Hebrew In Israel | The Menorah – Learn Torah

Menorah, lampstand

Hebrew In Israel | The Menorah – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

When it comes to the Menorah, no other symbol carries more meaning in the Jewish world.  From ancient art to the symbol of the state of Israel, the Menorah has been a symbol of light to Israel and the nations.  However, when it comes to how the Menorah was made, several questions arise.

Method

One of the common questions raised about the Temple is “how was the Menorah manufactured?”.

When looking at Shemot 25:31 we stumble upon a problem.  The verse states that:

וְעָשִׂיתָ מְנֹרַת, זָהָב טָהוֹר; מִקְשָׁה תֵּעָשֶׂה הַמְּנוֹרָה, יְרֵכָהּ וְקָנָהּ, גְּבִיעֶיהָ כַּפְתֹּרֶיהָ וּפְרָחֶיהָ, מִמֶּנָּה יִהְיוּ.

 “You are to make a menorah of pure gold. It is to be made of hammered work; its base, shaft, cups, ring of outer leaves and petals are to be of one piece with it”.

The word in question is מִקְשָׁה which is from the root קש״ה in the Niph’al passive form.  The root only appears 9 times, and all are in relation to temple functions which include the Menorah and the silver trumpets.

Some sources translate/interpret the idea of מִקְשָׁה as “hammered”, meaning the gold is hammered into form from a solid piece of gold (Rashi, Rashbam).  This interpretation bases itself on the interpretation that the word comes from נק״ש, with means to hammer.  The idea presented in the interpretation is that a giant slab of gold was created, and the artist would use a hammer and chisel to create all the ascribed parts of the Menorah.

However the word מִקְשָׁה, as demonstrated, is from a different root which means “hard”, which has been understood as “of one piece”, meaning it was melted into a mold (Se’adyah Gaon).  This has led to much speculation in regards to how this was achieved.  One common theory is that they made a huge mold and poured in the gold.

This idea is not far from fact, but does not represent the methods used for fine metal work in the Bronze Age.

The common method during the time of the exodus would have been with wax.  The wax was molded into the wanted shape and placed in the ground.  This method is known as “lost (vanishing) wax method”.  The wax form would be buried and in an opening on the top the melted gold would have been poured in.  After the gold cools down it was dug out and cleaned.  In many cases the wax was packed in wet sand or dirt, but with a large item like the Menorah placing in the ground would be a better method.

 

Shape

Another common question is what was the shape of the branches–round or straight?  This question, though very surprising, is very common in the Jewish world.  The subject, by most, depends on very late medieval commentaries on the text which described the branches as straight.  The first to suggest this was Rashi (circa 1040-1105) who describes the branches as “to here and here in an angle” (vs. 32).  This would mean that the branches on both sides of the Menorah were straight and not rounded.  The second source which describes such a form comes from an abstract sketch made by the Rambam (circa 1135-1104) in his commentary of the Mishnah Menachot 3:7.  His son R. Avraham stated in his commentary on the Torah that his father believed the Menorah to be straight.  However, many believe that the Rambam only made the shape straight out of wanting to keep an aesthetic sketch, and not to actually give a depiction of the Menorah.  Some artistic depictions of the Menorah such as one found in the Dura-Europos synagogue show a triangle menorah.  However, in the same synagogue we also find the rounded shape, making this source inconclusive.

On the other hand, almost everyone, including most of the art from the period of the temple and after, depict the Menorah as being rounded.  This would include the very famous Titus arch in Rome, where a very clear depiction of the Menorah is given.  Some have objected that the base of the Menorah in the arch includes a dragon, and therefore it cannot be the original Menorah.  However, this does not seem to be the case when examining the images found of the arch.

In truth, it is possible that there is no actual difference between the two, and this would be why the Torah does not give a specific idea on the actual shape.  It is possible that depending on the ability of the artists of each generation, the shape would change.

 

Size

One last unresolved issue is with the actual size of the Menorah.  Traditionally we hear of an almost human height Menorah of 18 fists (approximately 144cm), which required a step before it (Rambam Hilchot Beit Habchirah 3:9-10).  However, in the biblical text we do not hear of an actual hight, but only of the amount of gold to be used, which was a kikar.  The exact weight would depend on the period and the calculations used.  A Mesopotamian Ugaritic kikar would have been 3000 Shekels or 60 Maneh, which would be 33kg.  Some calculate the “holy Sheqel” as being even bigger, and go up to 51kg.  Even though these numbers sound very high, the actual size of such a weight is not great due to the high density of gold.  A 50kg kikar of gold is only 2.9 liters, which is 0.68 gallons.  Some calculations go higher, and all the numbers presented here are an approximation.  However, even the higher numbers still leave us with a very small sized kikar.

The issue of the actual amount of gold has raised several opinions on how big the Menorah was.  Some have suggested that the Menorah was only the middle branch, others have suggested that the Menorah was hollow.  In my opinion we can also argue that the Menorah was actually small, and probably was only about a foot tall.  I state this because studies done on nomadic tribes indicate that they would have intricate art and metal work, they would have produced them in miniature size.  Many findings from the ancient world support this reality, and miniature art work can be found in many museums.  A specific case of miniature ritual items can be found in the Hecht museum in Haifa U where miniature altars and incense burners are shown to the general public.

Bibliography:

הרן מנחם, ״מנורה״ אינציקלופדיה מקראית כרך ה, ירושלים 1968, עמ׳ 22-14

מקבילי יוחאי, משנה תורה מוגה ומדוייק מכתבי יד, חיפה תשס״ה, עמ׳ 480

קפאח יוסף, פירוש המשניות לרמב״ם כרך ג, ירושלים תשנ״ה, עמ׳ עח-פא

שטרן אפרים, ״מידות ומשקולות״ אינציקלופדיה מקראית כרך ד, ירושלים 1962, עמ׳ 878-861

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