The Knesset Menorah

August 19th 2013

Israel Knesset Building MenorahA tour of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is not to be missed when touring Israel, and perhaps the most memorable part of any Knesset tour is taking a photo in front of the iconic Knesset Menorah sculpture.

The original menorah, a seven branched candelabra, stood in the Temple and has been a symbol of the Jewish people since the 2nd century BCE. It became a national symbol of the State of Israel in 1948. The official menorah has 7 branches, as distinguished from the candelabra lit at Chanukah time, which has 9 branches.

The Knesset Menorah, erected in the Rose Garden in front of the gates of the Knesset, is made of bronze, stands 14 feet high and weighs 4 tons. Benno Elkan, the British-Jewish sculptor who created the piece, worked on it for 6 years. In 1956, eight years after the State of Israel was founded, the British Labor Party presented the Menorah as a gift to the Knesset.

Originally, the sculptor intended for the Menorah to be displayed inside the Knesset building and to be lit in such a way that all of the symbols engraved on the Menorah would be clearly visible. Eventually, planners decided to install it outdoors so more people could enjoy the Menorah’s elegant artistry.

When you’re standing near the Menorah posing for a photo, be sure to take time to look carefully at all the engravings upon its branches. Elkan embedded the theme of the spiritual struggles of the Jewish people in the many images that appear in relief. The engraved passage from the Book of Zechariah, “Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord who rules over all,” sets the tone for understanding the work as a whole.

In a chronological sequence, the three branches on either side of the center branch depict the story of the Jewish people since the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. In the center branch, notice the images that symbolize the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Look for biblical figures, terms, symbols and idioms from Jewish history. For the informed traveler who knows to examine it closely, the Knesset Menorah is a fitting official tribute to the continuum of Jewish history.