Shabbos 20b – Shemen Kik – Castor Oil

שבת כ: – ולא בשמן קיק – “and not with kik oil..”

The gemora (21) offers three explanations for the source of kik oil. The first is the (unknown) kik bird, the second suggestion is that kik oil is another name for cottonseed oil. The final suggestion is that shemen kik is a product of a tree similar to that which grew (miraculously) for Yonah on the outskirts of Ninveh (Yonah 4:6), the Kikayon D’Yonah. The Ibn Ezra (to Yonah) after quoting the Scholars of Spain that the kikayon is a type of gourd (דלעת או קרה) writes that the exact identification of the kikayon is irrelevant. Rashi however writes that the kikayon is “a plant with many leaves that grows high and provides shade.” The Metzudos Tzion adds that “it’s leaves are wide and large.” (See also Metzudos Dovid where one could infer that this plant has perennial qualities.) Finally, the Radak quotes the gemora in Shabbos that “Shemen Kik and Yonah’s kikayon are synonymous, and Rabbah bar bar Chanah said that he saw the (species of) Yonah’s kikayon and it is similar to the צלוליבא. The Radak then adds that this plant is called in Arabic אלכרו”א, grows in ditches, is planted (possibly in planters) at the entrance of shops for shade and oil is made from its seeds. The oils are used for its medicinal properties for people who have colds.”

Ricinus communis

Many conjecture the kikayon of Yonah to be the Ricinus communis or the castor oil plant. This plant, that grows wild in Eretz Yisroel can grow up to 5 meters tall and has large shady leaves. The oil that is produced from the seeds (often erroneously called castor beans) have many applications aside from their use as fuel. Castor oil (and it’s by products) have applications in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluid, paints, dyes, inks, plastics, perfumes, pharmaceuticals and other items.

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