Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

More Mitzvah Use: Chanukah Oil

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Shemitta Basics
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Although we are currently in the eighth year (Shnas Hashminis) of the Shemitta cycle, and hence actually post-Shemitta, all the same, now is the time when many Shemitta Sheilos first occur, as much Kedushas Sheviis produce only now starts flooding the marketplace and becomes commercially available. The vigilant consumer must remain on high alert to know how to properly deal with these ‘holy fruits’. As detailed at length in previous articles,[1] Chazal derived several essential Shemitta halachos pertaining to preserving the sanctity of Kedushas Sheviis produce from several pesukim in Parshas Behar.

The Torah states (Vayikra Ch. 25: 6 & 7) referring to the Shemitta year, “V’haysa Shabbos Ha’aretz Lachem L’achla…V’livhemtacha V’lechaya Asher B’artzecha Tihiyeh Kol Tevuasa Le’echol - And the Resting of the Land should be for you to eat… and for your domesticated animals and the wild animals in your fields, all the produce should be for consumption”.

Personal Uses

One important halachah that is inferred from these pesukim is:

Lachem- for you, lechol tzarcheichem, for all of your needs. (Sukka 40a and Bava Kamma 102a)

According to the Mishnah, and duly codified as halachah,[2] Kedushas Sheviis produce is not only permitted to be eaten, it is even allowed to be utilized in whatever manner the owner deems necessary: drinking, anointing, dyeing, and even lighting. However, there is a very important caveat, namely that the owner’s use of it during Shemitta must be that product’s main use year round. Otherwise, it would be considered ‘ruining’ the ‘holy’ fruit and duly prohibited.[3]

But what happens when the owner needs it for a purpose that is one that he may not halachically benefit from? For example, there is a well-known Talmudic dictum that ‘Mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu, [utilizing something by] fulfilling a Mitzvah is not considered receiving benefit’ (Eruvin 31a). Although regarded as a ‘need’, a Mitzvah is not deemed an actual personal benefit. If so, may one use Shemitta produce to fulfill such a Mitzvah or obligation?

Previous articles discussed several Mitzvos involving actually eating or drinking the Shemitta produce, such as using Kedushas Sheviis wine for Kiddush, Havdallah, and the Arba Kosos at the Pesach Seder. Since these involve direct bodily benefit (hana’ah), as long as one sticks to the guidelines of not ‘ruining’ the ‘holy wine’, it would be permissible to use them for these Mitzvos. But what about Mitzvos containing indirect benefit? Are they included in the ‘personal use leniency’?

Kedushah Kindling ?

The most common issue in this category addressed by contemporary authorities involves Shemitta oil. We know that it may be used for lighting up a dark room, as that is an actual need and personal use. And according to most poskim one may even light Shabbos and Yom Tov candles with Shemitta oil,[4] as the purpose of this Mitzvah is ‘Shalom Bayis[5] and is therefore considered a true personal need.

But can it be used for lighting Chanukah candles?[6]

This question is even more complicated than it seems at first glance, as, according to most decisors, it is entirely prohibited to get any benefit from Chanukah oil at all.[7] This is one of the reasons why common practice is to have a ‘shamash’ candle, so any potential hana’ah one receives can be assumed to be coming from it, as opposed to the Chanukah lights.

To summarize: If one cannot obtain any actual benefit from the Chanukah candles, how then may one possibly use Kedushas Sheviis oil for this purpose? Additionally, is the prohibition against “ruining”Shemitta produce transgressed by the oil burning as fuel for light, albeit that being its natural use?[8]

Chanukah Lights…

This halachic dilemma is the reason why many contemporary authorities, including the Ridbaz, the Imrei Yosher, the Chazon Ish, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky rule that one may not use Kedushas Sheviis oil for Chanukah lights[9]. Rav Moshe Sternbuch even writes that if one did so, he would not have fulfilled the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, even b’dieved.[10]

On the other hand, several authorities, including the Maharash Engel, Rav Ezra Alteshuler, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, argue that one may indeed use Shemitta oil for Chanukah candles[11]. They explain that kindling for a Devar Mitzvah is certainly considered a proper use.[12] What greater hana’ah is there than being able to fulfill a Mitzvah? Additionally, they counter that even if one may not technically benefit from the light due to a different reason, this should not preclude its being considered a normal use vis a vis its Shemitta status. Moreover, one may indirectly benefit from Chanukah lights.[13] Why, they argue, should this matter be considered any different?

