Rabbi Gil Student
Last year (5782) was a Shemitah year, the final year in the seven-year cycle. Israeli fruits and vegetables grown during that year retain Shemitah sanctity. Generally that means that they may not be bought or sold. However, there is a large market of food that was prepared through an Otzar Beis Din and grown with intent to export. This food might reach American consumers. We need to know how to consume and/ dispose of this food properly.
According to Machon HaTorah VeHaAretz, oil made from olives picked during 5783 (and therefore grown during 5782) is subject to Shemitah rules. If your Israeli olive oil has a reliable kosher stamp that says the oil has the sanctity of Shemitah, you need to be careful with it. On the one hand, it is wonderful to use oil with extra sanctity. On the other, we have to be careful to treat it properly.
One general rule is that Shemitah food can only be used for personal benefit in a way that it is normally used (Mishnah, Shevi’is 8:2). You cannot just throw it out or use it in an unusual manner. This means that, of course, you can cook with olive oil or eat it with salad. Just be careful not to throw out any significant leftovers directly. You can throw out scraps but you should put large amounts of leftovers into a plastic bag until it begins to rot. Then you are allowed to throw it away in the regular garbage.
You can also use olive oil for light. You can light it with a wick for Shabbos lights or even for weekday lights, if you want the ambience. This is allowed because lighting olive oil is a normal use for which you get personal benefit. However, Chanukah candles are more complicated. We are not allowed to benefit from the light of Chanukah candles. That is why we have the “shamash” candle for extra light and why we say HaNeiros Halalu, which reminds us that we cannot benefit personally from the Chanukah candles. This is in contrast to Shabbos candles, which are intended for our personal benefit. Does this mean that we cannot use Shemitah oil for Chanukah candles?
For this reason, the Ridbaz (Glosses to Pe’as Ha-Shulchan 5:9) and Rav Meir Arik (Imrei Yosher 1:100) forbid using Shemitah oil for Chanukah lights. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach disagrees. In Minchas Shlomo (vol. 1, no. 42), he asks how lighting Shemitah oil for a mitzvah can be worse than lighting it for personal pleasure? You can read a book with light from Shemitah oil. In fact, you can light many candles with Shemitah oil around a store to create a spectacle in order to publicize a sale. How is that different from lighting candles to publicize the Chanukah miracle?
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in his Mishnah Berurah-style work on the agricultural laws (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Shemitah 5:49), forbids using Shemitah oil for Chanukah lights. In his Bi’ur Halachah (ad loc., s.v. she-madlik), he disagrees with Rav Auerbach’s responsum. Rav Kanievsky distinguishes between using the light to see something else (reading a book, seeing a sale) and, on the other hand, using the light for itself. For Chanukah, you do not need the light to be used. You just want the light to be there as a sign of the miracle. This does not constitute benefiting from the oil. In contrast, when a store has a sale, you want the lights to enable people to see the store and the signs. Seeing by the light is a personal benefit.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s grandsons published a series of books titled Halichos Shlomo, containing his halachic rulings with explanations. In the volume on Mo’adim (ch. 15, par. 7), they include Rav Auerbach’s permissive ruling on Shemitah oil for Chanukah lights. In footnotes 30 and 31, they respond to Rav Kanievsky’s comments. A store owner does not use lights to make the store and signage easier to read. He uses it to make a spectacle. The lights are to be seen, not to enable people to see other things, and therefore the example is directly comparable to Chanukah lights. Since you can light Shemitah oil to make a spectacle, you should be able to light it to publicize the Chanukah miracle.
Before publishing this volume of Halichos Shlomo in 2004, the editors sent this section to Rav Chaim Kanievsky to review, so as not to disagree with him disrespectfully. He replied (Halichos Shlomo, Moadim, p. 362) that their words are upright, even if there is room to discuss them at length. He offered them a blessing that they should merit publishing the completed work. In other words, he agreed to disagree and gracefully recommended they publish their arguments with him. In the end, this issue is a matter of debate among recent halachic authorities.