One of the best known and loveliest Jewish holidays is Hanukkah, which is also known as the festival of lights. But without a Hanukkah menorah, and lighting the Hanukkah candles, there would be no lights. So what exactly is a menorah, what is the meaning behind it and what are the traditions regarding lighting it?
What is Hanukkah?
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the miracle that happened after the Holy Temple was sacked by Antiochus IV, which led to the Maccabean Revolt. When the Maccabees entered Jerusalem to rededicate the Temple, they only found enough oil to last one night for the eternal flame. With the only source of more oil being several days ride away from Jerusalem, they lit the flame and sent the courier to get more oil as fast as he could. The miracle was that this tiny amount of oil stayed lit until the new supply could reach the Temple – for a full eight days. This is why the holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights.
The Miracle of Hanukkah
To honor this miracle, Jews light a Hanukkah menorah, which is called a Hanukkiah. The word menorah is Hebrew for candelabra so a Chanukkiah is the candelabrum for Hanukkah. The Hanukkiah has nine places for candles. Eight of the places are for each of the eight nights. The ninth one is called a Shamash (which means ‘helper’), and is the first candle to be lit. The Shamash is then used to light all the rest of the candles. Traditionally, on each night of Hanukkah, Jews will light the Shamash and then one candle for each of the nights. In this way, on the first night there will be two candles lit (the Shamash and the first night), with the last night having the whole Hanukkiah filled and ablaze.
Because of this shining tradition and since this Jewish symbol is so lovely, the Hanukkiah has become an inspiration to many Jewish craftsmen who specialize in creating Judaica art pieces. Many people like to collect them and display them in their homes. They are always a welcome Jewish gift, and having more than one isn’t a problem, since families can even light several menorahs each night, some people even have a Hanukkiah for each of their children. Jews proudly display these in their homes year-round, while during the holiday they place the lit menorahs in their front windows as part of the Hanukkah tradition.
Hanukkiah designs are often inspired by ancient and antique menorahs, examples of which mirror the Israel Museum’s collection. For those who prefer something more unusual, Yair Emanual Studios creates both colorful and whimsical menorahs that are made from painted wood. If you like flora and fauna themes, the ultra-modern and creative Hanukkiah designs of Shraga Landsman in cast aluminum or brass are exactly the ticket. One artisan house that combines both ancient and modern into their Hanukkiah designs is the Alim Studio’s surprisingly unique collection. A Hanukkah menorah can use regular wax Hanukkah candles or take oil and wicks. They can be in made of expensive materials like crystal and sterling silver, or inexpensive silver plate. No matter your budget or your taste, you’re sure to find one you’ll cherish for years to come.