ḤANUKKAH LAMP (also known as ḥanukkiyyah and Ḥanukkah menorah ). The central ritual of the eight-day Festival of *Ḥanukkah is the kindling of a lamp that has receptacles for eight lights, one for each night. A ninth receptacle, called the servitor or shammash, is often included in the lamp as well. The festival began in 164 b.c.e., when *Judah Maccabee liberated the Jerusalem Temple from Greek control, re-sanctified it, and declared an eight-day celebration of "joy and gladness" (i Macc. 4:26–59). Yet, there is no record of exactly how Jews commemorated the holiday in the years following the rededication of the Temple. By the late first or early second century c.e., it was already the custom to kindle eight lights, as recorded in the Talmud. There was a disagreement between two important rabbinic schools in ancient Israel over how to light the lamps. Bet Shammai argued that one should light eight lights on the first night and decrease each night to one, while *Bet Hillel, which soon prevailed, preferred to light one lamp on the first night and increase it to eight (Shab. 21b).
No lamps survive from antiquity that can be identified definitively as Ḥanukkah lamps. It is likely that any of the secular oil lamp types known from the Greco-Roman and Byzantine Periods were used, including single- or multi-wick lamps of clay or metal, sometimes set on a stand, and hanging lamps. The Talmud describes two lamp types that could be used on Ḥanukkah: single dishes with eight wicks arranged around the edge (and covered with another vessel), and lamps with more than one spout (Shab. 23b).
It is not until the Middle Ages that the first lamps clearly designated for Ḥanukkah appear or are illustrated in Hebrew manuscripts. Many of these lamps were in bench form, characterized by a row of light receptacles on a strip or block, usually with an attached backplate. Among the earliest is a stone block with oil wells across the top, which bears the Hebrew inscription "For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light" (Prov. 6:23). Found in Avigon, it has been variously dated between the 10th and 13th centuries. Metal lamps with triangular backplates for suspension on the wall and an openwork arcade of interlace arches, also with a Hebrew inscription, were made in Germany or northern France in the 13th century. Another type of wall lamp with a crenellated rectangular backplate is depicted in an Italian Hebrew manuscript of 1374 in the British Library.
While the form of the stone block lamp might have been derived from similar secular lighting devices called cresset stones, that of the sconce-form metal lamps seems to have been an innovation developed for Jewish ritual use. The secular sconces of the medieval period consisted of single brackets for candles that projected out from the wall; backplates were unknown until the 16th century. The development of a wall lamp for Ḥanukkah is based on the talmudic injunction to hang the lamp outside one's home, since its purpose is to publicize the miracle commemorated on the holiday. If one lived on an upper floor, one could place it in the window, and in times of persecution, on a table (Shab. 21b, 23b). These exceptions led to the addition of feet to backplate lamps, so they could stand on a table. Perhaps the earliest datable example of this custom is a German metal lamp created by Meir Heilprin in 1573–74.
The second basic form of the Ḥanukkah lamp is that of the candelabrum: a central shaft with four arms rising upward from each side, all in a single row. This shape is certainly based on that of the seven-branch candelabrum, or menorah, that was designed for the Tabernacle in the desert (Ex. 25:31–40); later versions illuminated the First and Second Temples. Menorah-form lamps probably were originally confined to synagogue use. The Rothschild Miscellany, written in Ferrara, Italy around 1470, contains the earliest depiction of a large standing synagogue lamp, consisting of a tall square column that widens at the top to hold eight candles. A 15th- to 16th-century synagogue lamp from Padua is in true menorah shape and has leaves projecting from the arms. Smaller menorah-form lamps probably for home use appeared in Frankfurt in the late 17th century.
A third lamp type kindled on Ḥanukkah in Europe during the medieval period consisted of a metal star-shaped oil receptacle with eight projecting spouts arranged in a circle. Suspended from the ceiling, it could serve as ordinary room illumination, Sabbath light, and Ḥanukkah lamp (if it had eight spouts). It continued in use for the festival at least until the 16th century, when it is mentioned in Moses *Isserles' notes to the Shulḥan Arukh, called the Mappah.
