Exploring the Differences: Menorah vs. Chanukiah

Oct 31, 2023


As the world becomes increasingly diverse and interconnected, it is important to celebrate and learn about different cultures and traditions. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one such celebration in the Jewish faith that holds immense significance. Central to the observance of Hanukkah are two distinct yet closely related symbols – the menorah and chanukiah. In this article, we will delve into the differences between these ancient objects, their historical significance, unique designs, and their respective roles in the joyous festivities of Hanukkah.

The Menorah: A Symbol of Ancient History and Tradition

The menorah holds a special place in Jewish culture and history. Originating from the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, it symbolizes the light that miraculously burned for eight days during the rededication of the temple. The menorah typically features seven branches and is made of gold, reflecting its historical and religious significance.

The Menorah's Design and Symbolism

The menorah consists of a central stem with six branches, each holding a candle or oil lamp. The central candle, known as the "shamash," is used to light the other candles, one for each night of Hanukkah. The menorah's design represents the burning bush witnessed by Moses and signifies the eternal flame that should burn in every Jewish home, a reminder of their faith and resilience.

The Significance of the Menorah in Hanukkah

During Hanukkah, the menorah takes center stage as families light the candles each night. The lighting process follows a specific order – one additional candle is added and lit each night until on the eighth night, all the candles are illuminated. This ritual commemorates the miraculous event when a small amount of oil lasted for eight days, ensuring the rededication of the temple.

The Chanukiah: A Modern Adaptation

The chanukiah, often referred to as a Hanukkah menorah, is a modern adaptation of the traditional menorah. It also holds great importance during the festival of Hanukkah and has distinctive characteristics that set it apart from the classic menorah.

The Difference in Design and Structure

Unlike the menorah, which features seven branches, the chanukiah has nine branches. Eight branches align in a straight line or curve, while the ninth branch, known as the "shamash," is positioned higher or lower than the rest. The additional branch represents the eight nights of Hanukkah, and the shamash serves as the helper candle used to light the others, similar to the role of the shamash in the traditional menorah. The chanukiah's design allows for the separate lighting of candles, emphasizing the individuality of each night's celebration.

Celebrating Hanukkah with the Chanukiah

On each night of Hanukkah, one additional candle on the chanukiah is lit, starting from right to left. The lighting ceremony is accompanied by prayers, songs, and a joyful celebration. Families often display their beautifully designed chanukiot (plural of chanukiah), expressing their personal style and artistic preferences while honoring tradition. By adding a creative touch to this sacred object, they infuse the celebration with a sense of contemporary relevance and personal connection to the festival's ancient roots.


Both the menorah and chanukiah hold immense value in Jewish culture and tradition, showcasing the endurance of faith and the importance of remembering and celebrating historical events. While the menorah stands as a timeless symbol, rooted in ancient history, the chanukiah represents a modern adaptation, ensuring the preservation of tradition through creative expression. Whether it's the classic design of the menorah or the artistic diversity of the chanukiah, these sacred objects continue to inspire and unite Jewish communities around the world during the joyous festivities of Hanukkah.

menorah vs chanukiah
Ann Chao
Loving the cultural comparisons! Always fascinating to explore and embrace diversity. 🌍🕯️
Nov 9, 2023
Todd Elftmann
💡 Interesting cultural comparison!
Nov 5, 2023