What is Hanukkah Menorah?
The central branch of the Hanukkah Menorah is taller than the others. It is called the Shamash and is used to light the other branches. In the most popular Jewish tradition, on each night of Hanukkah, an additional candle or light is lit: The Shamash and the first candle on the first night, the Shamash and two candles on the second night and so on, until all the candles or branches are lit. The Hanukkah Menorah should be prominently displayed in at least one window of the house.
Lighting the Menorah is an educational act that helps pass the Jewish traditions to the next generations. In families with more than one child, it is often customary to light a Hannukah Menorah with each child.
Eight Branches of the Menorah
There are a few explanations for the eight branches plus the auxiliary candle or oil lamp of the Hanukkah Menorah. According to the most popular and traditional explanation, the liberators found only sufficient oil to light the temple Menorah for a single day, but a miracle made this oil last for eight days until new oil could be specially prepared and sanctified. A second explanation holds that it is improper to use a seven branched Menorah since the destruction of the Temple. A third explanation is that the eight branches are in honor and her seven sons. Hannah's seven sons, as recorded in the book of Maccabees, were tortured and executed when they refused to bow down to a statue and to taste pork, which is forbidden by Jewish law. Hannah herself committed suicide after the death of her sons.
The Hanukkah Menorah had no other name until the revival of Hebrew in the 19th century. The Hebrew lexicographer Eliezer Ben Yehudah coined the word "Hannukiyah," which is used in Israel. Outside Israel, the lamp of the Hanukkah holiday is called a Hanukkah Menorah.
Menorah as a work of art
In modern times, Hanukkah has become one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays. However, it has been observed since the time of the Maccabees, and the Hanukkah Menorah became a major part of Jewish culture and religious art. Hanukkah Menorahs of various Jewish communities survive and serve as models for Hanukkah, along with modern designs from Israel and around the world. Menorahs may use candles, oil or even electric light.