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    Origins of the menorah – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What are the origins of the Menorah?

    A. The original menorah was made for the sanctuary in the wilderness (Ex. 25:31). Constructed by Betzalel, it was beaten out of one piece of pure gold, with a central shaft and six branches. In due course the menorah was re-erected in the First Temple in Jerusalem and was hidden away by the kohanim before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple. The menorah from the Second Temple was carried away by the Romans; it may still be in Rome, though it is not likely to be in the Vatican archives.

    Though the sages prohibited reproducing the shape of the 7-branched menorah, a nine-branched version was introduced to commemorate the Maccabean victory. Few early menorot have survived, but there are late medieval versions that replicate artistic models of the time.

    We know of a French menorah shaped like a medieval cathedral, an Italian menorah that looks like a many-towered castle, a Polish menorah that resembles a country synagogue with chimneys, and an Algerian menorah in the shape of a Moorish palace with a crescent and star. Sometimes menorot depict Biblical scenes; the figure of Judah Maccabee is popular, as is the heroine Judith.

    Menorot for synagogue use were quite large; domestic versions often had a protective back panel which helped to prevent the flames from spreading and causing a fire.

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