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Aharon's Jewish Books and Judaica
600 South Holly Street Suite 103
Denver, Colorado 80246
303-322-7345
800-830-8660

The menorah (Hebrew: מנורה), is a seven branched candelabrum lit by olive oil in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem. The menorah is one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish people. It is said to symbolize the burning bush as seen by Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25).

The Bible (Exodus 25:31-40) lists the instructions for the construction of the menorah used in the temple:

31 And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knops, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it.

32 And there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candle-stick out of the other side thereof; 33 three cups made like almond-blossoms in one branch, a knop and a flower; and three cups made like almond-blossoms in the other branch, a knop  and a flower;

so for the six branches going out of the candlestick. 34 And in the candlestick four cups made like almond-blossoms, the knops thereof, and the flowers thereof. 35 And a knop under two branches of one piece with it, and a knop under two branches of one piece with it, and a knop under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the candlestick. 36 Their knops and their branches shall be of one piece with it; the whole of it one beaten work of pure gold. 37 And thou shalt make the lamps thereof, seven; and they shall light the lamps thereof, to give light over against it. 38 And the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold. 39 Of a talent of pure gold shall it be made, with all these vessels. 40 And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount.
 

Origin

The Torah states that God revealed the design for the menorah to Moses. A plant that grows in Israel called the moriah typically has seven branches and resembles a menorah, leading to the theory that it provided the inspiration for its design. According to some readings, Maimonides stated that the menorah in the Temple had straight branches, not rounded as is often depicted. Jewish depictions of the menorah dating back to Temple times, along with the depiction on the Arch of Titus showing the Romans taking the looted Menorah to Rome after the Temple's destruction, contradict this claim.

A second theory to the origin of the design of the menorah is based on what is known about ancient Hebrew cosmology. According to this theory, the seven branches represent the seven heavenly bodies known at the time, namely the sun and the moon, as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The Jewish historian Josephus alludes to this in the Third Book of his Antiquities of the Jews. In it, he identifies what he interprets as Egyptian and Greek pagan influences on the design of the Tabernacle and its contents. He writes:

"...for if any one do without prejudice, and with judgment, look upon these things, he will find that they were every one made in way of imitation and representation of the universe...and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number.... (Antiq. 3.6.7; 3.7.7)".

A third theory is that the menorah originated as the tree of life symbolizing the mother goddess Asherah. In the Pentateuch, it has been purged of all polytheistic symbolism.


Fate

The fate of the menorah used in the Second Temple is recorded by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who states that it was brought to Rome and carried along during the triumph of Vespasian and Titus. A depiction of this event is preserved on the Arch of Titus that still stands today in Rome.