Chanukah Lights with Shemitah Oil
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Is it permissible to use shemitah oil for Chanukah lights? A review of the parameters of permitted benefit from Chanukah lights and the implications on using shemitah oil for the chanukiyah.
Every shemitah year, before Chanukah, we revisit the question of using shemitah oil to light the Chanukiyah. This is not necessarily due only to the practical aspects of the issue, rather because it is important to fundamentally probe the parameters of the laws of Chanukah as well as those for the permitted use of shemitah produce.
The issue of using shemitah oil to light the Chanukah menorah is not common. Especially not this year since olive oil is considered shemitah oil, with all of its limitations, only if the olive grove was not sold through heter mechirah (as the sale voids the olive's shemitah sanctity). Furthermore, there are only few otzarot beit din that sell shemitah oil, so this question applies only to individuals or groves in public areas that were rendered ownerless during shemitah.
Note by Rabbi Moshe Bloom: in 5783, there are several otzarot beit din that produce olive oil with kedushat shevi'it.: Tvi Klejman in Rosh Pina (Galon Heights otzar beit din), Michael Lourie in Pnei Kedem (Gush Etzion otzar beit din), Meshek Alma (otzar beit din of keren hashvi'it connected to Rabbi Efrati), among others.
The first issue we need to clarify is if this year's olives are considered shemitah produce. Generally, for trees the determining stage vis-à-vis shemitah status is chanatah, the beginning of the fruit's formation. If chanatah took place after Rosh Hashanah of the shemitah year, the olives are considered shemitah olives. However, olives are an exception to this rule; the Talmud states that the determining stage for olives is one-third of their growth (Rosh Hashanah 12b). According to Rambam, this is the stage when it is possible to extract 1/9 of the maximum amount of oil (Hilchot Ma'aser 2:5).
From a conversation I had with the late agricultural guide, Mr. Meir Frankel, the olive growth cycle takes five-and-a-half to six months from the time of chanatah. For oil olives, it is possible to extract approximately 200 L from one ton of fruit, which means that 1/9th of this amount is 22 L. It is possible to extract this amount about one month before ripening. The time of ripening and harvest spans throughout the month of October. The colder the climate, the later the harvest will occur. In the Golan, for instance, olive harvest can take place until November 25th. Since this year (5782) shemitah began on September 7, the determining stage for olives is borderline. Yet, the vast majority of olives next year (5783) will definitely have kedushat shevi'it, while this year (5782) only a small amount will have kedushat shevi'it, especially in cold areas.
Prohibition to benefit from Chanukah lights and the ramifications for shemitah oil
The problem of using shemitah oil to light Chanukah lights stems from a halachic paradox between the laws of shemitah and Chanukah. Shemitah produce is meant to be eaten, as the Torah states: "And the [produce] of the land's sabbatical is yours to eat" (Vayikra 25:6). That is, the produce is designated for eating and it is forbidden to waste or destroy it. On the other hand, Chanukah lights are not intended for use and it is forbidden to benefit from their light (Shabbat 21b). Indeed, Rabbi Meir Arik maintains that it is forbidden to light Chanukah candles with shemitah oil since the prohibition of benefit from Chanukah lights is considered destruction and wasting shemitah produce (Responsa Imrei Yosher 1:100; 1855-1925, Galicia, in response to Rabbi David Elimelech of Dinov in the winter of 5664-1904; apparently the latter was the fifth Rebbe of the Dinov Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi David Shapira, born in 1877. From the correspondence it seems that at the time, olive oil was exported from Palestine to Europe).
The Rishonim disagree with the question if any type of benefit from Chanukah lights is forbidden. Ba'al HaMa'or (Shabbat 9, on the Rif) maintains that it is forbidden to benefit from the Chanukah lights as it is considered a disgrace to the mitzvah (bizuy mitzvah), but for the purpose of another mitzvah it would be permissible to benefit from the light. Some Rishonim limit this heter. Ramban permits benefitting from Chanukah light on a temporary but not regular basis (Milchamot, 9 on the Rif), while the Rosh permits temporary use at a distance from the candles (Rosh, Shabbat 2:6). The common denominator between the two is that even for those who maintain that it is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for a mitzvah, nevertheless permit a certain benefit. In light of this, it is possible to use shemitah oil for Chanukah lights since the prohibition against benefiting from them is not absolute.
Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch writes that we customarily light an additional candle (the shamash) so that if someone does use the light of the Chanukah candles, it will be from the light of this additional candle (OC §573:1). The Taz asks (ibid.) what benefit is there from the Sages' institution? There is much greater light from the Chanukah candles! He concludes that if an additional candle is lit, the use of the Chanukah lights is then not considered a disgrace of the mitzvah. In light of this, Rabbi Ezra Altschuler rules that today, when everyone lights an additional candle, the shamash, and even uses light from electricity, it is permissible to benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles.
Until now, the point of departure was that we are supposed to benefit from shemitah produce. However, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach provides an additional definition of use of shemitah produce. As far as shemitah laws are concerned, there is no importance assigned to the goal for which a person eats or uses shemitah produce in a permissible manner. Thus, the verse "And the [produce] of the land's sabbatical is yours to eat" obligates us to use this produce to light lamp light in the conventional manner—including Chanukah lights—and to eat the shemitah produce in the way it is generally eaten without wasting the fruit. The purpose of eating or lighting is of no significance. Furthermore, he states: just as it is permissible to use shemitah oil to illuminate a display window to publicize wares (that is, since the Sages permitted using shemitah oil for illumination, they did so for any purpose – MB) it is also permissible to use this oil to publicize the Chanukah miracle. In this way, the use of shemitah oil for Chanukah lights differs from use for yom tov candles: during yom tov, the goal of the act is also significant, which is why it is forbidden to light a candle unnecessarily during yom tov.
