History holy temple menorah

History of the Holy Temple Menorah

The Holy Temple Menorah Today

The menorah which stands today in Jerusalem's old city Jewish Quarter, overlooking the Temple Mount, is the work of the Temple Institute. It was created exclusively to be used in the new Holy Temple. The menorah was painstakingly crafted after years of extensive research by the Temple Institute's full time staff of researchers. The conclusions upon which the construction of the menorah was based took into account archeological evidence and, of course, the halachic (Jewish law) requirements of materials, dimensions, ornamental affects and manner of manufacture as first delineated in the Book of Exodus, and further explicated by Jewish sages throughout the millennia.

The menorah weighs one-half ton. It contains forty five kilograms of twenty four karat gold. Its estimated value is approximately three million dollars. The construction of the menorah was made possible through the generosity of Vadim Rabinovitch, a leader of the Jewish community of Ukraine.

Since the menorah was moved from its former location in the old city's Roman Cardo to its current location alongside the Yehudah HaLevi steps leading down to the Western Wall Plaza and the Temple Mount, it has become a place where thousands of people stop daily, meet friends, learn about the menorah, marvel at its beauty and envision its ultimate standing place in the Kodesh Sanctuary of the rebuilt Holy Temple.

Building the Menorah

"And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall all be one piece with it. And six branches coming out of its sides: three menorah branches from its one side and three menorah branches from its second side. Three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower, and three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. And on the stem of the menorah shall be four decorated goblets, its knobs and its flowers. And a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. Their knobs and their branches shall all be one piece with it; all of it shall be one hammered mass of pure gold. And you shall make its lamps seven, and he shall kindle its lamps so that they shed light toward its face. And its tongs and its scoops shall be of pure gold. He shall make it of a talent of pure gold, with all these implements. Now see and make according to their pattern, which you are shown on the mountain." (Exodus 25:31-40)

Torah describes the menorah in great detail: what is should be made of, its ornamental features, and how it should be made. According to Midrash, Moshe rabbenu (Moses our master), in spite of all the details, or perhaps, because of all the details, was perplexed as to the construction of the menorah. The Midrash suggests that the making of the menorah in the desert was miraculous. Yet other commentators try to solve the mystery be proposing different methods by which the menorah could have been constructed.

The painting show the menorah being manufactured by beaten work, the hammering of the gold into the prescribed shape. This interpretation is based on a close reading of the expression, "hammered work." The photos show stages of the construction of the present day menorah. The photo on the right shows artisans preparing the menorah's substructure.

Building the Menorah: Cast in a Mold?
Among our sages are those that opine that the menorah which was constructed in the Sinai wilderness was done using the method of casting molten gold. A special field oven was built. The gold would have to be heated up to a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius. The molten gold was then transferred to a mold prepared in advance by Betzalel, the artisan assigned by G-d to oversee the creation of all the vessels. After the gold cooled, the mold would be broken and the cast menorah would be removed from it. Much work remained for the artisans, cleaning and refining the cast menorah in order to bring it to a proper finish.

The painting depicts the process described above as it might have looked in the desert. The photo in the top left corner shows a mold prepared for the seven vessels which hold the oil and the wicks for the seven menorah lights. These vessels are separate pieces from the menorah. They would be removed, cleaned, refilled and rekindled each day by the kohanim, as we will learn later.

Building the Menorah: A Third Method

A third method is proposed to understand how the menorah was built by Bnei Yisrael in the desert: A large form was created by carving out of stone half of a menorah. A twin (bookend) form was also created. Gold was then beaten very thin so that it could take on the shape of the mold. The two half menorahs were then removed from the forms and the connected together forming the completed menorah.

Pharaonic Egypt, from which Israel emerged, was awash in gold. The tombs of the pharaohs have revealed that the gold ornamentation and jewelry possessed by the pharaohs was made by beating gold to a paper thin thickness and then shaping it and affixing it to a substructure to give it strength. It is reasonable to assume that Betzalel, the Israelite artisan who oversaw the manufacture of the Temple vessels in the desert, was expert at the craft that he learned as a slave in Egypt, and would employ the same principles when constructing the menorah.

It is also possible that, as opposed to the method described above, Betzalel would have created an armature, perhaps out of wood, and then beaten gold sheets to conform to the shape of the armature.

Gold is a very heavy material, an a very soft material. A menorah made of solid pure gold would not be able to support itself. A thin gold menorah supported by an internal "skeleton" would be able to support itself.

