Shape of the Menora

In more recent times, Chabad have pushed the line based on a sketch from the Rambam (and a possible interpretation of Rashi), that the (main) Menora didn’t have curved arms, but looked like this (with straight arms)

Chabad style Menora

The common view however has always been that these sketches were not exact and that the Menora’s shape is as per the traditional Jewish Mesorah and looks like this:

Traditional Menora

There have been various archeological discoveries which support the traditional Menora, but perhaps the most significant one was just discovered in Jerusalem.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar displays the 10-cm gold medallion discovered at the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Picture: Ouria Tadmor Source: Supplied

Dr Mazar said he believes the gold was abandoned during a Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614AD.

She has called the find “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”

“We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area, a much earlier time in Jerusalem’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century AD at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise.”

The 10cm medallion is etched with the Temple’s logo a menorah candelabrum as well as other religious iconography such as a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll. Attached to a gold chain, its discoverers believe the medallion was an ornament attached to a Torah.

I recall Rabbi Seth Mandel writing on this topic. Here is what he wrote:

The subject of the exact shape and structure of various kelim used in
the Beis haMiqdosh (BhM) has not been traditionally a matter of much
concern to Jews who learned. In most communities, Jews concentrated on
the sections of the g’moro that had practical relevance, such as
B’rakhot, Seder Mo’ed, Seder Nashim, Seder N’ziqin, Hullin, and sections
of M’nahot. The rules of z’ra’im, qodoshim, and taharot were mostly
abandoned, left, as the Rambam says, as a stone that no one turns over.
Included in qodoshim were the rules of the qorbanot and the rules of the
structure of the BhM, its kelim, and bigdei k’hunna. This was true of
all communities, including the S’faradim and Teimanim. There were only a
few in K’lal Yisra’el who bothered with the issues, mostly chaburos (in
all the communities) who learned mishnayos, or the Teimanim, who
traditionally had a seder limmud every day in the Mishneh Torah, or
individual talmidei chachomim who learned the entire Torah, regardless
of practical relevance.

Indeed, there seems to be little practical relevance nowadays to the
dinim of k’lei haMiqdosh. Without the prospect of rebuilding the BhM,
there is no need for the kelim or the bigdei k’hunna. There was a short
period of excitement before the founding of the State of Israel, when
there was a lively discussion among the g’dolim of Y’rushalayim about
the possibility of renewing the offering of at least some qorbanot.
Outside of that time, the halokhos of the BhM were never discussed from
a practical point of view, either because some held that the Third
Temple would be and could be set up only miraculously, or because
political realities seem to preclude any foreseeable prospect of

However, about 20 years ago, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe ob’m instituted
a seder limmud of the Mishneh Torah among his chasidim. He periodically
gave shmuessen about certain sections of the Rambam that was being
learned. In one, in 1982, he explained to his chasidim that according to
the Rambam the Menorah of the BhM did not have rounded arms, as
traditionally depicted, but had straight arms, going up from the side of
the main pole of the menorah at a 45 degree angle to vertical. This
still would have remained within the area of his chiddushim on the
Rambam and of only theoretical interest, were it not for the idea that
the holders for chanuka candles, called Chanuka menoras or, in modern
Hebrew, khanukiyot, should be in the shape of the Menorah of the BhM. In
Likkutei Sichos vol. 21, p. 169 the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “Based on
this, the menoros used on Chanuka should also be diagonal.” A Lubavitch
web site claims that some of the Rebbe’s chasidim built a new menorah
based on what their Rebbe had said and put it into 770 Eastern Parkway
during Hanukka 1982 (prior to that time, the Rebbe had used a wooden
menorah, which had arms that went out horizontally and then bent up at
90 degrees to the vertical). In any event, I do not know the source for
the idea that the taqqono of Hazal of neros Hanukka in any way derives
from the halokhos of the Menorah of the BhM; it has no source in the
g’moro nor in the rishonim. Neither the time of lighting, nor the place
of lighting, nor method of lighting, nor the substance to be lit, nor
the holders of the candles are derived by Hazal from the rules of the
Menorah of the BhM. Indeed, regarding the last item, namely the holders
of the candles/oil, there are no halokhos at all. According to Hazal and
the rishonim, you could light in whatever you chose: 8 separate candle
holders, one large bowl with 8 carefully distinguished wicks (by placing
a cover over the bowl), or with one object with 8 holders for candles or
oil. Archeological evidence seems to support the idea that most Jews in
the time of Hazal lit by putting out the appropriate number separate
clay oil holders. But Jewish communities from the medieval period on
used various mostly standardized forms that held candles, made out of
tin, brass, or pottery. Jewish museums hold hundreds of these; it is
very easy to establish that although various depictions, such as a lion,
were common, none that anyone has ever discovered were designed to
imitate any shitta of how the Menorah of the BhM was shaped. Such an
idea, that whatever is used to hold the lights in the house should
imitate the BhM, has no basis either in Jewish tradition nor in Jewish
law. (The g’moro says explicitly that whereas certain oils are preferred
and certain forbidden for Shabbos, there is no preference whatsoever for
Hanukka. There was a custom of some to light with olive oil (not minhag
Ashk’naz, which was to light with wax), but some rishonim interpret that
as having to do with the brightness of the flame. I plan to discuss this
at greater length in a subsequent post, b’n).

