The Baal HaMaor on Avodah Zahara 52b writes a somewhat radical interpretation on the Chanukah-story. He explains that the people that entered the Beis HaMikdash, and thus impurifying the Beis HaMikdash and its vessels, were not actually Greek, but were Hellenistic Jews, Jews who combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Hellenistic culture.

Rav Moshe Taragin writes:

These Jews - peritzei Yisrael - were capable of me'ila, and it was their act of me'ila which destroyed the kedusha. These Jews - peritzei Yisrael - were capable of me'ila, and it was their act of me'ila which destroyed the kedusha.

My apologies for misunderstanding this, but could someone explain to:

  1. What did these Hellenistic Jews do to the oil? Did they misuse it and how? Can oil be classified as קְדוּשַּׁת הַגּוּף (Kedushas HaGuf)?
  2. I am not that familair with the halacha. If they misused the oil somehow, how did that render it impure? (where should I begin learning on this, whether oil can be rendered impure by misusing it? Maseches Meilah?)

The words from Megilas Antiochus (68) suggests that besides tumas meis, there was also another form of ritual impurity, but that isn't explained.

After these things, the sons of the Ḥashmonai came into the Sanctuary, restored the gates, repaired the breaches, and cleansed the hall of the dead and of all its impurity.

  • I'm not sure I understood your question. Rabbi Taragin wrote above that Me'ilah causes a holy object to cease being holy and that there's a din of Me'ilah only with regards to Jews. Presumably these Jews used part of the oil for unholy purposes, thus rendering the rest of it unholy.
    – Harel13
    Dec 2, 2023 at 18:46
  • @Harel13 interesting. That is what I was looking for (using it for unholy purposes and thus rendering it unholy). Are there any sources that say what they exactly did and how that, halachically speaking, would render the oil impure?
    – Shmuel
    Dec 2, 2023 at 18:49
  • 2
    It doesn't look like anyone's suggested anything based on a quick search. This is, after all, just the opinion of the Baal Ha'ma'or (thought quite likely based on Miriam bat Bilgah. Any non-Mikdash related usage of the oil would render it impure.
    – Harel13
    Dec 2, 2023 at 19:08
  • The Greeks used oil for a lot of different daily purposes, including as part of their bathing ritual. See here, pp. 119-133.
    – Harel13
    Dec 2, 2023 at 19:08
  • @Harel13 Interesting, I've read the chapters and it explains how they dealt with pure olive oil. So that can also explain that they defiled all the oil in the Beis HaMikdash for their own use. But where can I find halachic discussions on when oil loses it's kedusha when misused?
    – Shmuel
    Dec 2, 2023 at 19:33

1 Answer 1


1. What does me'ila do

Me'ila is the act of using something holy for one's own benefit, in a way that causes the object to deteriorate (by at least a peruta). Once this is done, the transgressor has committed me'ila, and the holy object is desecrated. (This is not true by two things: k'lei sharet - service vessels [vessels that are holy because they are used as part of the service in the Beis HaMikdash], and animals that are for the mizbe'ach. These two do not become desecrated, even after me'ila is committed.) [See me'ila 5:3] Another type of me'ila involves changing the ownership of the holy money/ objects.[See me'ila 6:1 and on] Me'ila is relevant, and desecrates the objects, whether it was done accidentally or on purpose. (Ramba"m me'ila 1:3)

Therefore, assuming me'ila is applicable to the menora oil, it doesn't matter whether the Hellinistic Jews meant to desecrate the oil or not - it would be desecrated.

2. Does the menora's oil have k'dusha

Rashi (menachos 100a) says that the oil for the menora had k'dushas haguf - inherent holiness.

Tosafos (T'mura 14a) disagree and say it never has k'dushas haguf, (rather it has k'dushas damim - monetary holiness), while Tosafos (menachos 89a) say that it had k'dushas haguf once it was placed in the jug that was used to pour the oil into the menora (*which is presumably not the same jug as the one the oil was stored in, seeing as this jug was a k'li sharet and made of gold). This also seems to be Rashi's understanding.

The Meiri understands that the oil only gained kedushas haguf when it was placed in the menora.

