The Gemara in Shabbos 21b famously writes "Mai Chanukah"- what is Chanukah? The Gemara elaborates:

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary

While it is a true matter that they could've used impure oil for lighting the menorah, they insisted in using pure oil, but that is not the question here.

I was wondering, since I've read so many times past it, how exactly did the Greek make the oil impure?

Explanations I read:

  • Chassidus (Lubavitch) explains that they made the oil impure by fighting a spiritual war against the Torah-intellect from the Jewish people. They tried to uproot the Torah. And since oil represents the inner dimension of Torah, this is one of the explanations.

  • The Greeks, as gentiles, carried the oil, and thus transforming it into impure.

I am looking for other explanations on how exactly the Greek made the menorah-oil impure.

  • This question somewhat inspired me: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/3700/…
    – Shmuel
    Dec 1, 2023 at 11:17
  • 4
    – The GRAPKE
    Dec 1, 2023 at 11:27
  • I honestly don't understand what's wrong with the 2nd answer you have? That's literally how they did it! Maybe I'm not understanding your question.
    – ElonMusk
    Dec 1, 2023 at 14:00
  • @ElonMusk I did not say that I find it a problematic answer. I am looking for other answers :)
    – Shmuel
    Dec 1, 2023 at 14:11
  • Why can't they just have dipped a sheretz into it?
    – AKA
    Dec 3, 2023 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


Tosafos on the gemara explains:

שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול - אם כבר גזרו על הנכרים להיות כזבים (נידה פ"ד לד.) צ"ל שהיה מונח בחותם בקרקע שלא הסיטו הכלי

That was paced with the seal of the Kohen gadol - If they had already decreed that a Goy is like a Zav (Niddah 34.) Then we must say it was placed with a seal in the ground, in such a way that they not lift the vessel

In other words, the Tum'ah that was on the other oil was presumably the same Tum'ah this one was saved from, meaning, Tum'ah of a Zav (who is Metameh by moving or touching the vessels). Since this is only a Gezeira d'Rabanan, the Tum'ah is also only d'Rabanan.

(The RaN and the chasam Sofer bring this explanation as well)

However, RAShB"A brings Tosafos's explanation, and adds:

אי נמי מגולה קודם גזירה היה

Or maybe it was uncovered (meaning, not hidden in the ground), and this happened before the decree (that Goyim are considered Zav)

So seemingly there is another possible explanation for this Tum'ah, though the RAShB"A doesn't elaborate. (The fact that there is another possibility can also be seen in Tosafos, the Ra"N and others).

I would venture a guess and say that we consider Goyim to be 'Tamei Mes' - tamei because they came in contact with a dead body (either because any Goy is considered Tamei Mes, or because these ones were fighters and had most likely come into contact with a dead body). If that's the case, they would render any vessel they touched impure. (And Tosafos et. al. Only brought up Zav because we're more stringent with a Zav than with a Tamei Mes).

Note: I haven't seen any sources that say this (that they were Tamei Mes) outright.

  • Interesting, thank you. I also read that the Hellenistic Jews entered the Beis HaMikdash and rendered everything impure. So maybe me'ilah also has something to do with making everything impure? Any thoughts on that?
    – Shmuel
    Dec 3, 2023 at 15:50
  • @Shmuel still working on it, I'll answer on your other question when I can :-)
    – Lo ani
    Dec 3, 2023 at 17:58
  • +1 Tosafos itself implies there's another explanation- they say this only as a possibility.
    – AKA
    Dec 3, 2023 at 18:58
  • 1
    @AKA thanks, I allude to that later '''The fact that there is another possibility can also be seen in Tosafos...'''
    – Lo ani
    Dec 3, 2023 at 22:39

Oil is (the aspect of) Chokhmah, Wisdom. Wine is Binah, bread is Daat, these are three klals that are very old at least in Zohar -- but then you'll see it's all over Miqra.

Great question, since gentiles are not prone to Tumah therefore how did they defile the oil.

Maybe by their religion, folklore, and philosophy (of course not but their before and ruthless behavior) they approached dangerously close to Dat Yisrael in consciousness (see below) that therefore they approached some aspect of Yisrael and hence an aspect of contaminability.

You will find much better explanations than this spitball, in L. Halakhot and L. Moharan, for example here:

Likutei Etzot -- Moadei Hashem - Chanukkah

  1. Through the mitzvah of lighting Ner Chanukkah one draws on himself the Holy Consciousness which is the aspect of shemen ha'tov/ the oil of the Good [Ps. 133:2] [the Tzaddik], which is the aspect of remembrance, namely to constantly remember alma d'atei/ the Coming World, in general and in particular. [See Memory #4] (LM #54)

ב. עַל־יְדֵי מִצְוַת הַדְלָקַת נֵר חֲנֻכָּה מַמְשִׁיכִין עַל עַצְמוֹ הַדַּעַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת שֶׁמֶן הַטּוֹב, שֶׁהִיא בְּחִינַת זִכָּרוֹן, דְּהַיְנוּ לִזְכֹּר תָּמִיד בְּעָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי בִּכְלָל וּבִפְרָט [עַיֵּן זִכָּרוֹן אוֹת ד] (נד)

Na Nach Nachma Nachman MayUman

  • 1
    I assume you meant 'bread is da'at', not data?
    – Lo ani
    Dec 1, 2023 at 13:12
  • 1
    🤣 @Loani Is there a difference but yea thanks autocorrect Dec 1, 2023 at 13:29
  • Sorry, I don't see how this answers my question. The only part I understand is the middle one, although I suppose this is your own chiddush? Josephus writes in book 12, chapter 5 that during that time certain groups of Jews would adopt to the Greek lifestyle, so that fits in with what you said.
    – Shmuel
    Dec 3, 2023 at 20:44

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