Ignoring that for the moment, the question I would like to discuss is
the shape of the Menorah of the BhM.

Rashi, on Sh’mot 25:32 says “Yotz’im mitziddeha: l’khan ul’khan
ba’alakson, nimshakhim v’olim.” Since ba’alakson means “diagonally,”
Rashi appears to indicate that the arms of the Menorah were straight.

However, Ibn ‘Ezra (ha’arokh) says on Sh’mot 25:32 “qanim: ‘agulim
‘arukkim,” and in 25:37 (haqatzar) “hashisha ne’erakhim zeh ‘ahar zeh
bahatzi ‘iggul.” So it is clear that he thought that the arms were
round. That indeed was the traditional idea, as far as I can tell, for
most people. The fact that the famous arch of Titus depicts a menorah
with semi-circular arms may have something to do with that, but it is
simply a fact that all Jewish drawing of menorahs from the time of
printing (and they were printed in hundreds of s’farim) had not
straight, but curved arms. (See, for example, 4 Medieval drawings of the
Menorah in the BhM in vol. 5 of R. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael,
pp. 69-72.)

The Rambam drew a picture of the menorah in Perush haMishnayot (“PhM:)
(M’nahot 3:7) and in the Mishneh Torah (Hil. Bet haB’hirah 3:10) as well
(in both places the original text says “and this is its form”), but
these were not known in the European Jewish world. The printed versions
of the Mishneh Torah omitted the drawing and even excised the words
“v’zo hi tzuratah”, and the printers of the PhM made up a picture based
on their own ideas of what the menorah looked like (with round arms,
because, as I said, it was accepted that the arms were round). More
accurate representations of the Rambam’s own drawings, however,
continued to be reproduced by the Yemenite scribes in their copies.

The turn in the European Jewish world came when European scholars and
talmidei chachomim started looking in mss. of the Rambam, in old mss. of
the Mishneh Torah, in his writings in the original Arabic, and in
writings of his son R. Avraham, which also were also in Arabic (all of
this happened in the mid-19th Century). All of the above sources showed
that the Rambam drew the Menorah as having straight arms. Yemenite and
very old mss. of the Mishneh Torah, all the copies of the PhM in Arabic
(which were again either Yemenite or old) and a mss. of the PhM which
apparently is was written and drawn by the Rambam himself also shows
that. And in R. Avraham’s Perush on the Torah, he specifically says that
the arms were “straight, as my father and teacher drew it, not circular
as others have drawn” (e.g. Ibn ‘Ezra, which R. Avraham was aware of,
but I am sure there were many others). Originally only scholars and
talmidei chachomim were aware of the new information, but gradually it
spread. In particular this was thanks to R. Yosef Qafih’s edition of PhM
(originally with the Arabic original and the Hebrew translation, but the
Hebrew translation published alone was widely accepted, even in chareidi
circles, because R. Qafih was accepted in the chareidi world and because
his Hebrew was so much clearer than earlier translations). R. Qafih
published a picture from the Rambam’s own ms. of the PhM, reproduced
here at (my thanks
to R. Shlomo Goldstein and R. Micha Berger for setting it up). Once this
idea of straight arms became known and accepted people then looked at
Rashi and said “he must agree” (although that does not seem to have
occurred to anyone that I have seen before the Rambam’s drawings were
promulgated in the mid 19th Century: one would have thought that one of
the many g’dolim who published books with pictures of the Menorah would
have noted that that is not according to Rashi).

