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The menorah (Hebrew: מְנוֹרָה [mənoːˈɾaː]) is described in the Bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lampstand made of gold and used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil of the purest quality was burned daily to light its lamps. The menorah has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and is the emblem on the coat of arms of the modern state of Israel.
The menorah willow consisted of a base and a shaft with six branches, beaten out of solid gold. The six branches rose to the height of the central shaft so that all seven lamps at their apexes were in a straight line.
31 And you must make a lampstand of pure gold. Of hammered work the lampstand is to be made. Its base, its branches, its cups, its knobs and its blossoms are to proceed out from it. 32 And six branches are running out from its sides, three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side. 33 Three cups shaped like flowers of almond are on the one set of branches, with knobs and blossoms alternating, and three cups shaped like flowers of almond on the other set of branches, with knobs and blossoms alternating. This is the way it is with the six branches running out from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand are four cups shaped like flowers of almond, with its knobs and its blossoms alternating. 35 And the knob under two branches is out of it and the knob under the two other branches is out of it and the knob under two more branches is out of it, for the six branches running out from the lampstand. 36 Their knobs and their branches are to proceed out from it. All of it is one piece of hammered work, of pure gold. 37 And you must make seven lamps for it; and the lamps must be lit up, and they must shine upon the area in front of it. 38 And its snuffers and its fire holders are of pure gold. 39 Of a talent of pure gold he should make it with all these utensils of it. 40 And see that you make them after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.
The branches are often artistically depicted as semicircular, but Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Maimonides (according to his son Avraham), held they were straight; no other Jewish authority expresses an opinion on the subject. Archaeological evidence, including depictions by artists who had seen the menorah, indicates that they were neither straight nor semicircular but elliptical.
Until 2009, the earliest preserved representation of the menorah of the Temple was depicted in a frieze on the Arch of Titus, commemorating his triumphal parade in Rome following the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE.
In 2009, however, the ruins of a synagogue with pottery dating from before the destruction of the Second Temple were discovered under land in Magdala owned by the Legionaries of Christ, who had intended to construct a center for women's studies. Inside that synagogue's ruins was discovered a rectangular stone, which had on its surface, among other ornate carvings, a depiction of the seven-lamp menorah differing markedly from the depiction on the Arch of Titus, probably carved by an eyewitness to the actual menorah present at the time in the Temple at Jerusalem. This menorah has arms which are polygonal, not rounded, and the base is not graduated but triangular.
Representations of the seven lamp artifact have been found on tombs and monuments dating from the 1st century as a frequently used symbol of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Contrary to some modern designs, the ancient menorah did not contain anything resembling seven candles, as candles were unknown in the Middle East until about 400CE.
The lamps of the menorah were lit daily from fresh, consecrated olive oil and burned from evening until morning, according to Exodus 27:21.
The Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that three of the seven lamps were allowed to burn during the day also; however, according to the Talmud (Rashi, Tractate Shabbat 22b), only the center lamp was left burning all day, into which as much oil was put as into the others. Although all the other lights were extinguished, that light burned oil, in spite of the fact that it had been kindled first. This miracle according to the Talmud (Tractate Menahot 86b) was taken as a sign that the Shechinah rested over Israel. It was called the ner hama'aravi (Western lamp) because of its position. This lamp was also referred to as the ner Elohim (lamp of God), mentioned in I Samuel 3:3. The miracle of the ner hama'aravi ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (c. 30 CE) according the Talmud Tractate (Yoma 39a), "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple (that is to say from around 30 CE) the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right ...hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine"
The original menorah was made for the Tabernacle, and the Bible records it as being present until the Israelites crossed the Jordan river. When the Tabernacle is pitched in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), it assumed that the menorah was also present. However, no mention is made of it during the years that the Ark of the Covenant was moved in the times of Samuel and Saul. There is no further mention of the menorah in Solomon's temple, except in (2 Chronicles 4:7) as he creates ten lampstands. These are recorded as being taken away to Babylon by the invading armies under the general Nebuzar-Adan (Jeremiah 52:19) some centuries later.
During the restoration of the Temple worship after the 70-year captivity in Babylon, no mention is made of the return of the menorah but only of "vessels" (Ezra 1:9-10). Since the Temple was an enclosed place with no natural light, some means of illumination must have existed.
The apocryphal Book of Maccabees records that Antiochus Epiphanes took away the lampstands (plural) when he invaded and robbed the Temple (1 Maccabees 1:21). The later record of the making of "new holy vessels" may refer to the manufacture of new lampstands (1 Maccabees 4:49). There is no biblical mention of the fate of the menorah.
The fate of the menorah used in the Second Temple is recorded by Josephus, who states that it was brought to Rome and carried along during the triumph of Vespasian and Titus. The menorah was deposited afterwards in the Temple of Peace in Rome.
