Torah or Rabbinic Prohibition

The Gemara implies that the prohibition of forming a Menorah is a Torah prohibition, which is included in the Torah words, “You shall not make with Me.” These words are understood to imply that one must not form any servants of Hashem, even if there is no intention to serve them as idolatry.

A number of rishonim, including the She’iltos (57), the Ramban, the Ran, and others, state that forming a Menorah is a Torah prohibition. This is also implied by the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 141).

Many rishonim including the Meiri and Chinuch(39) write that although creating a Menorah involves a Torah prohibition, there is no physical punishment of malkos for doing so, because the prohibition of “You shall not create with Me” includes a number of separate prohibitions (no physical punishment is given for transgressing a prohibition that includes several distinct prohibitions).

Some authorities write that the prohibition is only rabbinic, and not a Torah prohibition (KiryasSefer on the Rambam, Beis Habchirah Chap. 7). This may be the position of the Rambam, who omits the halachah from the laws of idolatry and only mentions (Beis Habchirah 7:10) the prohibition as a detail of the Torah’s obligation to “fear the Mikdash.” The obligation to fear the Temple implies that we should not make replicas of the Temple vessels, though – according to the KiryatSefer – this is not a full Torah prohibition.

The Rif likewise mentions the prohibition without citing any Biblical source.

Forming by a Non-Jew

RavMosheFeinstein (IggrosMoshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:54) writes that the prohibition of forming  images for non-idolatrous purposes does not apply to non-Jews: “But non-Jews are not forbidden to create an image for decoration or for a monument.” RavMoshe writes that this halachah is simple (for forming an idol or image is not included in the Seven Noahide Mitzvos), and requires no proof – though he nonetheless mentions a proof from Tosafos to this effect.

However, a number of authorities are unsure as to whether the prohibition applies even to non-Jews, and leave the matter unresolved (see Or Same’ach, Melachim 9:2; ChutShani, Pesach p. 225).

Yet, even if it is permitted for a non-Jew to fashion an image of a Menorah (or other image) for himself, it remains forbidden for a Jew to ask a non-Jew to create the image for him, as the Shach (141:17, 23) writes. The reason for this is that asking a non-Jew to perform an act prohibited to a Jew is forbidden with regard to Shabbos violations and other matters. A similar ruling is likewise given by later authorities.

We find, in this context, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh De’ah 2:54) was asked whether it is permitted to join a city committee whose purpose was to create a statue of the late President Kennedy, and even to raise funding for the matter from the Jewish community. RavMoshe ruled that “fashioning an image of a human form is prohibited even for decoration… and it is even forbidden to tell a non-Jew to create the image for himself, for it is forbidden to do so even for a non-Jew.”

Nonetheless, RavMoshe rules leniently in the question, because the non-Jew had already begun to form the statue, and because of considerations of darchei shalom and kevod ha-malchus, and he concludes that therefore “there is no prohibition at all.” He adds that the Jewish representative should ensure that he has no financial ownership of the statute.

Prohibition of Creation or Keeping

The ShulchanAruch (141:8) rules that it is forbidden to fashion something in the form of the Menorah: “It is forbidden to make the form of the heichal… a Menorah in the form of the Menorah.” The source of the prohibition is the aforementioned passage of the Gemara, which makes specific mention of making – creating – a seven-branched Menorah.

According to Tosafos, the prohibition involves only creating, and not keeping a Menorah in one’s possession. Tosafos explains that it is rabbinically prohibited to keep images of other Divine servants in one’s possession, because of the chashad (suspicion) – onlookers might think that the image is being used for idolatry. Concerning the Menorah (and other Temple vessels), however, there is no chashad, and it is therefore permitted to keep them.

This leniency is ruled by a number of rishonim, including the She’iltos (57), the Rosh, and the Tur. The MinchasChinuch (39:2) writes that this is also the Rambam’s opinion.

However, the Ran cites Maharam of Rotenberg who concludes that there is a distinction between different levels of Divine servants. Where replicas can be made of the originals, such as the Temple vessels, it is prohibited even to keep them in one’s possession. According to the Maharam, there is thus a full Torah prohibition on keeping replicas of Temple vessels in one’s possession.