In the words of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, although one may not use Shemitta produce for medicinal purposes (as discussed in previous articles), still, if one wants to use Shemitta oil to light a candle to be able to see in order to put on a bandage, to learn Torah, or even to smash all of his dishes, does that mean that that lighting was in fact prohibited, as these are not proper enough uses? He concludes definitely not. He maintains that it is sufficient that one has a need to enable the use of Kedushas Sheviis produce. What the actual need is should be irrelevant.

However, Rav Chaim Kanievsky[14] argues with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s logic, countering that although one may certainly learn Torah by Shemitta oil light, even though we hold ‘Mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu’, that is because ‘the use’ involved is using the light to see. What one wishes to see or read are indeed irrelevant. However, regarding Neiros Chanukah, where it is prohibited to receive benefit from their light, except from the performance of the actual Mitzvah itself in a manner that is fitting for Persumei Nissa (publicizing the Chanukah miracle), the Mitzvah is for seeing the candles lit, but not utilizing the actual light of the candles. As such, that is not considered receiving tangible benefit from the lighting, as opposed to the other cases Rav Shlomo Zalman cited, and in his estimation, any other use would still be deemed prohibited.

Whichever luminary one decides to follow regarding his own personal Chanukah illumination, we see that there are great authorities on both sides of this debate. The bottom line seems to be that if one has no other oil to light with or in extenuating circumstances, one may indeed rely on using Kedushas Sheviis oil for Chanukah lights. However, due to the strength of arguments of the machmirim, it is certainly preferable to purchase non-Shemitta oil for the Neiros Chanukah.[15]

Keeping Abreast of Biur

Another important issue relevant to using Shmitta olive oil is that it is subject to the laws of Biur. As detailed at length in previous articles, this refers to taking Kedushas Sheviis produce out of the house to a public place and giving up all rights to the fruit, announcing it as ‘hefker’ in front of three people.[16] Every type of fruit has its own specific Zman Biur, time of year when this must be performed, as it depends on when each species of fruit is no longer commonly available in the fields.

The Gemara (Pesachim 53a) informs us that the Zman Biur of olives is on Shavuos of the eighth year. That means that one who uses his Shmitta olive oil for Chanukah lighting may not just save the leftover oil in the bottle for the next year, but must do a proper Biur prior to Shavuos. Afterwards, it may be re-acquired.[17] If one neglects to properly perform Biur at its appropriate time, the oil will actually become prohibited. Just another matter of concern when dealing with Kedushas Sheviis produce.

It is apropos that the illuminating holiday of Chanukah generally falls out during the doldrums of winter. Whether or not we use Kedushas Sheviis oil, when contemplating the lights of Chanukah it behooves us all to internalize their message of Hashem’s hashgachah in this world, showing us the triumph of light over darkness is eternal and everlasting.

Note: This article is not intended to serve as an exhaustive guide, but rather to showcase certain aspects of the intricate and myriad halachos of produce imbued with Kedushas Sheviis.

This article was written L’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah teikif u’miyad!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

[2] See Mishnayos Sheviis (Ch. 8: Mishna 2), Tosefta (Sheviis, Ch. 7: 2), Rambam (Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel Ch. 5: 1 - 5), Rash (on Mishnayos Sheviis ibid.), Aruch Hashulchan Ha’asid (Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel 24: 3; however he classifies this as a separate issur and not that of ‘ruining), Chazon Ish (Sheviis 10: 4), and Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok (vol. 8: 102).

[3] As delineated at length in the previous article titled ‘Kedushas SheviisProduce’.

[4] Shu”t Mishnas Yosef (vol. 1: 26), Toras Ha’aretz (vol. 1, Ch. 8: 47), Derech Emunah (vol. 4, Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel Ch. 5; 49), Chut Shani (Shemittah Ch. 5: 8), Mishpetei Aretz (Sheviis, Ch. 24: 8), Yalkut Yosef (Sheviis, Ch. 15: 62), Sefer Dinei Sheviis Hashalem (Ch. 16, Shimushei Mitzvah 7 and Ch. 32, Shabbos 1), and Mishmeres HaSheviis (Ch. 16: 44). However, Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shemittah Kehilchasa Ch. 3: footnote 12) advises not to rely on using Shemittah oil for Neiros Shabbos. He maintains that with the advent of electricity we do not really depend on the Shabbos Licht as an actual source of light. Therefore, he maintains that it possibly may no longer be considered a true ‘use’ to allow using Kedushas Sheviis oil.

