Signs and Symbols

What is a menorah?

Menorah means “an object that emits light,” hence a candleholder. A seven-candle menorah was used in the ancient Temple and has continued to be perhaps the most widely known and used Jewish symbol. When the Romans despoiled the Jerusalem Temple in 70, they carted away all the temple’s riches. They regarded the menorah as such an important emblem of their conquest that the Emperor Titus had it depicted on his triumphal arch in the Roman Forum. Some scholars suggest the menorah is a variation on the symbolic “tree of life” that grew at the center of the original Paradise garden; versions of the tree of life are widely used in many cultures and religious traditions. A nine-branched candlestick, now also called a menorah, features prominently in the eight-day observance of Hanukkah.

A twentieth-century monumental menorah engraved with low-relief biblical scenes, standing opposite the Israeli parliament, the Kenesset.


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