A Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah, is a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Eight of the nine branches hold lights (candles or oil lamps) that symbolize the eight nights of the holiday; on each night, one more light is lit than the previous night, until on the final night all eight branches are ignited. The ninth branch holds a candle, called the shamash ("helper" or "servant"), which is used to light the other eight.
The Hanukkah menorah commemorates, but is distinct from, the seven-branched menorah used in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Along with the seven-branched menorah and the Star of David, it is among the most widely produced articles of Jewish ceremonial art.
To be kosher, the shamash must be offset on a higher or lower plane than the main eight candles or oil lamps, but there are differing opinions as to whether all the lights must be arranged in a straight line, or if the hanukkiah can be arranged in a curve.
he hanukkiah is often displayed in public around Hanukkah time in December. Elected officials often participate in publicly lighting the hanukkiah. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement is well associated with public lighting ceremonies, which it has done since a directive from their last Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1987. In the book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish, author Rabbi Joshua Plaut, Ph.D., details the history of public displays of the hanukkiah across the United States, summarizes the court cases associated with this issue, and explains how Presidents of the United States came to embrace lighting the hanukkiah during Hanukkah.
In the US, the White House has been represented at the lighting of the National Menorah since 1979. This celebration of Hanukkah began with the attendance of President Jimmy Carter in the ceremony in Lafayette Park. Additionally, beginning with President Bill Clinton in 1993, a hanukkiah is lit at the White House, and in 2001, President George W. Bush began the annual tradition of a White House Hanukkah Party in the White House residence, which includes a hanukkiah candle lighting ceremony.
In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons holds a yearly hanukkiah lighting at the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster. Although John Bercow became the first Jewish Speaker of the House in 2009, the hanukkiah currently used every year had actually been commissioned in 2003 by his predecessor Michael Martin, who was a Catholic; prior to this, a hannukiah had to be borrowed for the ceremony every year.
In the United States, the public display of hanukkiahs and Christmas trees on public grounds has been the source of legal battles. Specifically, in the 1989 County of Allegheny v. ACLU case, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the public display of hanukkiahs and Christmas trees did not violate the Establishment Clause because the two symbols were not endorsements of the Jewish or Christian faith, and were rather part of the same winter holiday season, which the court found had attained a secular status in US society.
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