There is no direct qashya with believing that the Rambam held that the
arms of the Menorah were straight. Indeed, the description in the T’NaKh
concentrates mostly on the numbers and placement of the arms and the
various g’vi’im, kaftorim and p’rahim, but does not describe any of them
in detail. The G’mara adds measurements and more halakhot about the
Menorah (such as “what if one gavia’ is missing”), but also does not
describe them in detail. So the Rambam’s description of the arms, or his
description of a gavia’ as a “makhrut ustuwaana,” a cone, contradicts no
sources that we know of.

However, there are 2 main problems with the standard interpretation of
the Rambam and his drawing.

1.. Virtually all drawings of the Menorah from ancient sources show
rounded arms.
2.. It is impossible that the Rambam’s own drawing represents
accurately the shape of the Menorah (even according to the Rambam
Let me discuss each of these problems, and then we shall see that the
solution to one will solve the other.

1.. Virtually all drawings of the Menorah from ancient sources show
rounded arms.
Long before the Magen David (originally a decorative emblem and a
magical symbol used by both Gentiles and Jews) became a specifically
Jewish symbol (probably starting in the 14th Century), the Menorah was
one of the primary Jewish symbols. In hundreds of coins, synagogue
paintings and mosaics, and ossuary decorations from the time of the
Hasmoneans through the Byzantine period the primary Jewish symbols were
the Menorah, a lulav and etrog, sometimes a shofar. So there are many,
many drawings and paintings of the Menorah from Jewish sources; we
cannot blame this on a Gentile Roman artist who sculpted the Arch of
Titus. Virtually all show the Menorah with curved arms.

Let me confine my discussion to examples that are the most readily
accessible to people (which I assume the Jewish Encyclopedia [“JE”]and
R. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael [“MY”, all citations from his
volume 5] are), I will discuss the following examples:

1.. the coin of Mattitya Antigonos, JE 11:1357 (= MY pp. 172, 174, 176
2.. wall drawing from a house in the Old City, JE 11:1358 (= MY p.178 #4)
3.. paintings from the walls of the Dura-Europos Synagogue, 1) JE 6:301, plate 6 (= MY p. 192), 2) JE 6:277, fig. 3, 3) JE 6:285, fig. 15 (= 6:300, plate 8 = MY p. 183)
4.. a drawing found in a catacomb in Venosa, Italy, dating back to the
first century, at
5.. the Arch of Titus, JE 6:1355 (= MY pp. 185-187, 189-190) My remarks will be applicable to other drawings as well.

a) and b) in this regard (as well as the rough sketches at the Tomb of
Jason in MY p. 178 #5) are the most important for our purposes, because
they were made by Jews at the time when the BhM was still standing. e)
is next in chronological order, sculpted either in 81 or 94 of the
Common Era, according to MY p. 184: at least a decade after the
destruction, but soon enough after that the sculptor can be assumed to
have seen the original. The pictures at Dura-Europos, OTOH, are from 275
of the Common Era, a couple of centuries later, but they are done by
Jews (the JE brings other representations from the 3rd Century in 6:1357
fig. 3 and 1360-1361). The picture from Venosa may date to the first
century or may be somewhat later.

The first and most crucial question to be addressed is whether the
Menorah in the drawings is indeed supposed to be the Menorah in the
Hekhal of the BhM. R. Qafih is forced to argue that it is not, and is
either a different menorah used somewhere in the BhM or a menorah not
used there at all.

Regarding a) (from 37 BCE, a century before the destruction!), the
political background of the coin is crucial to understand. As R. Sperber
notes on p. 173 note 5, Matitya Antigonos is the successor to Yonatan
Hyrkanos II, who did _not_ claim to title of king (basileus), just to be
the Kohen Gadol. The inscription on the coin, however, says on one side
Matitya haKohen haGadol v’Haver haY’hudim (the latter, literally meaning
“friend of the Jews,” at that time had a specific political meaning,
something like “Head of the Jewish Protectorate”). On the other side it
says Basileoos Antigonou [transliterating omega as a double o], Greek
for “of the King Antigonos,” meaning the coin was coined under the rule
of King Antigonos (the nominative, “King Antigonos,” would normally be
accompanied by a visage or other representation of Antigonos). Matitya
Antigonos (which is the combination of his Hebrew and his Greek name,
although he would never have been called that, any more than R. Velvel
Brisker would have been called Yitzhaq Z’ev Velvel) was emphasizing his
claim to kingship on the coin. It only makes sense, then, for him to use
symbols representing Jewish sovereignty over the Temple. In that
context, he would not use Jewish symbols, say a lulav and etrog, found
on other coins, but only artifacts that represented the BhM. If there
had been another menorah in the BhM that would prove sovereignty other
than the Menorah in the Hekhal, we know nothing about it, and surely
Hazal would have mentioned it somewhere were it so important. In
particular, the Menorah had acquired the connotation of Jewish
sovereignty at the time of the Matitya ben Yohanan and the Hanukka
miracle; Matitya Antigonos, named after his ancestor and a Hasmonean,
would naturally have used the Menorah in the Hekhal as THE symbol of
Jewish sovereignty.

