Rabbi Moshe Speter
Former Rosh Kollel in Greater Washington
Which halachic issues pertain to olive oil?
The Rambam writes:
“One who plants a fruit tree – all the fruit produced by that tree, for the first three years after he planted, are forbidden for eating and benefit.” (Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 10:9)
Oil can be produced from some varieties even during the first couple of years.
Orlah applies in chu”l as well and also pertains to trees belonging to non-Jews.
Since one may not benefit from orlah, one may not use the oil for lighting the Shabbat candles. However, the Achronim disagreed whether or not one may use the oil for Chanukah candles. The Be’er Heitev cites the opinion which holds that orlah oil may be used on Chanukah, because we are not permitted lehishtamesh bahen (to use the Chanukah candles). Also, the mitzvot were not given in order to derive benefit. (In other words, observing a mitzvah is not considered a benefit.) The Aruch HaShulchan(673:5) concurs with this view.
2. Separating trumot u’maasrot
The Rambam rules:
“Any food from which he is obligated to separate trumot u’maasrot is called tevel before he separates, and he is forbidden to eat from it, as it says, ’And they shall not desecrate the holy things of the Children of Israel, those that they have set aside to Hashem.’ (Vayikra 22:15) In other words, the [tevel] should not be treated as chulin, because they are still kodshim since they will be set aside but have not yet been set aside.” (Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 10:19)
Trumot u’maasrot applies only in Eretz Yisrael and only to olives from Jewish-owned trees.
Since tevel is only forbidden in terms of eating, one may use tevel olive oil to light Chanukah candles.
The olive oil market is replete with imitations. Unscrupulous merchants either add cheaper oils to the olive oil or label other oils as olive oil. Some of these additives have questionable halachic statuses. Therefore, one should only purchase olive oil from known producers. Presumably, cheaper olive oils are not pure olive oil.
In order to avoid these types of problems, one should purchase olive oil with a reliable hechsher and which has been produced by an established company.