Stringent Opinions for Possession and Use

Although there are opinions (see TifferesLe’Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 141) that it is permitted to keep a seven-branched Menorah in one’s possession, many authorities write that one should be stringent in this matter. This is ruled by the Chida (Shiurei Berachah 8) and by the PeriAdamah (3, 3, Avodah Zarah 11), and it is the common custom to be stringent in this matter (see AteresPaz, Vol. 2, Yoreh De’ah 6, for a lengthy discussion of the matter).

Indeed, when Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked (Derech Sichah Vol. 1, p. 267) about somebody whose wife had been lighting Shabbos candles in a seven-armed candelabrum for thirty years, he replied that “my mother once bought a seven-branched candelabrum and brought it home. When the ChazonIsh saw it had seven branches, he instructed her to return it at once to the store.”

Nonetheless, there are possible methods by which a permissible candelabrum can be made, as we will see below.

What is a Menorah? Branches and Candles

Now we must try to ascertain what constitutes a Menorah, and what changes to the original form of the Menorah are required to permit fashioning (and keeping) a seven-branched Menorah.

The Gemara states – as noted at the outset – that it is forbidden to create a seven-branched Menorah, but it is permitted to create a Menorah of five, six, or eight branches. The Gemara (Menachos 28b) adds that according to the TannaKamma it is also permitted to create a Menorah of materials other than metal, whereas Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Yehudah states that it is even forbidden to make a Menorah out of wood. Rabbi Yosi based his opinion on the Menorah of the Chashmona’im, but the Sages replied that it, too, was fashioned of metal but paneled on the outside with wood.

According to all opinions, it emerges that the prohibition against forming a Menorah applies only to a Menorah that in some way resembles the one used to serve in the Mikdash.The authorities dispute the nature of changes to the form of the Menorah that are required to permit its formation. The Maharik (75, as cited by the Beis Yosef 141) writes that the issue is defined by appearance: If the form of the proposed Menorah resembles the Menorah of the Temple, it is forbidden to create it.

The ChachamZvi (60), however, writes that the prohibition does not depend on appearance alone. Rather, it is permitted to fashion a Menorah that is disqualified for use in the Temple, irrespective of its appearance.

Based on this, the ChachamZvi rules that it is permitted to create a seven-branched Menorah that has [preparations for] eight candles: The Temple Menorah could only accept seven candles, and the eighth candle is change enough from the original to permit its making. He adds that this will be permitted even according to the Maharik, because the addition of the eighth candle constitutes a change in appearance.

The Sho’el U’Meishiv (Kamma Vol. 3, no. 71) disputes this ruling, and writes that the status of the Menorah depends on the braches alone, and not on the candles; but as Shut Lehoros Nasan (3:48) points out, Rashi implies that the candles are significant for this matter, supporting the ruling of the Chacham Zvi.

Based on this, the Maharsham (7:14) writes that a seven-branched menorah can be permitted by stopping up one of the candle-holes permanently, so that no candle (oil) can be received. Moreover, it will even be permitted to stop up the hole with a glass cup (which can then be used to contain oil), provided that the cup is stuck to the Menorah with permanent glue, thereby disqualifying the Menorah.

Changes that Permit the Menorah

The following is a list of some other possibilities for changing the form of the Menorah:

  • It is permitted to make a menorah of materials other than metal, even of wood.
  • There is a dispute whether a Menorah that does not have a central shaft is disqualified (Pischei Teshuvo 141,14).
  • The prohibition against forming a Menorah applies even where the decorations that were present on the TempleMenorah are not present, because their absence does not disqualify the Menorah. Indeed, the Menorah of the Chashmonaim, which was made of other metals (not gold), did not include the decorations (see Shach 141:36).
  • Poskim dispute the status of an electric Menorah (or a Menorah made for wax candles). Shut YechevehDaas (3:61) writes that the prohibition does not apply, because there is no setting for an oil candle. However, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Ve’Hanhagos 1:161) writes that “perhaps one must be stringent” even for an electric Menorah, and concludes that the matter requires further study. The AtterresPoz permits only if the electric lights are affixed permanently.
  • Authorities dispute the status of a Menorah whose branches revolve in a circular pattern around a central shaft (see Darchei Teshuvah 56).

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