[5] Gemara Shabbos (23b & 25a), Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos Ch. 5: 1), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 263: 3).

[6] The issues raised in this article are aside for the separate issue of using Kedushas Sheviis oil in Chutz La’aretz for Mitzvas Ner Chanukah, which would add an additional whole other set of complications. These were addressed at length in previous articles titled ‘ShemittahShailos: The Case of the Contraband Carrots and ‘Using Arba Minim of Sheviis.

[7] See Tur, Shulchan Aruch and Rema (Orach Chaim 673: 1) and relevant commentaries. This is essentially a machlokes Rishonim. The Rosh (Shabbos Ch. 1: 3 & 6) and Ran (Shabbos 9a s.v. halachos; in the Rif’s pages) maintain that since the Chanukah neis occurred with a Menorah, we are not allowed to benefit at all from our Menorahs. However, the Baal HaItur (vol. 2 pg. 115a; cited by the Tur) and Shibolei Leket (185) maintain that nevertheless a Tashmish shel Kedushah with the Chanukah lights would indeed be permitted. [See Biur Halachah as loc. s.v. v’yesh for a machlokes Acharonim as to whether the Baal HaItur meant to permit exclusively a tashmish ara’ei or even a tashmish keva.] Either way, we conclusively see that all non-Mitzvah uses of Chanukah lights are certainly forbidden.

[8] Especially as the Gemara in Bechoros (12b) teaches regarding a Shemittah animal (ostensibly one that was redeemed with Shemittah produce, thus transferring the Kedushas Sheviis to the animal as well; this was addressed in a previous article titled ‘ShemittahShailos: The Case of the Contraband Carrots, that it is exempt from being brought as a Korban. The Gemara derives this rule from the pasuk:“L’achla velo L’sreifa, to eat and not to be burned”. This implies that one may not perform a Mitzvah that involves burning with an item imbued with Kedushas Sheviis. This would seemingly prohibit using Shemittah oil for Chanukah lights as well.

[9] Ridbaz (glosses to Pe’as HaShulchan, Sheviis Ch. 5: 9), Shu”t Imrei Yosher (vol. 1: 100; also cited l’maaseh in Shu”t Levushei Mordechai, Telita’ei Orach Chaim 53, and later by the Shaarim Metzuyanim Behalachah, 139, 3 s.v. uv’inyan), the Chazon Ish (cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 2, pg. 334, 52; citing proof from a Tosefta in Menachos, end Ch. 8, regarding that one may not bring Menachos or Nesachim from Shemittah produce; the same should apply to Chanukah candles as well), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (in his ma’amar in Kovetz Halichos Sadeh vol. 122, pg. 11 s.v. kal [and not as quoted in Kovetz Halichos Sadeh vol. 50, pg. 80 footnote 34]; he does however give dispensation to allow it according to the Baal HaItur’s opinion, but concludes that if one lights Chanukah Licht outside, it would be prohibited since that is not way people are generally meshtamesh from light), and Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Emunah vol. 4, Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel Ch. 5: 49). Other poskim who ruled this way include the Shaarei Deah (Shu”t vol. 2: 9; cited l’maaseh by the Piskei Teshuva, vol. 1: 94), Pischei Shaarim (on Gemara Shabbos 21a; although he concludes that according to the Baal Hamaor who holds that ‘Mitzvos Derabbanan lehenos nitnu’, lechoirah he would allow lighting Chanukah candles with Kedushas Sheviis oil), the Mishnas Yosef (Shu”t vol. 1: 26; and in Kovetz Tenuvas Sadeh vol. 15; however, he later allowed some leniency, see footnote 15), Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shemittah Kehilchasa Ch. 3: 12; see also next footnote), Toras Ha’aretz (vol. 1, Ch. 8: 47), Mishpetei Aretz (Sheviis, Ch. 24: 8), and Mishmeres HaSheviis (Ch. 16: 44).

[10] Moadim U’Zmanim (vol. 2: 145 s.v. amnam).

[11] Shu”t Maharash Engel (vol. 2, Yoreh Deah 4), Rav Ezra Alteshuler (cited in Kerem Tzion, Sheviis pg. 52, Gidulei Tzion 6; 5698, and Halichos Shlomo, Moadim vol. 1, Chanukah Ch. 15: 7, footnote 20), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shu”t Minchas Shlomo, Kamma vol. 1: 42 and Halichos Shlomo ibid.), and Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (Ohr L’Tzion on Sheviis, Ch. 2: 7, pg. 42). Other poskim who ruled leniently were the Strasbourger Rav (Shu”t Kinyan Torah Behalachah vol. 3, 17: 2) and Rav Shlomo Amar (Shu”t Shama Shlomo (vol. 3, Inyanei Zeraim 23 and 24 at length, and in Kovetz Tenuvas Sadeh vol. 3). Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi, vol. 1, 184: 1) writes several reasons why it should theoretically be permitted as well. See also footnote 15.

