Chanukah is upon us. I am confident that you’ve heard about this Jewish holiday—the eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek armies of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. If you are not familiar with its meaning, I trust that you recognize this holiday by its lights and candles.
Have you ever wondered about the nine-branched candelabra often called the menorah? Is menorah even the right word? Let’s explore the topic.
The menorah is described in the book of Exodus as the seven-branched lampstand made of pure gold. It symbolizes the seven days of creation, with the center light representing the Sabbath. According to the bible, the lamps were lit daily with fresh olive oil and burned from evening until morning. Rabbinic Judaism prohibits the use of the menorah outside the Temple.
This symbol of the menorah has become the emblem of the coat of arms of the modern state of Israel.
Chanukah is a holiday which reflects the Jewish valor of refusing to submit to the religious demands of an empire practicing idolatry—a time when Jews struggled against assimilation and loss of Jewish identity. It's a holiday when Jews are reminded to keep the flame of Jewish religion alive.
We light the candles for eight days in memory of the one-day oil supply that miraculously lasted eight days. Traditionally, we use an additional candlestick as the attendant also known as the servant. Thus, the Chanukah candelabrum has nine branches.
Since the menorah has only seven branches and it is not supposed to be used outside of the Temple, calling the Chanukah nine-branched candelabra a menorah is a mistake, and perhaps even devalues the merit of the message from the historical event.
While there is no reference to the structure of the candelabra of Chanukah it generally resembles the structure of the menorah, with the attendant in the middle and four branches to each side.
Perhaps the modern Hebrew name for the nine-branched candelabra, Chanukiah, should be internationally adopted—or we could even call it a Chanukah Candelabra. But it should not be referred to as a menorah.
Let’s follow our heroes and preserve the flame of Jewish religion by lighting the Chanukah candles in a Chanukiah or in a Chanukah Candelabra this year, keeping the menorah in the Temple and the Chanukah candelabra in our homes.
It’s not only an author who needs to use words correctly—it’s all of us.
Don’t say Merry Chanukah, say Happy Chanukah