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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.
A little girl is hanging out with her mother in the kitchen as she makes dinner. After a few minutes of humming to herself quietly near the counter, she says,
“Yes, my love?”
“What does ‘virgin’ mean?”
Her mother freezes, a look of consternation flitting across her face. So soon! She knew she would have to have this talk eventually, but now? Could her daughter possibly be old enough?
But she is determined to take advantage of this delicate, yet precious, teaching moment to bond with her daughter. So she composes her features, turns off the stove, takes her daughter’s hand, and sits down on a kitchen stool. After a deep breath, she begins.
“Honey, I’m so happy that you asked that question, and I hope that you always feel comfortable enough to discuss anything with me! I love you!” She gives her quick hug, and her daughter hugs her back.
“I love you too, Mommy!”
The mother clears her throat and takes the plunge.
“So, when two adult people love each other — when they truly love each other — they show that love by sharing everything with the person they love, their house, their room — even their bodies.”
The mother looks into her daughter’s wide eyes, wondering how she’s processing this information, how much of it she understands. But her daughter just nods, and asks,
“You mean like you and Daddy?”
“Exactly like me and Daddy!” She sounds enthusiastic, but she is desperately hoping that her daughter’s question had more to do with her awareness that her parents shared their house and bedroom, rather than their bodies. Her memory races through all of the times she and her husband have made love, and whether their daughter would have been safely asleep in her bed during those moments. Then she shakes her head to rid it of her panicked thoughts – her daughter is waiting – and continues.
“And when you share your body with the person that you really, really love, it is such a wonderful feeling, and it gives you this indescribable feeling of wholeness, and – ”
Searching for the right age-appropriate words to describe how she feels when making love is complicated, and she suddenly finds herself flushed, her heart beating rapidly. So she takes a deep breath, regains her composure, and modulates her tone.
“And it is like a precious gift that you get to give each other — a gift that nobody else has ever received. Do you know how you like to get presents that nobody else has?”
The little girl nods vigorously.
“Well, loving somebody so much that you share your body with them is a gift that you get to save for just the right person; the person that you love so much that he deserves such a precious gift as that, a gift that you haven’t given anybody else. When someone is saving that gift for that one special person, that is a virgin.”
The mother exhales through her pursed lips, drained.
Her daughter gives a quick bob of her head, indicating her understanding, and then drifts back to the counter, where she squints at the bottle she had been looking at earlier.
“Then Mommy,” she asks, “what is extra virgin?”
It is certainly interesting that olive oil is regularly referred to with as “virgin,” thus spawning the genre of humor from which the above joke was selected. But why? And what does “virgin” mean in the context of olive oil? (Which, of course, was the little girl’s real question.)
Well, it seems as though there are actually a few meanings. Most people agree that, at a minimum, virgin olive oil is oil that has never had sex — but are quick to warn that there is no correlation between virgin olive oil and the aesthetic appeal of the olives from which it came. Virgin olive oil does not necessarily come from ugly olives.
Beyond that, however, one thing that both virgin and extra virgin olive oil have in common is that the oil is made by simply pressing olives. It hasn’t undergone any of the industrial “refinement” processes used to make oils such as canola, sunflower, soybean, or the kinds of lower-grade olive oil that can be used for cooking or frying. In this definition, I suppose it is called “virgin” by virtue of the fact that it is untouched by human “improvement” or the addition of any other “refining” ingredients.
As to the difference between regular “virgin” and “extra virgin,” the consensus appears to be that extra virgin olive oil has an acidity level of less than 0.8%, and is tasted for flavor before being certified. By contrast, regular virgin olive oil has an acidity of less than 2%, and often uses slighter riper olives. Thus, olive oils with the low acidity of extra virgin, but which haven’t passed the official taste test, would also fall into the regular virgin category.
But the best description that I found as to the distinction between extra virgin and regular virgin is as follows: To be extra virgin, the oil must be from the first pressing and without generating any additional heat in the process. The first pressing is done quite gently and the berries are hardly squeezed at all. The oil fairly runs off the olives just by coming into contact with other olives. After that oil is drained off, the residue again is pressed more forcefully but without generating any heat in the process. That second run is labeled virgin.
And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.
The Talmud states that the oil that was used for the Menorah had to be “pure” — without sediment — and “crushed” — as opposed to ground. They would allow the olives to ripen at the top of the tree, where the sun hits directly. Then they would pick those olives and gently squeeze them, and then put them into a basket. The oil that would flow from the olives without pressure would be collected and poured from the basket, leaving the olives in the basket. That is the oil would be used for the Menorah.
Then they would press the the olives in wood or stone machinery, and produce a second batch of oil. Then they would grind the olives and extract a third batch of oil. The second and third batches of oil would accompany the meal offering in the Holy Temple.
However, even though there is nothing in the words “pure olive oil” that alludes to virginity, it was clearly the Torah’s intention that we take the very best of ourselves, and our very first inspiration (or “emission”) — our virginity, as it were — and dedicate it to illuminating the Temple, including our own personal Temple inside of us, as well as the world around us.
What might this mean on a practical level?
Perhaps it means using our very first energy of each day to bringing more light into the world, by increasing our acts of love and kindness; by smiling — particularly at someone who could really use a smile; and by generally using our own first olive oil to warm and illuminate our environment.
Shabbat shalom, and happy Purim!
 Exodus, 27:20.
 Babylonian Talmud, Menachot, 86a.