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The concept of "pure" oil is central to the holiday of Hanukka (see, for example, https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/221817/jewish/Pure-Oil.htm and https://www.aish.com/h/c/ and https://www.ou.org/holidays/vintage-vessel/).

What makes some oil pure enough for use in the Temple to light the menorah and other oil not pure enough for this purpose? (Surely this has been asked before, but I did not find the question when I searched a few ways.)

Clarification and update: I relied on the English word "pure" when asking the question. But I am learning there are various Hebrew words for the word pure (e.g., relating to source of the oil, clarity, tahor), and the pasuk concerning lighting the Temple Menorah uses zach, a word that refers to physical purity rather than spiritual (tahor). But the quote provided by @DannySchoemann seems to refer to lack of spiritual purity (i.e., tamei), so perhaps the encompassing nature of the English word pure is a useful translation, capturing all aspects of oil that would make it not suitable for use.

In any case, I found two webpages that discuss the topic of my question:
https://www.ohr.edu/this_week/talmud_tips/7148
https://www.oxfordchabad.org/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=708481&PostID=96756&p=1

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    I don't understand what you are looking for, because what I thought you were seeking is literally the topic of the link in your question. – Double AA Dec 17 '20 at 1:37
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    Your Chabad link opens "...But the Jews insisted on using only the ritually pure oil, and no other, to light the menorah in the Holy Temple, thus precipitating the renowned miracle of Chanukah. 'Ritually pure.' What, exactly, is that? What properties does a ritually pure sample of olive oil have that the others don’t?" – Double AA Dec 17 '20 at 1:38
  • BTW: The tamei-tahor tag is irrelevant here, actually. – Danny Schoemann Dec 17 '20 at 11:00
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    @DannySchoemann ופרצו חומות מגדלי וטמאו כל השמנים? – Joel K Dec 17 '20 at 11:08
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    @DannySchoemann ¯_(ツ)_/¯ I guess we should wait for the OP to clarify – Joel K Dec 20 '20 at 9:06
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As noted, there are two types of purity required in the oil for the Menorah: clarity of the oil, שמן זית זך, as elaborated upon in the mishna in Menachos, and ritual purity, טהרה, that is needed for all offerings in the Temple of any sort. These two concepts together contributed to the dilemma leading to the Chanuka miracle. Since the oil needed is of a very specific grade of clarity, there wasn't very much of it sitting around so that the Maccabees could just go to any old storehouse; it was only in the Temple storage areas. Those stores had been contaminated by the Greeks with ritual impurity, and only the one sealed vessel was still ritually pure. In order to attain oil that was both of the correct type and also ritually pure, they would have to travel eight days round trip, or wait until they could purify themselves through the seven day purification process and then produce new oil (see B.Y. 680).

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The concept "pure oil" with regards to lighting the Menora in the Mikdash is explicitly defined in Menachot Chapter 8 Mishnayot 4 & 5.

Basically, the olives are squeezed but not crushed, producing oil that doesn't need to be filtered.
This fulfills the Biblical command of שמן זית זָך - pure olive oil - in that it was always pure and didn't need filtering to become so
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Here's the original, with Sefaria's unedited translation. ("candlestick" meaning the menora in the Mikdash)

ה זֵיתִים, וּבָהֶן שְׁלשָׁה שְׁלשָׁה שְׁמָנִים. הַזַּיִת הָרִאשׁוֹן, מְגַרְגְּרוֹ בְרֹאשׁ הַזַּיִת וְכוֹתֵשׁ וְנוֹתֵן לְתוֹךְ הַסַּל. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, סְבִיבוֹת הַסַּל. זֶה רִאשׁוֹן. טָעַן בְּקוֹרָה, רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, בַּאֲבָנִים. זֶה שֵׁנִי. חָזַר וְטָחַן וְטָעַן, זֶה שְׁלִישִׁי. הָרִאשׁוֹן לַמְּנוֹרָה, וְהַשְּׁאָר לַמְּנָחוֹת. הַזַּיִת הַשֵּׁנִי מְגַרְגְּרוֹ בְרֹאשׁ הַגַּג, וְכוֹתֵשׁ וְנוֹתֵן לְתוֹךְ הַסַּל. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, סְבִיבוֹת הַסַּל, זֶה רִאשׁוֹן. טָעַן בְּקוֹרָה, רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, בַּאֲבָנִים, זֶה שֵׁנִי. חָזַר וְטָחַן וְטָעַן, זֶה שְׁלִישִׁי. הָרִאשׁוֹן לַמְּנוֹרָה, וְהַשְּׁאָר לַמְּנָחוֹת. הַזַּיִת הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, עוֹטְנוֹ בְתוֹךְ הַבַּיִת עַד שֶׁיִּלְקֶה, וּמַעֲלֵהוּ וּמְנַגְּבוֹ בְרֹאשׁ הַגַּג, וְכוֹתֵשׁ וְנוֹתֵן לְתוֹךְ הַסַּל. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, סְבִיבוֹת הַסַּל, זֶה רִאשׁוֹן. טָעַן בְּקוֹרָה, רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, בַּאֲבָנִים, זֶה שֵׁנִי. חָזַר וְטָחַן וְטָעַן, זֶה שְׁלִישִׁי. הָרִאשׁוֹן לַמְּנוֹרָה, וְהַשְּׁאָר לַמְּנָחוֹת:‏

There are three [periods of gathering in the] olives and each crop gives three kinds of oil. The first crop of olives is when the olives are picked from the top of the tree; they are pounded and put into the basket. Rabbi Judah says: around the basket. This gives the first oil. They are then pressed with the beam Rabbi Judah says: with stones. This gives the second oil. They are then ground and pressed again. This gives the third oil. The first [oil] is fit for the candlestick and the others for menahot. The second crop is when the olives at roof-level are picked from the tree; they are pounded and put into the basket. Rabbi Judah says: around the basket. This gives the first oil. They are then pressed with the beam Rabbi Judah says: with stones. This gives the second oil. They are then ground and pressed again. This gives the third oil. The first [oil] is fit for the candlestick and the others for menahot. The third crop is when the last olives of the tree are packed inside the house until they become overripe; they are then taken up and dried on the roof they are pounded and put into the basket. Rabbi Judah says: around the basket. This gives the first oil. They are then pressed with the beam Rabbi Judah says: with stones. This gives the second oil. They are then ground and pressed again. This gives the third oil. The first [oil] is fit for the candlestick and the others for menahot.

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  • Is the production process all that makes olive oil pure? Is there no concern for oil as there is for wine (yayin nesach)? Is there no concern for oil becoming tamei through some source of tuma? – Yehuda W Dec 17 '20 at 14:21
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    @YehudaW - sure there is - that's the concept of Tahor - not connected to Zach, which is what you asked about. Zach is a physical purity, unique to the Menora Oil. Tuma is a spiritual impurity which was forbidden for anything being brought into the Temple, including the almost-clear Menora oil, the less clear oil for the Menachot, flour, water, breads, fruit, utensils, people & their clothing as well as the animals & their blood once they were slaughtered. Anything not Tahor was removed from the Temple ASAP (in such a way so as not to make the "remover" also Tameh.) – Danny Schoemann Dec 20 '20 at 8:32

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