We can all get so confused between a Menorah and a Chanukiya. What’s the difference? When are there 7 branches, and when are there 8? How does all this connect to Chanukah and Jewish independence in Judea? Here is the fascinating story!
With the Greeks ruling Judea 2,100 years ago, their King Antiochus announced that Jews can’t keep their Jewish ways anymore (no Shabbat, circumcision etc..). In addition, the Greeks shocked the Jewish people by defiling the Second Temple. They stole the various artifacts from there, and then did something that was totally taboo- placing an idol on the sacrificial alter (that’s only a little worse then wearing a NY Yankees cap in Boston, or the opposite). These Hellenistic believers then brought a sacrifice to this idol on the 25th day of Kislev (December). The exact year is 167 BCE. There was much meaning to this Hebrew date, as the Jews had inaugurated the Second Temple on this exact date 350 years earlier.
The Jews stood up and fought back, though.. Led by Judah the Maccabee and his 4 brothers, they led Jewish fighters in 8 battles against the Greeks over a 7 year period (167-160 BCE). After the 4th battle, they entered Jerusalem and arrived at the desecrated Temple. This was sometime at the end of October/beginning of November 164 BCE. The Jews immediately set about restoring the lost glory of the Temple. They cleaned it, and then rebuilt the desecrated sacrificial alter from new stones. The famous golden menorah had been stolen, so they put 7 swords together, covered them with wood & created cups on top, and then lit them on the 25th day of Kislev.
They chose to reinaugerate the Second Temple on this date because that’s the original date the Jews inaugurated the 2nd Temple 350 years earlier. It’s also the date that the Greeks sacrificed to the idol 3 years earlier. This is the date that we start celebrating Chanukah every year!
The story tells us the the 7 branched menorah was lit with fire for 8 days. There are a few reasons for the 8 days. One reason is because the Jews were unable to celebrate the 8 days Succot in the Temple back in October, due to the fighting going on at the time. They were now making up for those 8 days 2 months later. Another reason is because when the Jews entered the Temple to purify it, they needed to wait 7 days. They were considered impure (Tameh) from their fighting, and needed to wait 7 days in order to be considered pure (Tahor). On the 8th day they created the necessary oil to light the Menorah (their 7 swords quickly strung together..). Of course there is the most famous reason that was written in the Talmud several hundred years later. That is regarding the Jews finding a small can of oil, enough to last for 1 day, which miraculously lasted for 8 days.
There was no 8 (plus 1) branched Chanukiya in the Temple. There was the 7 branched Menorah which was lit for 8 days. Today, we at home light our Chanukiya on Chanukah!
After all of these difficult battles the Jews earned their independence in Judea and beyond. This lasted for 80 years until the Romans arrived in 63 BCE. The Jews won’t have independence again in Judea until 1948.