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Comments on Purity and Channukah

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Purity and Channukah

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I'm trying to figure something out about Channukah:

When the victorious Jews cleaned the temple they found only enough oil to light the menorah for 1 day and it took another 7 days before they had more oil.

I learned as a boy (and with no sources) that it took that long to travel to where there were olive trees, come back, and process the oil. But I was reading on wikipedia (yeah...I know) and the following claim was made (without a source) --

As the Maccabees searched for pure oil to light the menorah with, they found just one cruse of pure oil which still had the seal of the High Priest, the symbol of pure oil. This cruse contained just enough pure oil to keep the menorah lit for one day. In order to make pure oil however, individuals making the oil must be in a state of spiritual purity. Being soldiers returning from the battlefield, the Maccabees were deemed impure, and therefore could not make pure oil. Since the process of ritual purification after touching a corpse lasts seven days, the Maccabees could only produce additional pure oil after eight days: seven days of becoming pure including one day, once pure, to actually make the oil. Therefore, the Maccabees would have been unable to light the Menorah for seven days before the completion of new pure oil. Miraculously, the one cruse of oil had lasted for all eight days, and by that point new pure oil was ready.

If the concern was that the people were tamei met, then:

  1. How were they allowed to go in and cleanse the temple and touch the various keilim
  2. How could they light the menorah initially -- if they were tamei met, wouldn't the oil be defiled by their touching it?
  3. If they only found a little oil, how could they possibly have found a red heifer, or any saved ashes (and wouldn't that be a greater miracle, if they found some)?
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1 comment thread

General comments (11 comments)
General comments
Monica Cellio‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

Interesting question! I'd never heard the distance explanation, just the tumah meit one, but never thought about the implications that you've pointed out. I wonder if there's an element of "can't make it worse"; the temple was already defiled, after all, and maybe their actions at least moved things in the right direction? But for a permanent solution rather than a patch, you need to do it right? Just guessing; I look forward to seeing sourced answers.

rosends‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

it also begs another question -- why didn't the Greeks loot the temple and take the solid gold menorah?

Harel13‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

@rosends The version of the story I'm familiar with is that the Greeks did, in fact, loot the Temple. The Menorah used then was a temporary one made out of torches held aloft somehow (perhaps by kohanim, at least part of the time).

sabbahillel‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

@Harel13 The story is that they used iron spears to make a makeshift menorah. Gold is only the best way required to make as specified in the Torah. However, if necessary other metals can be used if sufficient gold is not available.

rosends‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

do the rules of kedusha apply to a makeshift menorah?

manassehkatz‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

I remember the same story: 7 days to travel and get new oil. No sources, so just comment and not an answer: If everyone (or majority) is Tamei then there are exemptions - which would apply to making oil as much as lighting the Menorah, but since there was at least one Tahor Cohen to light the Menorah, he could have made the oil - therefore that wasn't the problem. As far as cleaning the Temple, etc. that would be OK under the circumstances - again back to the everyone/majority issue.

manassehkatz‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

As far as finding ashes of red heifer (not making a new one - that was extremely rare), presumably those were kept in a special place outside the Temple and retrieved as needed. As opposed to oil which was a commodity used daily and logically kept inside the Temple where needed (and therefore taken or bottles smashed, etc.) and also a common product used by everyone (just as olive oil is today) and therefore something the Greeks might take for their own use - they would have no use for ashes.

Harel13‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

@sabbahillel Thanks. Yes, I know of the spear version too, but forgot about it. But I recall another version that used non-spear torches.

user8078‭ wrote almost 2 years ago · edited almost 2 years ago

@Harel13 Your version is from Pesikta

Harel13‭ wrote almost 2 years ago

@user8087 Highly appreciated. Shkoyech!

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