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The Hanukkah Menorah: an explanation

9 into 7 won't go!

A reader was puzzled that the menorah on the cover of the December – February Herald showed four branches on each side of the candle and was therefore not according to the Lord’s directions in Exodus 25.

The menorah on the cover was not the divinely ordained seven-branched lampstand described in Exodus. It was a hanukkiah, a special type of menorah made just for the festival of Hanukkah, which last year fell on November 28, the same day as Thanksgiving in the USA. It was the first time in 95 years that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day and the next time the two celebrations occur of the same day will be in 2070 and so the day was dubbed Thanksgivukkah!

 

Instead of having seven branches the hanukkiah has nine branches. It commemorates the dedication of the temple after Judah the Maccabee, or Judas Maccabeus, defeated the pagan forces of the Syrian tyrant Antiochus in 167BC.

 

Antiochus had defiled the temple by erecting an altar to the Greek god Zeus and sacrificing a pig on it. After Judas and his guerrilla army recaptured Jerusalem and attempted to rededicate the temple they found that most of the special oil for the

menorah had been ruined by the Greeks. Only one jar of oil remained intact. It was sufficient to light the menorah for only one day but, according to tradition, a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days, the time needed to make and purify more olive oil.

 

The hanukkiah therefore has nine branches, eight of which represent the days on which the one day’s supply of oil burned and the ninth, the shamash, or ‘servant’ branch, from which the other candles are lit.

This article first appeared in the Spring Herald 2014

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