All about Chanukka, Olives and Olive Oil

A typical olive tree

Olives and Olive Oil in Israel

Olives! Olive oil! As we approach Chanukka, let’s take a look at the olive and olive oil in history. The humble olive seems so plain, but its history and uses are fascinating. Since pre-historic times, the olive has been growing in Israel and continues to be an important staple. Olives and olive oil from Canaan (ancient Israel) are mentioned in writings from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Assyria, as well as from the Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and mentioned numerous times in the Tanach, Mishna, Talmud and Midrashim.

 

King Solomon traded olive oil with King Hyram of Tyre (Tzor) in order to get the cedars of Lebanon to build the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple).

Olives on an olive tree

What’s so special about olives and olive oil?

There’s no end to the uses of both olives and olive oil! Olives can be pickled, salted, dried and cooked for eating. More interestingly, olives can be added to aromatic herbs to make perfumes, used medicinally to heal wounds and they’re great for your hair and skin, as well as for sore throats and even helps your memory. Soap can be made with olive oil. Think Palmolive!! Yes, Palmolive soap was originally a mixture of palm oil and olive oil! Olive wood is used to make furniture and baskets are made from the branches.

Did you know that olive oil can be made from all parts of the tree? 

Chanukka menorah from olive wood

Olive trees in the Galil

Chanukka and olive oil

Chanukka is the time we use olive oil in our chanukiyot (Chanukka menorahs). We use the purest, first press oil for a clean, beautiful light.

 

What is the significance of the miracle of Chanukka for eight days?  At the time of the Beit Hamikdash, it took eight days to travel from the Galil (Galilee), where the best olives were grown, then pick and press the oil and then bring the oil back to Jerusalem in order to light the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). The Menorah was one of the most important vessels in the Beit Hamikdash because is symbolized the Light unto the World.

 

The Menorah has some of the same symbolism as the dove sent out of Noah’s ark.  The dove returned with an olive branch which has become a universal symbol for peace and light.  Israel’s State emblem is a seven branched Menorah flanked by two olive branches as mentioned in Zachariah; representing the High Priest (Cohen Hagadol) and Zerubavel the political leader who restored the second Beit Hamikdash 2,500 years ago. This account is read in the Haftora on the Shabbat of Chanukka.

Model of the Menorah 

The Menorah painted on a store gate in Jerusalem

A wonderful selection of Chanukka menorahs in stores throughout Jerusalem

More on olive oil and olive tress

Olive oil was used to anoint kings and High Priests (Cohen Gadol). The word Mashiach relates to the anointing with olive oil.

 

The grand olive tree can live for hundreds of years and more. It symbolizes beauty, fertility and endurance. The olive tree you see on this page is a 2000 year old olive tree that continues to bear fruit.  What an amazing tree!

An olive oil that that is over 2,000 year old
in Ma'ale Adumim!

An olive oil that that is over 2,000 year old

in Ma'ale Adumim!!

Did you know that 100 years ago, General Edmund Allenby walked into Jaffa Gate ending hundreds of years of Muslim rule in the Holy Land of Israel? This week a re-enactment took place on the steps of the Tower of David (now a museum) and it was so cool!

 

We met many of the ‘participants’ from 100 years ago, including the grandnephew of General Allenby himself, and the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, the Turkish mayor of Jerusalem Hussein al-Husseini and other notable characters. The original event took place on the 2nd day of Chanukah and the Jews of Jerusalem felt they were witness to a great miracle. One of the ‘real’ visitors was Ruth, whose granduncle was one of the Australian soldiers who accompanied General Allenby.

Enjoy Chanukka in Israel!