R' Chaim Kanievski said that the oil was bought was the Machatzit Hashekel - the half shekel coin donated to the Beis HaMikdash by eveey Jew every year, which means the oil had k'dushas damim as soon as it was bought, even if it didn't have k'dushas haguf until later. (Though there are Achronim who disagree with R' Chaim).

3. How one would be mo'el the oil

As already mentioned, animals that are meant for a Korban and vessels that are used in service do not lose their holiness even after me'ila. The Ramba'm (me'ila 6:5) says that this is true of anything which has k'dushas haguf. However, the Ramba'm (me'ila 6:4) says anything that belongs to bedek habayis (meaning, anything with k'dushas damim) is desecrated after me'ila.

Therefore, if the oil was k'dushas haguf while in storage (as Rashi might hold), me'ila could not desecrate it. If it wasn't, and it had k'dushas damim while it was in storage, as R' Chaim holds, then me'ila is applicable.

Even so, the Mishna l'Melech (me'ila 6:4) goes on a very lengthy explanation of different opinions in the rishonim as to when me'ila causes something with k'dushas damim to become desecrated.

• The Ra'avad (on the Ramba'm) holds that it always loses its k'dusha.

• Tosafos [and the Ritv'a] hold that only the part that one uses is desecrated, unless it changes ownership (i.e., he means to steal it - if it was me'ila b'shogeg, he thought it was his friend's and meant to steal it from him. If it was b'meizid, he meant to steal it from hekdesh), in which case it is completely desecrated. (Note: the Ritv'a seems to disagree with Tosafos about whether he has to have in mind to steal it completely or even if he only has in mind to steal part of it it's completely desecrated, but I'm not sure.)

• Tosafos in Kiddushin holds that if it's a gizbar - someone in charge of the hekdesh, who uses the hekdesh believes it to be his own and therefore only desecrates however much he uses. But others, who know it's not their's, obviously mean to steal and desecrate it all by using even a small part of it (similar to the previous opinion, however here we don't care about individual kavana, rather we "know" that certain people have certain things in mind).

• the Ramba'm has his own opinion in regards to this, which I was unable to understand, see the Mishna l'Melech.

In essence, in order to desecrate the oil according to all opinions above, (assuming it had k'dushas damim; as I've already mention, if it has k'dushas haguf then it won't be desecrated¹, and if it has no k'dusha then this discussion is moot), the Hellinistic Jews would have had to steal the oil. This brings us to the next point: the unbroken seal. I remember seeing one explanation (I don't remember where, unfortunately) of the importance of an unbroken seal was that any closed vessel that they found in the beis HaMikdash was opened to see if there was anything of value inside. Meaning, anything they saw, they picked up in order to steal anything inside, in which case that would be me'ila.

Another possible explanation, is that a shinuy (changing an object) is considered enough to steal it. Therefore, by breaking the seals, the Hellinistic Jews stole the vessels and the oil within, thereby committing me'ila.

  1. There are some Rishonim mentioned above who hold that there are ways to desecrate something even if it has k'dushas haguf, but I didn't bring them because this is already confusing enough. See the Mishna l'Melech.

Note that me'ila doesn't make anything "impure" as the gemara states happened to the oil. It renders the vessels "unholy". This is something that the Maor HaGadol seems to ignore.

  • I just noticed that the Maor seems to hold like the Ra'avad, in which case using the oil in any way, so long as they benefited at least a p'ruta, would desecrate all of the oil in that jug. So no need to steal it, anointing themselves, or using some of it to cook or put on their pig-korbanos or anything else would work
    – Lo ani
    Dec 6, 2023 at 2:14
  • Thank you so much. A great answer, shkoyach. So, me'ila does not render oil impure, but the vessel that the oil is in? But what if the Greeks used the menorah-oil for sports for example, as suggested in the mentioned research-article in the comments above? Would that not render the oil unfit for menorah?
    – Shmuel
    Dec 6, 2023 at 16:59
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    @Shmuel you're welcome! Neither the vessel nor the oil would become impure (assuming the users are not Tamei, I'm looking at it only from the me'ila aspect). If they had in mind to steal the vessel, then they also stole whatever was inside, therefore rendering both unholy but not impure
    – Lo ani
    Dec 7, 2023 at 0:31

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