil used for kindling in the Menorah in the Mishkan should be only of the highest quality and was less concerned about the quality of oil used to produce the korbanos mincha, the meal offerings. This curiosity is not lost on the Midrash

In the custom of the world, if someone has bad oil, he kindles it, and his good oil he cooks with. In the ohel moed and the Mikdash, one did not do this. Only the purest oil went for lighting, and the second quality went for the menachos (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 6).

Olive oil for kindling

Olive oil for kindling is usually refined from inferior oil not considered acceptable for human consumption. Is there any halachic problem with use of this oil for kindling Chanukah lights?

The earliest source that I found who discusses this issue is the Rashba, in his Toras Habayis (Bayis IV, Shaar I, page 28), the work he wrote, as the title suggests, as a handbook for proper household mitzvah observance. In his discussion about kashrus, he mentions the case where someone discovered a mouse in the oil he had intended to use for food, and whether this oil can now be donated to illuminate a shul. The Rashba compares this to the Talmudic discussion that results from the prophet Malachi’s (1:8) derisive rebuke: “And when they offer a blind animal as an offering, have they perpetrated no evil? And when they offer a lame or sick animal, is this not evil? And if they offered it to their idol, would he accept it or view it favorably?” We see from this verse that it is unacceptable to offer an inferior item in the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara then derives from this verse that one may not use inferior items for Kiddush or to perform other mitzvos. One should use only quality items for serving Hashem, not items for which one has no other use. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 154:19) specifically includes the oil one uses for Ner Chanukah under this prohibition.

Returning to our mouse in the cooking oil, the Rashba concludes that if the oil is halachically not kosher, one may not use it to illuminate the shul, similar to the prohibition against use of a sick or otherwise inferior animal as a korban. However, if the oil is halachically permitted to eat, such as when the rodent parts can be filtered out, one may kindle this oil in shul. The rationale appears to be that one is not attempting to pawn off inferior items by using them for a sacred purpose, which is the despicable activity that Malachi decried. When one could use the item for oneself, but chose not to, it is appropriate to use it for a mitzvah.

Other authorities prohibit lighting shul lamps with this contaminated oil even when it is halachically kosher and one could eat it (Magen Avraham 154:19, quoting several earlier authorities). These authorities contend that serving Hashem with an item that one personally considers disgusting is prohibited.

Based on the above discussion, I have heard people say that they use oil that one cannot or would not eat, either because of kashrus concerns or because of health concerns, for Chanukah lights. It is very common to find olive oil sold as “not for human consumption,” or “for kindling only” either because the solvents or other chemicals used to extract or refine the oil are not food grade, because this oil was produced from inferior olives or in a way where the oil tastes bitter, or the oil was not necessarily prepared in the most sanitary environment. Are we indeed required to purchase the far more expensive food-grade olive oil for the menorah?

But we may argue that in this case, the oil does not have a disgusting appearance, as opposed to Malachi’s lame and blind animals. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 154:12) implies that it is a concern only if the oil appears to be disgusting: If you found a mouse in the oil meant for synagogue use, if it is disgusting, one may not kindle it in the synagogue.

In addition, Malachi’s lame and blind animals would be unable to be worked and therefore may have no other suitable use other than being offered as korbanos ­­-– and perhaps this is exactly the prophet’s concern.

Several authorities permitted kindling Chanukah lights with oil that is too bitter for consumption (Ben Ish Chai, Vayeisheiv 12; Kaf Hachayim 673:11). It seems to this author that our case is comparable to their ruling, and that it is permitted to purchase lamp oil for one’s menorah.