Rabbinic proscriptions governed certain developments in Ḥanukkah lamp form. One is the inclusion of a ninth light, the shammash. The basis for this light lies in the talmudic instruction that the lights of the Ḥanukkah lamp were sacred, and that one could not use them for ordinary illumination. Thus, in situations where there was no other light source, an additional lamp had to be kindled so one could see to perform other tasks. By the Middle Ages, Sephardi Jews developed the tradition of always placing a light next to the Ḥanukkah lamp. Ashkenazi Jews had a different custom, of kindling the eight lights with a ninth light, called a shammash, which they then set next to the Ḥanukkah lamp. This ninth light eventually became incorporated into the lamp itself, as exemplified by the 13th-century triangular metal lamps from Germany or northern France described above. This custom appears to have been widely adopted, since a shammash is found on the vast majority of lamps from subsequent periods and among all three traditions: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, or Mizraḥi.
Another aspect of form dictated by rabbinical rulings is the placement of all eight lights in a single row and on the same level. Talmudic sages required that each light had to be perceived as distinct from the others, in order to count as one of the eight. Lights in the round, such as eight lights around the rim of a dish, were acceptable as long as the dish was covered and the lights did not appear to be a single bonfire. The tradition of lights in the round was accepted by later Sephardi rabbis, for example Joseph *Caro in his early 16th-century authoritative code, the Shulḥan Arukh. However, for medieval Ashkenazi rabbis, the lights had to be placed in a single row and on the same level, with the exception of hanging star-shaped lamps. This position is reflected in Moses Isserles' Ashkenazi modification of the Shulhan Arukh in the later 16th century. To judge from the Ḥanukkah lamps produced since then, Isserles' injunction was followed by most Jewish communities around the world. However, lamps in the round or with semi-circular lights continued in use in the Netherlands in the 17th to early 18th century, and in Iraq, Yemen, and India in the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition, menorah-form lamps with arms of uneven heights continued to be made sporadically in Eastern Europe, Germany, and France into the 18th and 19th centuries, primarily for synagogues.
Since the earliest documented examples, Ḥanukkah lamps have generally borne some form of decorative element or imagery, whether on the backplates of bench lamps, the arms and shafts of menorah-form lamps, or on bases and supporting legs. Motifs include floral designs and scrollwork, animal and human figures, and architectural elements.
The centrality of Judah Maccabee and his military victory in the events of Ḥanukkah would suggest that he would often be depicted on the lamps used for the festival. However, he appears rarely until the 20th century. Instead, one of the most common motifs on bench lamps is the seven-branch menorah (sometimes represented as a nine-branch Ḥanukkah lamp). Its popularity began at least by the 18th century, and it was especially favored in Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe through the 19th century. The explanation for the preference of the seven-branch menorah on Ḥanukkah lamps lies in the Talmud. In answer to the question of why Ḥanukkah is celebrated, the sages related a story not included in the earlier apocryphal books of the Maccabees of how, when it came to rekindle the Temple menorah, only one vial of sanctified oil could be found, enough for one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil burned for eight full days (Shab. 21b). It is this later story that is cited as the reason for the holiday, and is referred to as the miracle of Ḥanukkah. When the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70 c.e. and the Jews came under Roman rule, it is possible that rabbinic leaders chose to emphasize the spiritual aspects of the holiday and the hope for divine redemption of Zion, symbolized since antiquity by the menorah.
Many Ḥanukkah lamp backplates take the form of an actual building, or are ornamented with such architectural elements as columns, gables, and arches. The explanation for this usage is more complex, lying both in the vocabulary of general decorative arts throughout time and place, and in Jewish religious iconography. The suggestion that the use of architectural imagery on Ḥanukkah lamps symbolizes the ancient Temple may have some merit, based on the popularity of images of the Temple menorah. More explicitly Jewish references are found in East European lamps of the 18th and 19th centuries, whose backplates take the form of Torah arks.
The use of human imagery on Ḥanukkah lamps is quite circumscribed. Biblical or mythological figures were favored in Western and Central Europe, and later in the United States and Israel, but human representations appear to be absent in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This is understandable in Islamic lands, where iconoclasm was often predominant on ritual objects. However, this pattern may also represent varying attitudes on the part of different Jewish communities toward depicting living things, as proscribed in the Second Commandment. One popular figure was the biblical heroine, *Judith, who was found on lamps from Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands through the 18th century (and on later copies). While the original story of Judith contained no connection to the events or personages of Ḥanukkah, medieval rabbinical sources recounted a different version, in which Judith lived many centuries later than the apocryphal account, and was a descendant of Judah Maccabee's Hasmonean family. Judith's inclusion on lamps may also be related to her popularity in European art in general, where she symbolized a number of positive and negative traits, including civic and religious virtue.
