THE CHANUKAH MENORAH: A HISTORY OF THE CHANUKIAH
By Michael Eskin
The Chanukah menorah is modeled on the menorah described in the book of Exodus. However, it has an additional eighth branch as well as a shammash. In the late 1800’s, Eliezer ben Yehudah, the father of the modern Hebrew language, called it a chanukiah, to differentiate it from the original menorah.
The great victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Greek Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes led to the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The eight candles of the chanukiah remind us of an aggadah from the Babylonian Talmud describing a cruse of pure oil that was to be enough to light the lamp for one day, but that lasted for eight days.
The celebration of Chanukah by Jews around the world has resulted in the production of a wide array of chanukiot. Many have an interesting as well and sometimes tragic history of once vibrant Jewish communities destroyed in the Shoah. Nevertheless, Jews everywhere continue to celebrate Chanukah as a festival that brings light into darkness that still pervades under the rule of many totalitarian governments around the world. Our virtual exhibit features an array of chanukiot belonging to members of our local Jewish community.
By Steven Hyman
For many, the lighting of the chanukiah is among their first Jewish memories. While families gather around the chanukiah on the eight days and nights of Chanukah, the chanukiah is often prominently displayed year-round in Jewish homes. Perhaps because of the centrality of the chanukiah to the holiday and the fact that Chanukah is widely celebrated in the Jewish community, the chanukiah has become both a religious and cultural symbol. There are as many chanukiot as there are Jewish people – perhaps even more!
The abundance of chanukiot, both cherished heirlooms and modern works of cultural art and celebration abound throughout the Jewish world. The Chanukiah that one chooses to light, display, or pass on to the next generation is often equal part memory, tradition, and personal style.
The chanukiah gives us a glimpse of past observance and current tradition. Whether handmade or mass-produced, new or used for generations, our chanukiot tell the stories of the Jewish people, and our own personal stories at the same time.