Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gelled Oil Chanukiyos

By now, everyone's probably aware of the fact that certain brands of the pre-filled gelled oil chanukiyos that come from overseas have lamps that are made of plastic, not glass, so that when they are lit, there is a danger of the lamps melting and creating a fire hazard. However, I'd like to address a different question - what exactly is the fuel inside the lamp made of? The Yeshiva World (12/4/07) describes another scandal that hit this year when one of the products on the market was tested and was found to have 18% wax, while claiming to be 100% olive oil, which is stated by the Mishnah Brurah to be the optimal choice of oil. Olive oil is a liquid at room temperature. If a substance is solid at room temperature, it is not pure olive oil. This being the case, what exactly is inside the gelled oil chanukiyos?

A solidified oil is called an oleogel. One method of producing oleogels is through ozonation, by which ozone gas is bubbled through the oil for a period of time. The ozone reacts with the oil molecules, causing them to form a different compound altogether, which is solid at room temperature (Ozonated olive oil has a very long history of use in alternative medicine, so I'm not sure how much of the science that I find using Google is accurate). It would seem that the addition of a gas to the oil at room temperature that does not cause any visible change to the oil besides in its phase would not constitute a halachic change in nature, so that the gelled oil would still halachically be olive oil. R' Shmuel Wosner (Shevet HaLevi 143) discusses whether the change of phase is halachically problematic, and concludes that although congealed olive oil would be invalid for lighting the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, it would be entirely valid to use for the Neiros Chanukah.

A second method of producing oleogels is by adding a gelificant agent such as ethylcellulose to the oil (at 1-10%). This does not induce a chemical reaction in the oil, but rather serves to bind together the oil molecules into a gel. The presence of this foreign substance would mean that the fuel is no longer 100% olive oil. Even if the amount of gelificant added is less than 1-in-60, I would think that it would still not be m'vutal because it would constitute a davar ha-ma'amid (similar to rennet in cheese).

An oleogel produced in either of these manners would be 100% kosher (being that even wax candles are kosher), but if one is looking to use 100% pure olive oil, it would seem like an oleogel produced in the latter manner would not satisfy the hiddur, while an oleogel produced using ozonation would. I don't know which method is actually used in the industry - I would assume ozonation, unless my reasoning is off, but considering the other issues that have come up with ready-to-light chanukiyos, nothing would surprise me.



Post a Comment

<< Home