History of the Holy Temple Menorah
Above picture: Left, the original drawing from the hand-written copy of the Rambam's Mishnah Torah; Middle: The Rambam's drawing reinterpreted by Rabbi Yosef Kapach, foremost expert on the writings of the Rambam; Right, a copy of the Rambam's drawing, by an unknown artist, with certain changes, studied by the Jews of Yemen.
The Menorah: Straight or Round Branches? The Rambam
The rabbis who are of the opinion that the menorah must have straight branches base their opinion on a drawing found in the Rambam's magnum opus, Mishnah Torah, written in Maimonides' own hand. As can be seen by the image below, the sketch of the menorah, which is rather crude, is made up of lines, circles and triangles. Based on the explanation of the Rambam, the triangles are meant to represent the "goblets" of the Torah description, and the circles are meant to represent the "knobs" of the Torah description.
The picture in question is approximately 10x6 centimeter. It is clear that the Rambam was constrained by the small dimension on the page in which he allowed himself to place the drawing.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, founder of the Temple Institute, and the world's foremost expert on the Holy Temple, surmises that the Rambam didn't intend for his simple drawing to be a literal representation of how the menorah should appear, but rather was a schematic drawing intended to clearly show how the different details of the menorah were laid out. This opinion is further strengthened by certain contradictions that appear between the Rambam's written description of the menorah and his schematic design.
Nevertheless, there are distinguished rabbis of recent generations who opine that the Temple menorah must be made with straight branches.
Curiously, the highly detailed description of the menorah in the Torah text itself omits any reference to the shape of the six branches. Rabbi Ariel has thus determined that either menorah - round-branched or straight-branched is kosher and fit for use in the Holy Temple.
The pictures and research used throughout our Menorah feature all come from the book "????? ??? ????," "A Menorah of Pure Gold," written by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, based on the research of the Temple Institute. The book, which appears in Hebrew only, can be purchased .