Most likely, the menorah was looted by the Vandals in the sacking of Rome in 455 CE, and taken to their capital, Carthage. The Byzantine army under General Belisarius might have removed it in 533 and brought it to Constantinople. According to Procopius, it was carried through the streets of Constantinople during Belisarius' triumphal procession. Procopius adds that the object was later sent back to Jerusalem where there is no record of it, although it could have been destroyed when Jerusalem was pillaged by the Persians in 614.
The menorah symbolized the ideal of universal enlightenment. The seven lamps allude to the branches of human knowledge, represented by the six lamps inclined inwards towards, and symbolically guided by, the light of God represented by the central lamp. The menorah also symbolizes the creation in seven days, with the center light representing the Sabbath. It is also said to symbolize the burning bush as seen by Moses on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3).
According to Clement of Alexandria and Philo Judaeus, the seven lamps of the golden menorah represented the seven classical planets in this order: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Kevin Conner has noted of the original menorah, described in Exodus 25, that each of the six tributary branches coming out of the main shaft was decorated with three sets of "cups... shaped like almond blossoms... a bulb and a flower..." (Exodus 25:33, NASB). This would create three sets of three units on each branch, a total of nine units per branch. The main shaft, however, had four sets of blossoms, bulbs and flowers, making a total of twelve units on the shaft (Exodus 25:34). This would create a total of 66 units, which Conner claims is a picture of the completed Christian canon of scripture (containing 66 books). Moreover, Conner notes that the total decorative units on the shaft and three branches equate to 39 (the number of Old Testament books); and the units on the remaining three branches come to 27 (the number of New Testament books). Conner connects this to Bible passages that speak of God's word as a light or lamp (e.g. Psalms 119:105; Psalms 119:130; cf. Proverbs 6:23).
The Menorah is also a symbol closely associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (Chanukah). According to the Talmud, after the Seleucid desecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough sealed (and therefore not desecrated) consecrated olive oil left to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days which was enough time to make new pure oil.
The Talmud (Menahot 28b) states that it is prohibited to use a seven-lamp menorah outside of the Temple. The Hanukkah menorah therefore has eight main branches, plus the middle ninth lamp set apart as the shamash (servant) light which is used to kindle the other lights. This type of menorah is called a hanukiah in Modern Hebrew.
Synagogues have a continually lit lamp or light in front of the Ark, where the Torah scroll is kept, called the ner tamid (eternal light). This lamp represents the continually lit ner Elohim of the menorah used in Temple times.
In addition, many synagogues display either a Menorah or an artistic representation of a menorah.
A menorah appears in the coat of arms of the State of Israel, based on the depiction of the menorah on the Arch of Titus.
The Temple Institute has created a life-sized menorah, designed by goldsmith Chaim Odem, intended for use in a future Third Temple, The Jerusalem Post describes the menorah as made "according to excruciatingly exacting Biblical specifications and prepared to be pressed into service immediately should the need arise.". The menorah is made of one talent (interpreted as 45 kg) of 24 karat pure gold, hammered out of a singlar block of solid gold, with decorations based on the depiction of the original in the Arch of Titus and the Temple Institute's interpretation of the relevant religious texts
The kinara is also, like the menorah, a seven candleholder which is associated with the African American festival of Kwanzaa. One candle is lit on each day of the week-long celebration, in a similar manner as the Hanukiah (which was modeled after the menorah) during Hanukkah.
In the Orthodox Church the use of the menorah has been preserved, always standing on or behind the altar in the sanctuary. Though candles may be used, the traditional practice is to use olive oil in the seven-lamp lampstand. There are varying liturgical practices, and usually all seven lamps are lit for the services, though sometimes only the three centermost are lit for the lesser services. If the church does not have a sanctuary lamp the centermost lamp of the seven lamps may remain lit as an eternal flame.
In Taoism, the Seven-Star Lamp qi xing deng 七星燈 is a seven-lamp oil lamp lit to represent the 7 stars of the Northern Dipper. This lampstand is a requirement for all Taoist temples, never to be extinguished. In the first 9 days of the lunar 9th month festival, an oil lamp of 9 connected lamps may also be lit to honour both the Northern Dipper and 2 other assistant stars (collectively known as the Nine Emperor Stars), sons of Dou Mu appointed by the Taoist Trinity (the Three Pure Ones) to hold the Books of Life and Death of humanity. The lamps represent the illumination of the 7 stars, and lighting them are believed to absolve sins while prolonging one's lifespan.
Maimonides' drawing of the menorah
The Jewish Legion cap badge: menorah and word קדימה Kadima (forward)
Menorah monument at Jewish Cemetery of Theresienstadt concentration camp
In this 1806 French print, the woman with the Menorah represents the Jews being emancipated by Napoleon Bonaparte
Kippa and Menorah from the Harry S Truman collection
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