January 2nd, 2017–
The menorah is an important symbol of Judaism that can be traced to the early history of the religion. The first menorah appeared in the First Temple built by King Solomon. The original was a six-branched lamp created by the artisan Bazalel. After the fall of the First Temple, a different menorah was created for the Second Temple. This menorah featured seven branches and remained in the temple for 400 years.
In 167 BCE, the Jews fought off the Seleucid Empire to gain control of Judea, but the Second Temple and many of its furnishings were damaged. Judah Maccabee, the leader of the Jewish forces, and his soldiers purified the temple and repaired the menorah. To celebrate, they lit the lamps with the one flask of oil they could find; miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, allowing them to find more reserves to keep the lamps burning.
When the Romans invaded in 70 BCE, the Second Temple was sacked and many of the objects were destroyed. The menorah became a looted object that was featured in the Roman’s “victory parade.”
Jews today use a different menorah during Hanukkah to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees. Called a “Hanukiyah,” this menorah has eight branches instead of seven.
The pre-war menorah from the Virginia Holocaust Museum collection is a seven-branch menorah. Its branches are mounted so they can swivel in a circular arc. Markings at the base of the branches show it was likely repaired before coming into the collection. While there are no surviving records on what synagogue it might have come from, the design is a representative example of menorah from this time period.