So menorah must be intended to represent the Menorah in the Hekhal. To
be sure, this is a coin, and there is no room for details, like
kaftorim. But, as R. Sperber points out, this is not just a schematic
representation: its dimensions match the dimensions that Hazal gave to
the Menorah in terms of the ratio between the area with the arms vs. the
base below. And what is the shape of the arms? Curved, but by no means
circular like the ones on the Arch of Titus. Rather, they are more like
the arc of an ellipse: they curve most sharply at the bottom and then,
about a third of their length, they become almost straight. You can see
this by comparing the space between the tops of the 7 arms, where the
candles were. On the coin, the tops are all equidistant from each other,
most importantly the two curved arms on either side of the central arm
are the same distance from the central arm as all the other arms are
from each other.. Compare this to e), where the arms are semicircular,
and so the two curved arms nearest the center are further away from the
central arm than the other arms are from each other, and to the Rambam’s
drawing (and any other with straight arms, e.g. c3).

The base itself may have had three legs, like both Rashi and the Rambam
say, and all Jewish representations show (see a discussion in MY pp.
177-183), but the coin is rubbed out at the bottom. In any event, it is
clear that it did not have the double-hexagonal base shown in e).

Next is b). This is from a house in the very wealthy, upper class area
of the Upper City of Y’rushalayim, one from which the BhM was actually
visible; the house was destroyed at the time of the Destruction of the
Temple from all indications. Thus it is a representation from the time
that the Menorah still existed. The fact that it is depicted next to a
representation of the Shulhan of the Lehem haPanim proves that it is
meant to be the Menorah in the Hekhal, as do the decorations of
elliptical (egg-shaped) objects on the arms, presumably the kaftorim.
Again, it is not completely detailed (the numbers of the g’vi’im and
kaftorim are not correct, and there are no p’rahim), but the same
comments about a) apply: its relative dimensions are exactly correct; it
shows the same relative size of the tripod base to the arms as does a),
both in terms of height and width, and the arms are curved, but not
semicircular. In fact, they are remarkably similar in shape to those
depicted in a): they are all equidistant from each other, they curve at
the bottom, and about a third of the way up they become almost straight.

Thus we have two depictions, one from a Hasmonean king and one, done 40
to 100 years later, from a man residing in the most prestigious part of
Y’rushalayim overlooking the BhM, both from the time when the Temple
existed, that agree almost exactly in terms of relative dimensions and
the shape of the arms. For this to be a coincidence strains the

Proceeding to c), from a synagogue (i.e. Jewish) 200 years later, we
find 3 different drawings. c1) and c2) are virtually identical. The
relative dimensions of the height of the menorah are almost the same as
in a) and b). The base is very clearly much like the Rambam’s depiction
(with the caveats that I shall discuss below about the latter) and the
description of Rashi in Sh’mot 25:31, showing three legs underneath a
small dome-shaped base supporting the central arm. The arms are
decorated with knobs and some other things, presumably a representation
of the g’vi’im and kaftorim (and perhaps the p’rahim, although it is
difficult to make out precise details), although, as in b), the numbers
are not correct and they cover the entire arm, whereas in reality the
decorations would only have covered the upper part of the outer arms.
Although the arms are more semicircular than in a) and b), that is true
only of the outermost arms. The arms closer to the central arm are
clearly not semicircular, and, indeed, are very like the shape in a) and
b): curved sharply at the bottom and then almost straight toward the
upper part. c3), OTOH, is very different. Its arms are almost straight
(but are _not_ completelystraight, and the two inner arms are further
from the central arm than the other arms are from each other. The
decorations on the arms are different (although again they do not match
the number of g’vi’im and kaftorim given in the Torah). The base has
three podes, but they seem to be composed of balls. Most importantly,
the central arm does not extend to the base. Rather, it stops partway
down and has a rather large bottom part, consisting of a vase-shaped
part and below it four circular disks, each bigger than the one above.
It is also noteworthy that it is placed next to a lulav and etrog, in
contradistinction to c1) and c2), which are both shown standing before
the entrance to a hall with no lulav and etrog. I would argue that c1)
and c2) are meant to be depictions of The Menorah in the Hekhal
(particularly since c2) is next to a depiction of a figure labeled
Aroon, the Greek version of Aharon), whereas c3) is a stylized Jewish
symbol, based on the Menorah, to be sure, but not meant to be an exact
depiction. I would make the same remark about most of the hundreds of
other drawings of menorahs meant as Jewish symbols: although probably
based on the Menorah in the Hekhal, they are not drawn as accurate
sketches, but as stylized drawing of a symbol. See, for instance, d), a
picture discovered in a catacomb in Verona, Italy, that dates back to
the first Century of the Common Era. To the right of the menorah are a
shofar and a lulav, to its left an etrog and something else. The lulav
is obviously a stylized representation of one; no palm fronds curve
around as that one does. Similarly, we can say that the drawing of the
menorah shows that the arms are curved, that it has a tripod for a base,
that the base is smaller than the rest of the menorah. Possibly we could
use relative sizes of the elements as a general indication. But it would
be foolish to measure the arcs of the arms, count the knobs on the arms,
or any other details, since the artist was not interested in making an
architectural sketch.