[12] There is precedent to allow this as well, regarding lighting candles on Yom Tov, even though any melachah on Yom Tom is only permitted ‘Lachem’. See Gemara Beitzah (19 - 20), Rambam (Hilchos Shevisas Yom Tov Ch. 1), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 495: 1). However, it is important to note that said fire cannot actually be lit, just transferred from a pre-existing flame [see Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 502: 1)].

[13] See Mishnah Berurah (673: 11) and Shaar Hatziyun (ad loc. 11), quoting the Shaarei Teshuvah (ad loc. 3), who cites the Pri Chodosh (ad loc.), Maharikash (Erech Lechem ad loc.), and Shu”t Pnei Aryeh (47), that one is allowed to sit in his house when Chanukah lights are lit, as just basic seeing (without iyun) is not considered an actual tangible prohibited benefit.

[14] Derech Emunah (ibid, Biur Hahalacha s.v. shemadlik). However, see Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 1, Chanukah Ch. 15: 7, in the footnotes) for a possible defense of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s position against Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s challenge.

[15] See Shu”t Shevet Halevi (vol. 1, 184: 1), who although writing that m’sevarah it should be permitted, nevertheless l’maaseh concludes that since Gedolei Hora’ah of the previous generation (the Imrei Yosher, Shaarei Deah, and Ridbaz) prohibited it, one should follow their ruling. A similar assessment is given by the Mishnas Yosef in his later teshuvah on topic printed in Shu”t Shama Shlomo (vol. 3, Inyanei Zeraim 24), as well as the Yalkut Yosef (Sheviis Ch. 15: 62), who. after citing both sides of the machlokes, concludes that if one has no other oil with which to light, he may use Kedushas Sheviis oil.

[16] See Ramban (Parshas Behar Ch. 25: 7), Rosh (Sheviis Ch. 9, Mishnah 8: 5), Rash (ad loc.), Minchas Chinuch (Parshas Behar, Mitzvah 329: 7), Shaarei Tzedek (19: 4), Pe’as Hashulchan (27: 3), Pnei Yehoshua (Pesachim 52b), Aruch Hashulchan HaAsid (Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel 27: 8), Beis Ridbaz (Sheviis, Ch. 12: 7), Chazon Ish (Shemittah 11: 6 and 7), and Shemittah Kehilchasah (Ch. 3: 20). When the Zman Biur for a specific fruit arrives, the Mishnah (Sheviis, Ch. 9: Mishnah 8) teaches us that one may still keep enough of that particular fruit for three meals' worth for every member of the household. However, there is another opinion, that of the Rambam (Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel Ch. 7: 1 - 3) that Biur refers to actually destroying said produce when it is no longer available in the field. As mentioned, this is not the normative halachah and Ashkenazim certainly follow the shittah of the Rosh, Rash, and Ramban, of removing it from the house and making it hefker, as cited by the aforementioned poskim. [Interestingly, the Chochmas Adam (Shaarei Tzedek Ch. 19: 4 and 6) expresses preference to fulfilling Mitzvas Biur al yedei Sereifah, like the shittah of the Rambam.] However, whether Sefardim need be machmir for the Rambam’s shittah is a matter of dispute between contemporary Sefardic authorities, with Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l (Ohr L’Tzion on Sheviis, Ch. 3, Question 4) ruling to be machmir and Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l (cited in sefer Ma’ohr Yisrael vol. 2, pg. 105 and Yalkut Yosef on Sheviis, Ch. 21: 1, pg. 468) maintaining that making the produce hefker is sufficient.

[17] Once one properly performs Biur he may actually reacquire the fruits himself, as the halachah follows Rabbi Yosi’s opinion - see Mishnayos Sheviis (ibid.), Tosefta (Sheviis Ch. 8: 4); Yerushalmi (Sheviis Ch. 9, Halacha 4), Chazon Ish (Hilchos Sheviis 11: 6 & 26, Seder HaSheviis 1 s.v. pri), and Shu”t Minchas Shlomo (Tinyana 123: 10 and vol. 3: 132, 13).

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.

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