Another physical property of gold is that two separate pieces of gold, when beaten together, molecularly become a single piece. In this manner, a menorah made from separate sheets of gold could be beaten into one indivisible piece of gold, "one hammered mass of pure gold - מקשה אחת זהב" in the language of Torah. (Exodus 25:36)

The painting depicts the method proposed above of a double mold. The photo on the top left show a detail of ancient Egyptian gold. On the right is an engraving showing a goldsmith beating gold.

Building the Menorah in Our Day
After more than ten years of research and investigation, including an exhaustive study of the halachot concerning the design and construction of the menorah, referencing all the extant sources beginning with the Torah description itself, and including all rabbinical commentary, both halachic, midrashic and aggadic, up to and including contemporary texts; examining archaeological and historical evidence, including extra-rabbinic references and descriptions, (ie. Josephus Flavius); consulting metallurgical experts, goldsmiths, metal workers and electroplating experts, the Temple Institute produced a golden menorah halachically fit and ready for use in the Holy Temple, employing the following basic principles:

A metal armature (substructure)was made, ensuring structural strength and stability.

A thick, unified, ("one hammered mass of pure gold - מקשה אחת זהב"), surface of gold, adhered to the armature by a gold-plating process especially developed for the creation of the golden menorah.

We will include more details later.

Photograph: Clockwise from top left: Rabbis Yisrael Ariel and Menachem Makover "eyeballing" the menorah; machinists on a metal lathe; Rabbi Ariel examining the menorah; Chaim Odem, (designer of the menorah), working on a mock-up; Rabbi Ariel taking a tape-measure to the menorah; Rabbi Ariel lending a hand in the preparation on the menorah; (Center) detail of he menorah branches as they extend from the main stem.

Building the Menorah: Applying the Gold

After the artisans of the Temple Institute had completed a bronze menorah in complete accord with the Torah description and halachic proportions and details, the menorah was prepared to receive a one millimeter coating of pure gold via an electroplating process. A special bath was prepared into which the menorah was submerged for one week.

One Kikar (43 kilos - 95 pounds) of pure gold was electroplated onto the bronze menorah, creating a single, seamless surface one millimeter thick - "one hammered mass of pure gold - מקשה אחת זהב" For the first time in 2000 years a golden menorah, created in complete accordance with halacha and the biblical commandment, "And you shall make a menorah of pure gold," (Exodus 25:31) was ready for use in the Holy Temple!

Photo from top left, clockwise: The bronze menorah, fastened to a steel frame for stability, ready to be submerged in the electroplating bath. The next two photos show the pulley system rigged to lower and then lift the menorah up out of the bath. A second view of the bronze menorah ready to be submerged. Close-up of the menorah submerged in the bath, coated with gold. Lifting the menorah out of the bath and rinsing it down. Next two photos: The menorah - gold-plated with 43 kilos of gold. A detail of the menorah knobs and flowers. (To the right): Detail of the menorah still submerged. The final two photos show the outside of the specially designed submersion tank as the electroplating is taking place inside.

The Menorah: Straight or Rounded Branches?

"And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall all be one piece with it. And six branches coming out of its sides: three menorah branches from its one side and three menorah branches from its second side. Three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower, and three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. And on the stem of the menorah shall be four decorated goblets, its knobs and its flowers.And a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. Their knobs and their branches shall all be [one piece] with it; all of it shall be one hammered mass of pure gold. And you shall make its lamps seven, and he shall kindle its lamps so that they shed light toward its face. And its tongs and its scoops shall be of pure gold. He shall make it of a talent of pure gold, with all these implements. Now see and make according to their pattern, which you are shown on the mountain." (Exodus 25:31-40)

The menorah is described by Torah in exquisite detail. But one detail is not explicitly mentioned: the shape of the six branches which extend from the main stem of the menorah: Are the six branches straight, or are they curved.? While many of our sages are of the opinion that the six branches are rounded, there is a minority of sages who opine that the six branches are straight.

On what do they base their determinations?

 

  • Is one side right and one side wrong?
  • What was the shape of the menorah that stood in the Holy Temple: straight or rounded?

 

We will explore all these questions.

The picture shows the kohen kindling the seven lamps of the menorah in the Temple sanctuary, part of the daily Tamid service. On the left he is kindling a straight-branched menorah. On the right he is kindling a round-branched menorah.