The Slippery History of Jews & Olive Oil


What’s so holy about olive oil? On Hanukkah, olive oil is a part of the story. According to the Talmud the Maccabees only found one sealed vessel of consecrated olive oil with which to light the Menorah. To celebrate the eight days of overtime that oil worked, we break out the oil for our own menorahs, plus latkessufganiyot, and other delicious things.

But oil has a much bigger role to play in Jewish life—in Exodus God gives a recipe for shemen hamishchah, the oil of anointing. This oil is made up of olive oil combined with spices (myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and either sweet calamus or cannabis, depending on who you ask) and is used to anoint holy things, including everything in the Tabernacle, all of the priests, some prophets, and kings.

We no longer pour oil on things we think are holy (think how greasy synagogues would be if we did!), but it’s nice to have this one holiday where we connect with our slippery, wonderfully scented history.

Watch how olive oil is made:

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