d), OTOH, is clearly different from a), b), and any of the c)s. The base
is entirely different, and out of proportion with the rest of the
menorah. The arms are all semicircular (as they are in some 3rd – 4th
Century representations from Jewish synagogues shown in JE 11:1357-1361)
and therefore the space between the inner arms and the central arm is
noticeably greater than the distance between the other arms. It has
clear kaftorim and p’rahim, although in the wrong number (not covering
the entire arms, but a greater number on the outside, longer arms). It
is not clear what the g’vi’im are meant to be: they seem to be flattened
bowl-shaped objects above and below the kaftorim, but the concave faces
of each face the kaftor, so that the concave part of the upper bowl
faces down and the concave face of the one below faces up. The central
arm appears to be wrapped with some decoration below the outer arms, and
the base is two giant hexagons, the top one larger than the lower one,
with decorations on the side panels. Examination of the panels of the
hexagons shows that the central one on the upper hexagon has a picture
of two eagles holding a (laurel?) crown. To its left and right are
panels showing a ketos, a aquatic monster usually with a serpent body
and the head of a bird or other animal. In the lower hexagon are three
panels with various kete (plural of ketos). A ketos is called drakon by
Hazal; in the Mishna Avodah Zara 3:3 it shows that a drakon was suspect
of being a symbol of AZ. How would that get into the Temple? Even worse,
the eagle was the symbol of Imperial Rome, and as such was an anathema
to Jews longing to be free of Roman rule.

However, the picture cannot be simply an invention of a Roman artist.
The arms are are equidistant from each other, and the distance equals
the width of the arms (another universal characteristic of Jewish
sources), they all go up to an equal height, and even the ratio of the
distance from the base to the lower arms to the rest of the height
matches the ratio given by Hazal. And there are clear g’vi’im, kaftorim
and p’rahim on the arms. This must be a representation of the Menorah of
the Hekhal. So how can we explain the base?

R. Daniel Sperber gives the correct answer, IMHO. He notes that usually
a ketos has a nymph perched on its back, and scales on its neck, and
shows pictures of a very similar from a Roman temple in Didyma with such
a nymph. In e), there is no nymph and no scales on the neck. He quotes
the g’moro AZ 43a that a drakon that is osur has scales on its neck, and
the Tosefta in AZ that says “if the neck was smooth, it is muttar.” This
evidence, that the base was made showing the symbol of Imperial Rome and
avoiding AZ, matches Herod the Great. He was put in his position, after
Matitya Antigonos, by the Roman, and Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews
tells us that he erected a great golden eagle over the gates of the
Temple, an act that angered the Jews. OTOH, he always was careful to
portray himself as King of the Jews and avoided any outright AZ. So, R.
Sperber concludes, it must have been Herod who put on the base. Why
would he have monkeyed around with the Menorah? Probably because shortly
before his reign the Parthians entered Y’rushalayim and plundered it.
The Menorah may well have been broken at its weakest point, its small
base, at that time, and Herod, whose mark was large construction
projects many of which were for the benefit of the Jews while at the
same time reminding everyone of Roman sovereignty (as he did in his
reconstruction of the BhM), would naturally have made a large new base,
for the good of the Jewish Temple but with Roman symbols.

