Within the Jewish tradition, the menorah is both religious object and secular symbol. The menorah, a seven branched golden lampstand, was present in Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem and captured by the Romans at its fall in 70 CE, an event depicted on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. This depiction initially turned the menorah into a symbol of humiliation for the Jewish people.
As time progressed, symbolic connotations shifted, and images and replicas of the menorah became eschatological symbols of hope for the restoration of the land and the coming of the Messiah. Particularly with the establishment of Israel as a nation-state, the menorah is now a national, secular symbol of actual territory and of national rebirth, seen most explicitly in its inclusion on the seal of Israel.
Eliezer Weishoff’s Seven Species Menorah (1999)—a gift by the Jewish National Fund to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and located within its building—sits within the tradition of menorah as national symbol. The symbolism is furthered by the way that Weishoff depicts his menorah. First, the seven ‘lamps’ are placed so that they appear to grow out of the trunk of an actual olive tree, symbolizing Israel’s deep historical roots in a particular land as well as ‘the renewed growth of the people of Israel in their land’ (Rolef n.d.). The particularity of his adaptation of the menorah symbol is furthered in how Weishoff depicts, instead of lamps, the seven species listed in Deuteronomy 8:8—figs, grapes, dates, pomegranates, wheat, barley, and olives—at the head of the seven branches.
In Deuteronomy 8, the list of the seven species points forward to the abundance of the Promised Land. Rather than God’s provision of daily manna in the wilderness, God enables the land to provide for His people. Thus, by representing these seven species in his work, one could suggest Weishoff’s menorah visually claims the same abundant provision and blessing of God for the nation-state of Israel.
Fine, Steven. 2016. The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press)
Israeli, Yael. 1999. In the Light of the Menorah: Story of a Symbol (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum)
Rolef, Susan Hattis. n.d. Artwork in the Knesset https://knesset.gov.il/birthday/eng/KnessetBuilding2_eng.htm> [accessed 30 March 2020]
8 “All the commandment which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. 3And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. 4Your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
11 “Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day: 12lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day. 19And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. 20Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.