In a distinctive ceremony, Jews light the menorah during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, an ancient holiday commemorating the triumph of the Jews, under Judas Maccabeus, over the oppressing Seleucid Empire in 164 B.C., and celebrating Maccabeus’s re-dedication of the defiled Holy Temple.
Beginning the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the central feature of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles or oil lamps each evening, one on the first night, two on the second, and so on.
A longstanding symbol of Judaism, the menorah is a special candleholder or lamp holder with eight receptacles for oil/candles, and a further receptacle for the center light (the shamas) used for kindling the other lights.
The menorah’s eight branches commemorate the miracle in which the last jug of pure olive oil, which should have lasted only one day, kept the Temple Menorah alight for eight days. The inscription on the base of a sumptuous 19th-century example from Lvov, Poland, reads: “With You is the fountain of life; by Your light do we see light.” (Psalms 36:10)
Today, the menorah is an instantly recognizable symbol of the Jewish faith. (It even appears in the official emblem of the modern State of Israel.) For millennia, artists have reinterpreted this graphically distinctive vessel as a sign of beloved tradition and of an ancient religion.