So it is extremely probable that e) was actually drawn from someone who
saw the Menorah as it was paraded through Rome in 71 and perhaps later,
wherever it ended up. But some of the exact details, like the exact
number of kaftorim, or the exact curve of the arms, is wrong, because
the sculptor no longer had the Menorah in front of him.

In summary, all depictions of the Menorah in the Hekhal, from Jewish and
Roman sources from the time of the BhM and the following couple of
centuries (as well as medieval Jewish sources) show the Menorah with
rounded arms. (It is worth mentioning that the 4 Medieval Jewish
drawings of the Menorah in MY pp. 69-72 all show arms like in a) and b):
curved at the bottom, but straight in the upper part.)

1.. It is impossible that the Rambam’s own drawing represents
accuragtely the shape of the Menorah (even according to the Rambam
Let me begin by quoting him in PhM [my translation from the original]:
“it had three legs. A gavia’ is the form of a solid [i.e. not hollow]
cup, except that it gets narrow toward the bottom, or, if you wish, [it
has] the shape of a cone whose tip has been cut off. A kaftor is the
form of a sphere that is not exactly circular, but somewhat elongated,
close to the shape of a bird’s egg. A perah is the form of the blossom
of a lily. And now I will draw for you in this drawing the g’vi’im in
the shape of a triangle and the kaftorim as a circle and the perah as a
semicircle in order to make the drawing easier, since my intent in this
drawing is not that you should know the exact form of a gavia’, since I
have just explained it to you. Rather my intent is to show you the
number of the g’vi’im, the kaftorim and the p’rahim, and their
placement, and the length of places of the arms of the Menorah that are
empty and that of the places that have kaftorim and p’rahim, and its
general appearance [lit.: how its generality was]. And here is the
drawing of all of these.” He says explicitly that you should not pay too
much attention to all the details of the drawing. On the contrary, he
says it is a schematic drawing, representing the kaftorim and other
parts by geometric shapes that are easy to draw. In particular, note his
last words here: “w’aljumlah kayfa kaanat,” “its general appearence.” I
believe that that applies not just to the shapes of the kaftorim etc.,
but to the entire drawing: it is schematic, and was meant only to be

But if the arms weren’t exactly straight, why did the Rambam draw them
that way? Well, why did he draw the kaftorim as a circle? Because he
drew everything with a ruler, a compass and a protractor (much as an
electrical schematic drawing is done with straight lines). Note that all
the kaftorim are drawn not as free-form circles, but are perfectly round
(even though the real kaftorim were not). Similarly, the top of the
base, above the three legs, is a perfect arc clearly drawn with a
compass. The distances are also schematic: the space occupied by the
gavia’, kaftor and perah above the base are one tefah, as the note on
the drawing next to them states, whereas the empty space above them and
below them are both two t’fahim, also clearly noted (“t’fahayim”) on the
drawing, yet those latter spaces in the drawing are much less than the
space taken by the g’via’, kaftor and perah.

As a matter of fact, the drawings of Yemenite scribes, their attempts to
reproduce the Rambam’s drawing, most clearly differ in the fact that
whereas the Rambam used a ruler, compass and protractor for everything,
the Yemenite scribes made free-hand drawings. Their triangles are not
exactly triangular, their circles are not exactly circular, and their
straight lines are not exactly straight, including the shape of the
arms. See one of them reproduced by R. Qafih in his edition of the
Mishneh Torah, page 54.

Another proof that the Rambam’s drawing is not meant to be schematic and
not accurate in its details is the placement of the g’vi’im, kaftorim
and perahim on the arms. The Rambam, again for ease of drawing, put them
all at the bottom of the arms, and since the outside arms are longer
than the inside ones, these items were not lined up next to each other.
Everyone knew that this was not meant to be accurate, and so even the
Yemenite scribes changed it in their free-hand drawings, putting the
g’vi’im, kaftorim and perahim at the very top of all of the arms. R.
Qafih knew this as well; in his “corrected” drawing in his edition of
PhM he not only drew these items on the tops of the arms, he also
thought that the Rambam drew the g’vi’im upside down: the Rambam drew
them with the narrow end pointing up, whereas R. Qafih redrew them with
the narrow end pointing down (as is the common view, that these “cups”
were on the Menorah with the “bottom” of the cup down). Although R.
Qafih changed his mind about the direction of the pointed end by the
time he put out his edition of the Mishneh Torah, my point is not which
way is correct, but that he himself thought that the Rambam did not
necessarily mean that all details of the drawing were accurate, and so
did not consider minor changes to be against the Rambam’s view.

