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Please Pass the Candelabra

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Topic: Please Pass the Candelabra

From: Debra R.

Dear Rabbi,
For about a week now a friend and I have been arguing over whether or not a chanukiah and a menorah are the same thing. When I went to Israel, in a store in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, I asked to see the "menorah" in the display case and the clerk proceeded to lecture me on the differences between a chanukiah and a menorah. The clerk was adamant that they were distinct from each other. Then we visited the Knesset and saw the great seven-branched menorah outside. I asked our tour educator if there was a difference between a chanukiah and a menorah and she agreed with the clerk - they were two distinct things. She pointed out that the menorah, not the chanukiah, was the national emblem of the State of Israel. She added that American Jews foolishly mistook chanukiahs for menorahs. My friend has never had the "pleasure" of having an Israeli store clerk call him "an idiot" and insists that a menorah and a chanukiah are the same thing. Who is right?

Dear Debra R.,
When reading a question like yours - which is basically a question of semantics - some people will say, "who cares?"

Those people are anti-semantic. What they don't realize is that a situation could arise where someone says, "pass the menorah" and everybody reaches for something different and all havoc breaks loose. So, I think your question deserves special attention and that the answer will resolve an argument between you and your friend and bring peace on earth.

Menorah means candelabra (Exodus 25). A gold menorah with seven lamps was part of the "furnishings" in the ancient Temple. This was chosen by Israel as a national symbol, and it appears on some Israeli coins.

On Chanukah we light a special eight-candle menorah. There is a ninth candle to provide light because the Chanukah candles themselves may not be used for light. Modern Hebrew has coined the word "chanukiah" to refer to this Chanukah menorah. This new word, while not in any classical Jewish text such as the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch, is nevertheless quite a clear and useful word.

So, in the classical sense, the clerk and tour guide are wrong. But in the modern Hebrew sense, I think they are right. So…please pass the chanukiah!

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