Materials: Cast metal alloy
Dimensions: 17 centimeters high
Place acquired: Charity shop, North London, 2004
Original sale/use: not known
Place of manufacture: not known
This is a Hannukah menorah, designed to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Light. In each of the eight little candle holders the wick and wax of a burned out candle still remains, so it was clearly used for at least one Hannukah. Halfway up the central stem is a lug of metal with a hole in it where the ninth candle and holder, the shamash that lit the other candles, would have been, but that is now missing. On the top of the stem is the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism and Jewish identity.
Hannukah is a festival that involves the lighting of eight candles over a period of eight days. The reason? Well, the story in a nutshell goes like this.
In Jerusalem, in the year 160 BCE, a force of orthodox Jews called the Maccabees finally defeated an army of occupation and their Hellenised Jewish allies and liberated the Second Temple from a period of occupation and desecration. In the process of cleansing and rededication of the temple that followed, the temple menorah needed to burn continuously with specially purified oil, but only one day's supply of such oil was available. Despite this, the menorah continued to burn, miraculously, for a full eight days until a fresh supply of purified oil was available. The eight-stem menorah is designed specifically to commemorate this miracle.
As a gentile I am not in a good position to judge the exact meaning and significance of Hannukah in Jewish culture. But I suspect that its importance as a festival has subtly changed over recent decades, and more specifically since the formation of the State of Israel. The Star of David on the top of this menorah may well be a clue in this respect. The star is by no means a traditional motif for a menorah, but its presence here gives an edge of nationalism, pride in identity – it becomes an emblem of militancy.
The events described above may have taken place over two thousand years ago, but they describe a successful Jewish action against oppression and subjugation, and the establishment of a religiously ‘pure’ centre, in Jerusalem, for the Jewish people. The parallels with modern day Zionism are hard to ignore, and although Hannukah has been celebrated as a festival throughout the many centuries of Jewish diaspora, the emphasis has perhaps changed more recently to be one of victory, freedom and the centrality of Jerusalem and the modern state of Israel in Jewish culture. So there is clearly a political as well as a religious dimension to this little object.