The menorah is one of the most recognizable and widespread symbols of Jewish culture and tradition in the world. It predates the Star of David, and is at the center of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that lasts eight days – though the menorah has been around longer than the events that inspired that tradition.
Hanukkah celebrates a miracle following a revolt by the Jews against foreign rule in 168-165 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid (Greek origin) king of what is now the Middle East, attempted to suppress the Jewish religion and desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The victorious rebels, led by Judah the Maccabee (Hammer) faced a serious challenge to rededicating their temple: The menorah needed to remain burning at all times, but there was only enough untainted olive oil to last one night.
But, the oil in the menorah kept burning for eight days straight, giving people enough time to find more to keep the fire burning. The special menorah for Hanukkah, called a hanukiah, is slightly different from the menorah used regularly in temples during the majority of the year. While the regular menorah – and the one that would have been lit by the Jews in the second century B.C. – has seven branches, the hanukiah has nine branches. One of those branches is elevated, and that candle is used to light the eight others on each day of Hanukkah.
Menorahs are mentioned throughout the Bible. They first appear in the Book of Exodus, where it is commanded that Jews make their menorahs out of pure gold and that they make it with a hammer. The menorah is supposed to have a base, a shaft, cups, a ring of outer leaves and petals, according to the Book of Exodus. The fire lit was not to be put out, ever, and every morning a peace offering was supposed to be made on that fire, according to the Book of Leviticus.