In conclusion: there is room to be lenient to use shemitah oil for Chanukah lights for two reasons:
- It is permissible to benefit from the general glow of the Chanukah light as well as temporary use from a distance.
- It is not necessary for a person to benefit from the light; it is sufficient that the oil is used in a conventional manner.
Remainder of olive oil in the chanukiyah / Rabbis Moshe Bloom and Itzhak Dvir
According to opinions that permit using shemitah oil for the chanukiyah, we must relate to the remaining oil in the cups that was not used, since the oil is holy. According to halachah, this oil is designated for the mitzvah of Chanukah lights, and it must be burned. This poses a conflict since it is forbidden to burn or waste shemitah produce. Therefore, before using this oil to light the chanukiyah make the condition that any oil remaining will not be designated for the mitzvah.
Additions / Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Let us now summarize the major opinions on this topic:
Those who forbid using shemitah oil include: Rabbi Yaakov Wilovsky, Imrei Yosher (1904), Rabbi Kleirs, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef. Also: Kerem Zion, Halachot Pesukot p. 52 §15, Mishnat Yosef 1:26, Rabbi Kanievsky citing the Chazon Ish (Derech Emunah 5:49; Mishpatei Eretz 24:8). A source that is hardly quoted by the posekim, which seems to be the earliest source (quoted by Shevet HaLevy) who also forbids this is Sha'arei De'a (Sha'ar Yehuda OC 2:9, Rabbi Chaim Yehudah Leib Litivin of Sasanitz, 1840-1903, printed in Lemberg 5644-1984).
Permitting opinions include Rabbi Shmuel Engel, Rabbi Ezra Altschuller, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
Those who deliberate (and are inconclusive) include: While the Shevet HaLevy (1:184) leans towards permitting the use of shemitah oil since it is permissible to benefit from their light at a distance, but in practice is stringent, concluding: "As for the halachah since these three giants of instruction are stringent, we will also after them even though their rationale is not so clear to us."
There is a dispute as to the opinion of Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu on this topic: while his son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu maintains that his father permitted this, others believe that he forbade it.
See also Shabbat Ha'aretz V 8:2, which reviews the dispute, citing the major opinions.
Sha'arei De'a, Rabbi Chaim Yehudah Leib Litivin of Sasanitz, 1840-1903
 First published in the weekly circular, Bar-Ilan University, Miketz 5775. The dates have been adjusted to be relevant to the 5782 shemitah year (Rabbi Moshe Bloom).
 Thank you to Shlomo Tessler from Nov, who gave me the information necessary for me to write this paper.
 Especially according to the Raavad, gloss on Rambam (ibid.), the determining stage is one-third of the amount of oil and not 1/9th, and this stage occurs closer to ripening; he maintains that all olives will be holy only at the beginning of the eighth year. See also Chazon Ish, Shevi'it 19:23.
Note by Moshe Bloom: The year 5783 begins September 26, and as Rabbi Friedemann states above, the vast majority of olives will be holy at this point; perhaps only a small minority will be then considered eighth-year olives.
 This is the ruling of Rabbi Yaakov David Wilovsky (gloss on Pe'at Hashulchan, appears in Sefer Beit Ridbaz 5:9): "So too, it is forbidden to use oil of the seventh year for Chanukah candle since it is prohibited to use its light." other rabbis who forbade using shemitah oil for this purpose include: Rabbi Kleirs, Torat Ha'aretz 8:47; Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, Sefer Hashemitah, p. 32 §2; Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, Yabiya Omer III YD §19 (in response from Kislev 5719-1959 to Rabbi Yisrael Weltzamong others. However, Rabbi Shmuel Engel (Maharash Engel 2:4) permits this in his response to Rabbi David Elimelech Dinov (who apparently asked him along with the Imrei Yosher) about olive oil imported from the Land of Israel, written in Kislev 5654 (1904).
 This is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch OC §673:1, and adds: "and there are those who are lenient."
 Kerem Zion, Shevi'it p.52. Gidulei Zion 6.
 Minchat Shlomo I §42.
 It seems that this is the case since the majority of Rishonim do not hold that there is a mitzvah to eat shemitah produce. See Shabbat Ha'aretz with Tosefet Shabbat 5:1 §1. They believe that when the Torah states "And the [produce] of the land's sabbatical is yours to eat", it defines only how it is forbidden to eat shemitah produce; for instance, that it is forbidden to waste it. This is in contrast to the opinion of the Ramban, note 3 on Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, who maintains that it is a positive mitzvah to eat shemitah produce. See also an article by Rabbi Yehuda Zoldan, "Jewish agricultural produce with shemitah sanctity," Emunat Itecha 105 (Cheshvan 5775), pp.49-55 (Heb.), esp. nn. 1-3.
 See Shulchan Aruch OC §514:5.
 Rabbi Ben-Zion Abba Shaul was also lenient on this matter: Or Lezion 2:6.