30 Nov OLIVES – OLIVE OIL – AND CHANUKAH
As we all know, we use olive oil to light the Chanukah menorah. Recently, olive oil has become very popular for its health benefits. Olive oil has many other uses as well (see below). In previous years, its main purpose was as fuel for lamps. Aside from the Chanukah questions, there are other questions regarding olives and olive oil. Are there any restrictions with eating olives? How is olive oil made? What beracha is recited on olives? What are the different kinds of olive oil? Are there any kashrus concerns about olive oil without a hechsher? Why do we use olive oil on Chanukah? Is there a difference in which olive oil is used? If the price of olive oil is high can one light with other oils or wax? Does the olive oil have to be edible? Can one give his children wax as opposed to oil? Can one light some lights with olive oil and other lights with different oil? Can one light with an electric menorah? What are the customs regarding eating foods with oil on Chanukah? These questions will be addressed in this article.
Olives in Chazal
Olives are mentioned frequently in chazal Olives for pickling were more expensive than those for oil making. Olives were pickled or preserved in jars or barrels.
Green olives are grown in many parts of the world such as California, Italy or Eretz Yisroel. Olives from Eretz Yisroel pose issues of teruma, ma’aser and shemitta. Olives even from other locales pose kashrus concerns since olives can be packed in brine which can be made with salt, acetic acid and vinegar. Therefore, olives require a hechsher. If they are packed in salt or lactic acid no hechsher is required. This applies to both green and black olives (they are the same fruit but black olives remain on the tree longer).
The Gemorah says that the frequent consumption of olives is one of the items which make one forget his Torah knowledge. This is brought in many poskim as well.
Many poskim opine that there is no difference if the olives are pickled or raw. According to Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita one may eat olives once every thirty days and it is not considered “frequent.” There is a discussion in the poskim if one is permitted to eat olives frequently if he adds olive oil to them. Many are lenient.
The custom seems to be lenient with eating olives in any case. The Mor U’ketizah explains that the entire concern is eating raw olives as a meal. However, pickled olives (even in salt or vinegar) as a snack are permitted.
The custom is to be lenient either because it is mixed with olive oil or is pickled.
Eating olive tortilla chips are permitted and are excluded from the above discussion.
Beracha on Olives
Olives are not generally eaten raw and they taste better when cooked or pickled. Therefore, raw olives are a shehakol, and cooked or pickled olives are a ha’etz. After a kezayis of cooked or pickled olives, the beracha acharona is al ha’etz.
Olive Oil in History
Olive oil was used for many things throughout our history. It is one of the seven species for which Eretz Yisroel is praised. Olive oil was used to light the menorah in the mishkan. In addition, it was used in the purification for a person who was recovering from tzara’as. Olive oil was used as an ingredient in the korban mincha. Olive oil was used to soften skins such as animal hides, to gargle for a remedy of a sore throat, to remove hair, and a treatment for headaches and stomach disorders. It was also used to heal wounds.
How is Olive Oil Made?
Olives are harvested by shaking them off the tree onto a sheet on the ground. While more sophisticated facilities have a special harvesting machine. They are sent to the factory where the olives are placed on a vibrating table to remove leaves and other debris. A crusher grinds the olives into a paste. The oil is then removed from the paste through a process called centrifuge. Some vegetable oils are extracted from the seed of the vegetable, such as corn, soybeans, peanuts, hazelnuts, and sunflowers. Some vegetable oils come from the “fruit of the vegetable,” as in olives and palm. A variety of processes are used to extract oils. Olive oils are graded according to their acidity levels. The best-quality oils are called cold-pressed, a chemical-free process that involves only pressure and produces oils that are low in acidity. Extra virgin olive oil, a cold-pressed oil, is only one percent acid and is considered the finest and fruitiest of the olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil undergoes no refining process; the sediment is allowed to settle and the oil is sold as is.
Cold pressing is also known as physical or mechanical extraction, as it does not use processing aids. All varieties of vegetable oils are expressed through chemicals and heat. Cold pressing is unique to olive oil.
Olive oil is truly one of Hashem’s unique creations. It is the only fruit oil that can be extracted through cold pressing. This means that the oil only needs to be squeezed out; no further refining is required before it is ready for consumption. Although the heavy grindstones and millstones that crushed and expressed the olive oil in ancient times have given way to mechanical crushers and centrifuges, cold pressing extraction has remained virtually unchanged. The olive oil’s quality is rated by its acidity content. If there is little or no acidity, then this supreme quality olive oil is labeled extra extra virgin; up to .5% acidity, the oil is considered extra virgin, and from 1 to 1.5% acidity, virgin olive oil. The oil is filtered through a cold filter press and is ready to go. Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olive. Virgin olive oil comes from additional pressings of the olives. Pomace olive oil is extracted sometimes with the aid of solvents and enzymes from the remaining mass of pulp residues and pits of the olives after the initial pressings. This is the lowest quality oil and more concerns for adulteration. The Pomace oils are subject to more processing for refining in equipment that could of been used for non-kosher oils as well.
Beracha on Olive Oil
One who consumes olive oil as is does not recite a beracha since it is damaging and not enjoyable. This is true even if one eats the oil with bread. However, there is a possible exception in a case where one eats a little bread with olive oil, and the oil is being consumed to soothe his throat. The poskim debate whether a beracha is recited on the oil and no beracha on the bread. The beracha would be a ha’etz, followed by an al ha’etz if one consumed the shiur. Based on this, the Aruch Hashulchan suggests that a beracha would be recited on olive oil because it would be a benefit in certain cases; perhaps their olive oil was better tasting than ours. Some poskim are of the opinion that our oil is better than in the time of the Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch, and one would recite a beracha on olive oil when eaten alone. However, this is not the accepted custom.
Olive Oil for Chanukah
The miracle of Chanukah was that olive oil was found after the victory against the Yevonim and it lasted eight days. Since the miracle happened with olive oil, it is preferable to use olive oil for the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. In addition, olive oil produces a clear light. Based on the first reason, one should try to use extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, which is the type of olive oil used in the Bais Hamikdash. Many oils do not burn cleanly. Nevertheless, one fulfills the mitzvah even if the flame goes out. Therefore, all oils are permitted for Chanukah.
If Olive Oil is Expensive
Wax candles may be used if olive oil is very expensive. Nonetheless, one should light with oil on the first night. Others say that one should use olive oil even if it is very expensive.
Lighting With Wax
There are many circles that light with wax candles since their light is as clear as olive oil. Some poskim say that lighting with wax is not acceptable. However, this is not the custom, and lighting with wax is acceptable but not the preferred method. Those who have the custom to light with wax candles should make sure they are long, since they look nicer. The Chai Adom says that wax is only permitted if there is no oil available.