This Chanukah, discover the interesting facts and stories of ancient and unique menorahs from around the world.
18th Century menorah, Italy Photo Credit: Kedem Auctions
Lighting a Chanukah menorah is a source of pride, joy and holiday inspiration for children and parents alike all over the world. Its symbolism of Jewish defiance and heroism is so profound that more and more people have been galvanized to collect one-of-a-kind handmade brass, silver, copper or even gold-plated menorahs either through inheritance or via public auctions.
The Chanukah menorah design itself has evolved from its original clay or stone formations, which were the standard during the Talmudic era (1st-6th Century CE ). During the Middles Ages, in 13th century Spain, the first metal menorahs made their debut. Their design was eventually adopted in various forms across Europe, the USA and modern-day Israel.
In the spirit of the holiday, here are some of the most unique menorahs, which have recently appeared at public auctions:
* Italy, 18th century, or earlier. Made from cast brass.
In the center of the back panel is an angel with a crown on its head standing on a jug, spreading its wings which support the cover of the jug, holding branches from which pillars are winding. At the right and left are two angels with spread-out wings (holding jugs placed on masks) blowing “shofars”.
*Eastern Europe, 18th century. Made from cast brass.
The back panel is in the shape of an elliptic backrest of a couch with protrusions for reflecting the light. At the front are two candleholders (“shamashim”). The row of placeholders for the candles is set on a bridge which is connected to the side panels made of protruding discs upon which the “shamashim” are mounted.
*North Africa, late 19th – early 20th century. Made from cast brass.
On the back panel are architectural arcs. Above them is openwork to which the “shamash” is attached and with the “Chamsa” symbol at the top. The side panels are designed like architectural gates (with engraved decorations).
* Israel, second half 20th century. Made from brass embedded with copper and silver (Damascus work). The back panel features a pair of lions, flowers and a menorah. Under them is the inscription “Who perform miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time”. Under the inscription is a row of circles embedded with Stars of David with the words “If I forget you Jerusalem I shall forget my right hand” inscribed inside them.
*Israel, first half of 20th century. Made from cut cast brass.
Designed by Maurice Ascalon, the Hungarian-born sculptor and designer. Back panel made of two delicate olive branches. Eight candleholders shaped like clay lamps are arranged in a half-moon shape, identical “shamash”. Ascalon is considered by many to be the leader of the Israeli movement for artistic design.
* “Bezalel” (Sharar Group), Israel, early 20th century. Made from beaten brass, engraved and cut; brass tin, silver-plated. Attached to the back panel is a pair of lions, a menorah and plates with the inscription “Hanerot hallalu kodesh hem” (these lights are holy) and “Yerushalem”.
*Poland, 19th Century. Made from cast bronze.
Sicilian style triangular Chanukah lamp, which was transferred to Poland and Morocco.
Last but not least…the ultimate symbol of Jewish defiance in the modern era….
* Germany, 1931.
In 1931, on the eighth night of Chanukah in Kiel, Germany, the town’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Akiva Boruch Posner, hurried to light the Menorah before Shabbat. Directly across the Posner’s home stood Kiel’s Nazi Party headquarters. As the eight lights glowed brightly in the window, Rabbi Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a photo of the menorah, capturing the Nazi building and flag in the background. On the back of the photo, she wrote: “Chanukah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”
Menorah in Kiel, Germany, 1931 Photo Credit: Rachel Posner
Both the menorah and photo somehow survived the Holocaust, with the menorah finding its way to Yad Vashem through the loan of Yehudah Mansbuch. Mansbuch is the grandson of the woman who snapped the mesmerizing picture and still retains the original snapshot. Mansbach’s family lives in Haifa, Israel. As a matter of family tradition, each Chanukah, Yad Vashem returns the famous menorah to the family, who light the candles each and every night before returning the piece of history back to the museum’s Holocaust trust.
While Chanukah has a designated celebration period during Kislev/December, one-of-a-kind menorahs of all shapes, sizes and designs are available for sale throughout the year at public Judaica auctions. The menorahs mentioned in this story, save for the Kiel menorah, were part of a special offering via Kedem Auctions, one of the most renowned purveyors of quality Judaica in the world. So, if you want to light a menorah that has extra significance and historic value this Chanukah, you still have time to check out Kedem’s website.