Question:

I’ve noticed that today’s decorative menorahs, found at the front of most synagogues, do not at all resemble the candelabrum that was in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They are not shaped like the menorah we see in pictures and they are certainly not made from pure gold.

Why do we not try to make them more like the one in the Temple? After all, isn’t the synagogue supposed to be a miniature Temple?

Answer:

Indeed we do not replicate the candelabrum or any of the other holy vessels that were used in the Temple. The verse says, “You shall not make with Me gods of gold and gods of silver.”1 The sages explain the words “with Me” to denote vessels that were used to serve G‑d in the Temple. Thus one may not replicate components of the Temple for any use other than in the Holy Temple.2

Accordingly, one may not fashion furniture after the design of the items in the Temple’s sanctuary, such as a table that is similar to the showbread table (“shulchan”), or a candelabrum such as the one in the Temple (“menorah”). One may make a candelabrum of five, six or eight branches, but a seven-branched candelabrum may not even be made of other metals.3

The Code of Jewish Law states that a seven-branched candelabrum is prohibited even if the candelabrum in question is not the proper size (18 handbreadths) and is missing the decorations that adorned the one in the Temple.4 This is because even if the height and decorations were not there, the candelabrum would still be fit for use in the Temple.5

Thus we do not see components of the Temple replicated in synagogues. The candelabrum present in most synagogues is possibly present because of the custom to light candles in the synagogue on various occasions. Alternatively it could be a hold-over from the times before electricity.

Please see The Guide to the Synagogue Sanctuary from our Synagogue Guide.

Rabbi Menachem Posner
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org