The menorah is one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith. The seven branched candelabra probably originated as a version of the Babylonian world tree. The number seven is a repeating sacred motif in Judaism’s parent religion; the seven arms likely represented the seven days of creation and the seven visible planets. Curiously, the name given to the central light is “Shamash,” the name of the Babylonian Sun God, who is related to a similar ancient symbol.
The Menorah was the most important ritual object in the Temple of Jerusalem until it was stolen by the Romans in the sack of the Temple in 70 AD.
According to tradition, during the re-dedication of the temple in the second century BCE after a Greek invasion and desecration, the lamps of the menorah burned for eight days on one day’s worth of oil. This is the origin of the nine branched menorah, or Hanukiyah, with one branch for each of the eight days, plus one central light used to light the others during the Hannukah festival.
Scene from Titus’ Arch depicting the theft of the Menorah