Many of these motifs continued throughout the 20th century alongside newer developments in lamp design. One was the appearance of Judah Maccabee. In the early part of the century, his military victory reflected the Zionists' call for Jews to return to farm the land of Israel and defend it. Later, in the mid-20th century, Israel's struggle for independence with its miraculous victories echoed those of Judah Maccabee, and representations of Judah and of modern soldiers on lamps intensified. A second 20th century development was the outgrowth of modern design movements such as the Bauhaus, which eschewed surface ornamentation in favor of the purity of functional form. European artists such as David Heinz Gumbel and Ludwig Y. Wolpert brought this modern aesthetic to Israel in the 1930s, where they taught in the New Bezalel School; Wolpert later served as a stimulus for modernism in the United States upon his immigration to New York in 1956. Subsequent art and design movements influenced Ḥanukkah lamp form and decoration as well, as exemplified by the Abstract Expressionist synagogue pieces by Ibram Lassaw, and the Memphis-style lamps of Peter Shire.
Geographically, a number of distinctions can be seen in the materials, techniques, or forms favored from country to country. Wall-hung bench lamps were predominant in the Netherlands, Italy, North Africa, Iraq, and India, and probably represent Sephardi and Mizraḥi traditions. On the other hand, standing bench lamps were highly characteristic of Ashkenazi lands such as Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe. Large menorah-form lamps were used in European synagogues, but were rare in Islamic lands and may be a late introduction. Smaller menorah-form lamps were used in homes primarily in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Eastern Europe through the 19th century, becoming widespread during the course of the 20th century.
Silver, the most expensive material, was highly favored in Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe, and rarer among other Jewish communities. Various rabbis over the centuries had recommended that Ḥanukkah lamps be made of gold and silver in order to celebrate the ritual in as magnificent way as possible. For example, Moses Makhir in the Land of Israel advocated in the 15th century that one should have a silver lamp even if only one light holder each night was of that material, an opinion echoed by Joseph Yuspa Hahn Noerdlingen of Germany in the 17th century. It is possible that economic circumstances and proximity to silversmithing centers influenced the ability of Jews to obtain silver lamps for Ḥanukkah.
Lamps of copper alloy (i.e., bronze or brass) are common in a number of countries, but can be distinguished from place to place by their materials and techniques. For example, sheet metal backplates were widely found in the Netherlands, Italy, and North Africa. However, Dutch backplates were executed in repoussé with reflective bosses, while those from North Africa were more often flat and covered with incised designs. In Italy, sheet metal backplates were flat with appliqué decoration. Bench-form lamps of copper alloy were also made by casting and were characteristic of Italy, Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, and North Africa. By contrast, cast menorah-form lamps for synagogue and home use were most common in Germany, the Netherlands, and Eastern Europe, but rare in Italy and absent in North Africa.
A large number of standing bench lamps of pewter were produced in southern Germany from c. 1750 to 1850, possibly as a less costly version of silver. Their forms resemble those of German inkstands of the same period. Wall-hung pewter lamps were also produced in the Netherlands in the 18th century. Lamps made of tin were characteristic of the Upper Rhine region of southern Germany, Alsace, and the Basel area.
Stone lamps are known from only three regions: France (where the unique medieval example was found), Morocco, and Yemen. Most are in block form with oil wells carved out along the top, although occasionally Yemenite Jews lit a star-shaped lamp more often used on the Sabbath.
A number of Jewish communities throughout the world did not use permanent lamps for Ḥanukkah. In Turkey, for example, Jews favored simple tin lamps that were discarded at the end of the festival. Jews in eastern lands such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia were known to use eight ordinary cups of metal or ceramic. Finally, in many countries the indigent would use more ephemeral materials such as egg shells, walnut shells, or even potatoes scooped out to hold the oil.
S.L. Braunstein, Five Centuries of Hanukkah Lamps from The Jewish Museum: A Catalogue Raisonné (2004); M. Narkiss, Menorat ha-Hanukah (with English summary, 1939); S. Landau, Architecture in the Hanukkah Lamp (1978); R. Eis, Hanukkah Lamps of the Judah L. Magnes Museum (1977); C. Benjamin, North African Lights: Hanukkah Lamps from the Zeyde Schulmann Collection of the Israel Museum (2002).
[Susan L. Braunstein (2nd ed.)]