As for the comments of R. Avraham, the son of the Rambam, that the arms
were straight, let me note that he says explicitly “as my father and
teacher drew them.” Not “as my father told me” or “as my father said.” I
believe that R. Avraham was basing himself on the drawings of the
Rambam, rather than having had a discussion with his father about the
subject. This is not the only time that R. Avraham made statements based
on what his father had written that may not accurately reflect his
father’s exact view, and most scholars agree that R. Avraham’s
statements about his father’s view must be treated cautiously. There is
little question about his transmission of things that he says he heard
from his father, but things he read from his father he may not know more
about than anyone else.

Now even in a schematic drawing, if the arms were semicircular arcs, as
they are on the Arch of Titus, the Rambam would have surely drawn them
that way, using a compass. But what if the arms were not semicircular,
but were curved somewhat? What, as a matter of fact, if they were like
the arms shown in a), the coins of Matitya Antigonos or the arms shown
in b), the drawing on the wall of the house discovered in the Old City,
that were partially curved and partially straight or almost straight? I
would argue that in his schematic drawing, the Rambam would see nothing
wrong with drawing them with a ruler as a straight line. After all, as
he says, “my intent in this drawing is not that you should know [i.e. I
should draw] the exact form. Rather my intent is to show you the number
of the g’vi’im, the kaftorim and the p’rahim, and their placement, and
the length of places of the arms of the Menorah that are empty and that
of the places that have kaftorim and p’rahim, and its general

In the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam does not discuss all of the details of
his drawing that he did in the PhM; he does not even explain that the
triangles are g’vi’im and the circles are kaftorim. So the Mishneh Torah
does not add anything new.

I would also argue that Rashi’s statement of alakson could also fit the
drawings Medieval Jewish sources, discussed above. As I have said, it is
inconceivable to me that rabbonim drawing pictures of the Menorah in the
14th Century would not have noted that Rashi disagrees.

One may ask: why am I even trying to reconcile the Rambam to the
historical drawings. Is it not possible that the Rambam was simply wrong
about historical facts?

The Rambam may have been in error about historical facts; he dealt with
the best information available to him, and he did not have all the
knowledge we do now. He did not know Greek, for example, as far as we
can tell, and so does not realize when some words are Greek. But the
Rambam was well aware of archeological findings and did not dismiss
them. In one of his t’shuvos he even gives an ingenious explanation of
why all the inscriptions on coins are in K’tav ‘Ivri, rather than K’tav
Asshuri, when he holds that the Torah was given in K’tav Asshuri. It is
highly likely that the Rambam saw some of the many drawings of the
Menorah on coins and other artifacts, and since there is no clear
evidence from the g’moro or other Rabbinic texts that we know of, he
would not have rejected the drawings out of hand as all being a mistake.
Furthermore, the Rambam is one of the greatest of the Rishonim and the
only one who paskens lahalokho about the structure of the BhM; coins and
pictures are halakhic sources. I believe it is proper methodologically
to reconcile the g’dolei rishonim with non-halakhic depictions as much
as possible.

In conclusion, I have argued that no one thought that the arms were
exactly straight; that the idea came into being only in the 20th Century
after the Rambam’s drawing became common knowledge, but does not have a basis in a careful reading of the Rambam and a comparison to Jewish
depictions ranging from the time of the Temple to centuries later.

I shall defer a detailed discussion of the idea that the shape of
Hanukka menorahs should be based on the shape of the Menorah in the BhM
for another time. However, I repeat again that it has no basis in Hazal
or in the rishonim or in common Jewish practice for hundreds of years in
the construction of menorahs used to fulfill the mitzva of neros

For the Chabad view, please see here

Of course, for Chanuka, one doesn’t need a Menora, one can just use silverfoil as a base, for example.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

6 thoughts on “Shape of the Menora”

  1. Rabbi Mandel made one major mistake in his otherwise erudite article. The Ibn Ezra does not hold that the arms were curved. On the contrary, if you look inside, it is clear that he holds: 1) they were round in cross-section, i.e. like pipes. and 2) they were not arranged in a plane, but rather the six arms were arranged in a semi-circle behind the central stem. But as to their lengthwise shape, עגולים וארוכים implies that they were indeed straight, like pipes.

