• Issue: November 1972
  • Designer: Z. Narkiss
  • Plate no.: 371
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

On the 25th of Kislev of each year, every Jewish household kindles Hanukkah candles to commemorate the victory of the Hasmoneans, the miracle of the vial of oil, and the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus. The Hanukkah Festival, also known as the Festival of Lights, lasts eight days in all and each night the lights are ceremoniously lit. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the Hanukkah lamp figuring prominently in the list of traditional religious articles commonly to be found in the possession of Jews throughout the world.

We can assume that in former times, tiny lamps were placed side by side, each with its own orifice for the oil and the wick, and that these were the first examples of the "Hanukkah light" mentioned in the Talmud. In the course of time, the Hanukkah lamp underwent a process of transformation from the early clay and stone lamps to the brass, bronze, earthenware, and silver candelabra of our own day.

The Hanukkah lamp, in common with similar objects of art that have evolved over many generations, such as synagogues, tombstones, spice boxes, inscriptions, and so on, provide an interesting and often pleasing synthesis between old Jewish motifs based on ancient tradition and current local stylistic influences.

The Hanukkah lamp has come down to us in a rich variety of materials, styles, and craftsmanship and a study of the shape of their panels, cups, the shamash ("servant lamp" used to light the other candles), their architectural elements and ornaments, the motifs taken from the world of flora and fauna, symbols, inscriptions, the depiction of personages, enables us to follow, with ease, the development of this particular religious object and the evolution of the artistic tastes of their anonymous creators from the days of the Talmud to the revival of the State of Israel.

The three Hanukkah lamps depicted on the stamps of this series are representative of three Jewish communities, Morocco, Poland, and Germany.

The 18th-19th century Moroccan brass lamp appearing on the stamp of value 0.12 agorot is typical of those found among Moroccan Jewry and comes from the Israel Museum Collection.

From an architectural point of view, the row of eight apertures on the back panel and the identical number of horseshoe-shaped cups bear eloquent witness to the influence of Arabic-Muslim architectural themes. On the other hand, the ornamentation bears witness to the existence of a rich, centuries-old local Jewish artistic tradition illustrated by the delightful intertwining of the delicate ornamental bands above and below the apertures, which bring to mind the intertwining of the "Jewish" arabesque (differing from the Muslim arabesque in the predominance of its floral motif as compared with the typical geometric motif of the classical arabesque). The use of the ancient Jewish motif of a pair of birds in heraldic setting known to us from ancient synagogue mosaics of the 1st century after the destruction of the Second Temple (in the ancient synagogue of Bet Alfa for example) or from the decoration of various religious ornaments from a later artistic period in the history of European Jewry reinforces this effect.

The Hanukkah lamps of Moroccan Jewry, like those of most Sephardi communities (Italy, Holland, and the Orient) are designed for hanging, not for standing. This lamp, therefore, is equipped with a loop fashioned in the form of a wheel with floral decoration, for hanging on the wall.

The 18th century Polish brass lamp shown on the stamp of value 0.25 agorot also belongs to the Israel Museum collection.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe produced Hanukkah lamps with their own typical decorative motifs. These decorative motifs, cast or molded in brass, found their artistic expression principally in the agreeable heraldic designs such as pairs of lions, deer, birds, or serpents clasping the vial of oil (as in the lamp depicted on this stamp), or a Torah crown, tree of life, a seven-branched candelabrum, or other Jewish symbols - all within a setting of leaves and flowers serving as a pleasant background to the back, and occasionally side panels of the lamp. We find a definite trend on the part of the anonymous creators of these lamps to beautify them with rich ornamentation taken from the plant and animal kingdoms, architectural motifs, and typical Jewish symbols as in the murals frequently found on the woodwork of synagogues, stone carvings on tombstones, or the special paper decorations for the festival of Succoth.

In contrast to the Hanukkah lamps of Spanish and Oriental Jewry, the lamps of the Ashkenazi Jews in general, and those of Polish Jewry in particular, are constructed in the form of a "building" with three walls (the panels) sometimes in the form of the facade of a miniature synagogue (to call to mind the "rededication of the Temple") resting on a base with four legs. This lamp is normally meant to be stood up, not hung, and an interesting feature of such lamps its that they always come with two shamashim ("servant lamps") positioned symmetrically atop of the side panels. According to some scholars, their cups which are designed to hold candles - unlike the cups serving to hold oil - were used as Shabbat candlesticks.

The 17th-century German silver standing lamp, of the value 0.70 agorot, is another item from the Israel Museum collection.

Alongside the small Hanukkah lamp, called a Hanukkah menorah or a Hannukkiyah and designed for home use, we find the massive upright Hanukkah candelabrum used form lighting candles in the synagogue. The standing candelabrum is first mentioned in the 12tth century by Rabbi Avraham ben Natan of Yarhi of Lunel in the French Provence.

These candelabra, which once decorated the interiors of many synagogues in Europe (Italy, Holland, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere), were invariably placed beside the Holy Ark. Many of them were of classical design, that is, in the form of the ancient candelabrum depicted on the Arch of Titus at Rome and occasionally their branches were decorated following the biblical description of the candelabrum listed among the furnishings of the Tabernacles - with knop and flowers - while their bases are sometimes engraved in the form of tiny lions couchant supporting the branches of the candelabrum.

As a result of the annihilation of European Jewry in the Holocaust and the destruction of their religio-artistic treasures, only a few examples of these delightful candelabra have been preserved. It is a charming Israeli custom to use large standing candelabra, symbols of the Hanukkah festival, to decorate the facades of synagogues and public buildings in town, country, and kibbutz and to illuminate them not only on the Festival of Lights but also on Independence Day (when seven of the eight candles are lit).

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Israel's Festivals Feast Of "Hanukka"