The menorah is the central religious symbol of Hanukkah and such a fundamental symbol in Jewish faith that it appears on Israel's coat of arms.
The origin of the menorah's form is a subject of debate. Some say that the inspiration was the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai, while others believe that the inspiration was astronomical, with the branches of the original seven-candle menorah corresponding to the seven planetary bodies familiar to people in that period.
According to the Talmud, after the Jews rose up in successful revolt against their oppressor, Antiochus IV, the Jewish Temple (which had been defiled by Antiochus) needed to be restored and rededicated. There was only enough oil to light the Temple's menorah for one day, but the Jews witnessed a miracle as the oil lasted for eight days - long enough for new oil to be made and consecrated. A menorah, then, is a symbol of undying light and the strength of the Jewish faith.
The proper number of branches on a menorah has been debated throughout the years. A seven branch menorah - like the original menorah in the Temple - has one vertical branch in the middle and three on either side. For a long time, it was widely accepted that nothing from the original Temple should be duplicated exactly, so menorahs with other numbers of branches were used. Today, the seven branch menorah is used once more by rabbis. The nine branch menorah, with four branches on either side of the middle branch, is used for celebrating Hanukkah; it has a candle for each of the eight days, plus one central candle (the Shamash) used to light the others.
Do you want to buy a menorah this holiday season, but don't know where to find one? A wide variety of menorahs are out there for the picking, with prices ranging from under fifteen dollars to over three hundred dollars.
- Online. You can find a huge variety of menorahs online. Look up "menorah" on Amazon to find their selection of menorahs, both traditional and more stylized. For an even wider selection, visit sites like Menorah.com and Zion Judaica, where you can find traditional and non-traditional menorahs, menorahs for children, sculptured and glass menorahs, electric menorahs that don't involve burning flames, and even menorahs that reflect your favorite sporting activities. Holy Land Gifts is an excellent site to visit for both seven and nine branch menorahs.
- Yellow pages. You can find religious supply stores in your local phone book. Depending on your location, selection might be considerably more limited than what you can find online, but you also won't have to wait for the menorah to be shipped.
- Jewish community groups. Contact local Jewish federations and community groups for guidance and recommendations. Take advantage of the advice available from those in your community!
- Contact synagogues. Synagogues are also a great source of information in your community and can direct you to where you can buy Jewish religious supplies, either recommending local stores or online resources.