The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents for the first time an elaborately decorated eighteenth-century menorah—one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith—to celebrate this year's holiday season. Dating to about 1771, the candelabrum is large in size and rich in ornament, indicating that it was intended for use in a synagogue. An inscription suggests that the synagogue was located in Eastern Europe, probably in Poland.
The menorah is a special candleholder used by Jews in rites during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, an ancient holiday commemorating the triumph of the Jews, under Judas Maccabeus, over Greek rule in 164 B.C.E., and celebrating Maccabeus' rededication of the defiled Holy Temple. Beginning the 25th of Hebrew month of Kislev (usually in December), the central feature of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles each evening, one on the first night, two on the second, and so on.
Though the military victory of Maccabeus is more emphasized today, the distinctive ceremony of lighting the menorah also recalls the Talmudic legend of how the small supply of non-desecrated oil—just enough for one day—miraculously burned for eight full days in the Temple until new oil could be obtained.
The menorah has eight receptacles for oil/candles and a further receptacle for the center light (the shamas) used for kindling the other lights.
The menorah has been lent by the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Collection.