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The menorah is one of the most easily recognizable and well-known symbols of Judaism. It has the distinction of being not just the oldest Jewish symbol, but also the oldest continuously used religious symbol of the West.
The menorah is depicted on the coat of arms of the State of Israel, is a central feature of the holiday of Hanukah and is seen in synagogues around the world. Here’s a look at its history and importance.
What is the Menorah?
The term menorah derives from the Hebrew word for lamp and originates from the description of the seven-lamp lampstand as outlined in the Bible.
However, today there are two variations to the menorah:
- Temple Menorah
The Temple Menorah refers to the original seven-lamp, six-branch menorah, which was made for the Tabernacle and later used in the Temple of Jerusalem. This menorah was made of pure gold and lit with consecrated fresh olive oil, as per the mandates of God. The Temple Menorah was typically lit inside the temple, during the daytime.
According to the Talmud (the most important text of Jewish religious law), it is forbidden to light a seven-lamp menorah outside of the Temple. As such, menorahs lit in homes are Chanukah menorahs.
- Chanukah Menorah
The Chanukah Menorah is lit during the Jewish holiday of Chanukah (also Hanukah). These contain eight branches and nine lamps, with the lamps or candles being lit each night of the festival. For example, on the first night of Chanukah, only the first lamp would be lit. On the second night, two lamps would be lit, and so on till the eighth day, when all eight lamps would be lit. The light used to kindle the menorah lamps is known as the shamash, or the servant light.
These modern menorahs need not be made of pure gold. Any fire safe material will suffice. They are lit after sundown and allowed to burn late into the night. While some place them at the entrance to the main doorway, facing the street, others keep them indoors, near a window or door.
Menorah Symbolism and Meaning
The menorah is considered to have many meanings, most of which are associated with the number seven. In Judaism, the number seven is considered to have powerful numerical significance. Here are some of the interpretations of the menorah:
- It signifies the seven days of creation, with the Sabbath represented by the central lamp.
- It symbolizes the seven classical planets, and by extension, the entire universe.
- It represents wisdom and the ideal of universal enlightenment.
- The design of the menorah also symbolizes the seven wisdoms. These are:
- The knowledge of nature
- The knowledge of the soul
- The knowledge of biology
- Tevunah, or the ability to form conclusions based on understanding
- The most important branch – knowledge of the Torah
The central lamp represents the Torah, or the light of God. The other six branches flank the central lamp, signifying the other six types of wisdom.
Uses of the Menorah Symbol
The symbol of the menorah is sometimes used in decorative items and jewelry. While it’s not exactly a typical choice for jewelry, it does make for an intriguing design when used in pendants. The menorah is also ideal when crafted into small charms, as a way to express one’s religious ideals and Jewish identity.
The menorah as a lampstand itself comes in a wide range of styles, from rustic, bohemian designs to elaborate and unique versions. like this stunning kinetic walnut menorah. These, range in price from a few dozen dollars to hundreds of dollars. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the menorah symbol.
The menorah remains one of the most significant and the oldest symbols of Jewish faith. Today, the original menorah is symbolized by the Ner Tamid, or eternal flame, which can be found in every synagogue.