    There is no rishon who writes that the arms were curved. On the other hand the archaeological evidence for this is very strong, and the Rebbe was probably unaware of it. His objection was solely to deriving the shape of our depictions from the Rasha Titus y”sh. The picture on the Arch of Titus is completely unreliable, and it is wrong and perverse for us to base ourselves on it, in contradiction to the only written sources we have: the Rambam and Rashi. But if we are not basing ourselves on the Arch of Titus but on the wealth of archaeological evidence that has been uncovered, some of it from people who had themselves seen the actual menorah in the heichal, then it seems to me that the Rebbe would have no objection.


  2. Also, the Rebbe did not say that chanukah menoros should reflect the shape of the menorah in the beis hamikdash. Rather, he writes (in a footnote) that mokom lomar, there is room to say such a thing, i.e. it’s merely a suggestion. There is no inyan at all to make the chanukah menorah with a central stem and branches, and the Rebbe does not suggest that there is. But he suggests that if you choose to make it like that, then why davka make the shape of the arms different from the one in the BHMK? Why not make them the same shape, i.e. straight? (There is no issur in this, since the number of branches is different.) Of course one can answer that it’s an aesthetic judgement, that curved arms are just prettier. But the Rebbe assumes that the main reason people often make their chanukah menoros with a stem and branches is to emulate the one in the BHMK, and in that case if you make it curved then you are elevating Titus harasha above our own Jewish sources. (Again, this is without knowing about the archaeological evidence, so the only reason to make them curved is Titus. Once one knows about the other evidence, the entire premise falls away.)


    1. We have JEWISH evidence that the Menora’s arms were curved, as I wrote: ” the many coins minted during the time of Matitya Antigonus (40-37 BCE), just over 100 years before the destruction of the second Temple. The Menora on the coins, in my opinion, is similar to the one on the Titus Arch.” The artist or artists that minted these coins saw the actual Menora.
      As I wrote, maybe the ones that think that the Menora had straight arms were influenced by the one constructed by the Hashmonaim, which was first made of rods of iron (שיפודים של ברזל (ראש השנה כד, ב; עבודה זרה מג, א; מנחות כח, ב. and not gold – a temporary one. Maybe that as SHIPUDIM are straight and had no GVI’IM (therefore not the model of the original gold Menora), therefore לא מקבלים טומאה , some assume that the Menora had straight arms.
      It surprises me you writing: “if you make it curved then you are elevating Titus harasha above our own Jewish sources”. You have to look at evidence, and you have it from Titus and from Jewish coins. Accepting the evidence does not elevate anybody. You are probably familiar with the saying of our sages concerning astronomy: “נצחו חכמי אומות העולם לחכמי ישראל”.


  3. The ones who have seen the Menora are the coin strikers during the Second temple. see:
    The coins were struck during the time of Matitya Antigonus (40-37 BCE), just over 100 years before the destruction of the second Temple-the Menora on the coins, in my opinion, is similar to the one on the Titus Arch.
    Saying: “that the Rambam saw some of the many drawings of the
    Menorah on coins and other artifacts”, as we know the Jewish coins did have artifacts, but only the Matitya Antigonus has the Menora.
    About the base: ” The base itself may have had three legs, like both Rashi and the Rambam say, and all Jewish representations show (see a discussion in MY pp.
    177-183), but the coin is rubbed out at the bottom.” There are coins that you can see clearly that there are no three legs. If it is a double-base (as on Titus Arch) or a single one is difficult for me to say. The recent find of the Medallion in Jerusalem, struck before Rashi and Rambam – the Menora there has three legs. Rabbi Prof. Sperber’s conclusion is probably correct that the three legs were replaced. No wonder, as the three legs were quite thin, short and therefore not much apart, and caused a difficulty in balancing the Menora. But I wonder if it was King Herod who did it as Sperper suggests. King Herod (the Great) (75-4 BCE) was crowned in 40 BCE, after the last Hashmonean King Matitya Antigonus (who ruled just a short time of 3-4 years). But we see the base already in Antigonus’ coins – before Herod became King. Therefore the base was changed prior to Herod’s rule.
    It might be that the Menora of the Second Temple was different than the one in the first Temple. Even in the Second Temple there were a few Menorot built replacing the ones lost. The Hashmonaim constructed one,
    which was first (שיפודים של ברזל (ראש השנה כד, ב; עבודה זרה מג, א; מנחות כח, ב.and not gold. Maybe that as SHIPUDIM are straight and had no GVI’IM, therefore not UNCLEAN + לא מקבלים טומאה , some assume that the Menora had straight arms.


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