design for the seven-candle menorah is in the Torah. The menorah
originally burned olive oil, not candles. The menorah was used in
rituals in the tabernacle (portable sanctuary) and later the Holy
Temple in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple, the
menorah has had no formal role in Jewish prayer services or rituals.
The presence of a menorah in some synagogues is purely symbolic.
Some synagogues today use a lamp-stand called the "ner tamid" to
symbolize the menorah.
nine-candle menorah is used to celebrate the Jewish festival of
Hanukkah. Hanukkah originally celebrated the Maccabees' defeat of
the superior Syrian army. However, post-biblical Jewish tradition as
recorded in the Talmud describes that when the Maccabees were
rededicating the Temple, they only found enough oil to light the
menorah for one day. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight
days. To celebrate Hanukkah, one candle is lit on the first night,
two candles are lit on the second night, and so on. The ninth
candle, the "shammes" (in Yiddish) or "shamash" (in Hebrew), is a
"helper candle" that is used to light the others, and to provide
light, since tradition holds that one could not use the Hanukkah
lights to illuminate one's home.
fate of the original Menorah is obscure. A depiction is still
available on the Arch of Titus that still stands today in Rome.
It remained in Rome until its sack by the Vandals in 455 A.D., but
the Byzantine army under General Belisarius took it back in the 6th
century and brought it to Constantinople. Here, the trail ends. It
is not further mentioned in any Byzantine chronicles, and one can
only speculate whether it remained there until the city was sacked
or was brought back to Jerusalem.