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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Behaalosecha

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light (8:2)

A SEVEN-BRANCH CANDELABRUM

QUESTION: In view of the Biblical prohibition against duplicating vessels that were used in the Mishkan, would one be allowed to make a seven-branched candelabrum? If one owns such a candelabrum, is he allowed to keep it?

ANSWER: The Talmud (1) forbids manufacturing a seven-branched candelabrum, in keeping with the Biblical (2) prohibition (3) of "imitating" any of the vessels (keilim) that were used in the Mishkan.

There are three views in the early commentaries in regard to the extent of the prohibition. Some (4) hold that only an exact replica is prohibited. Any slight change from the original in the Mishkan is permitted. Others (5) hold that any menorah which would have been considered kosher b'dieved, is prohibited. Other poskim (6) are even more stringent. They hold that any seven-branched menorah, made out of any metal, regardless of its shape or form, is prohibited.

The Shulchan Aruch (7) rules [in the opinion of the Shach] in accordance with the second view, i.e., that even a menorah that is not made exactly like the one in the Mishkan but would be kosher b'dieved is prohibited. He rules, therefore, that if the menorah is not made from gold but from other types of metals; if the replica is made without the decorative cups, knobs, or flowers that were part of the original menorah; if the menorah is shorter than the 18 tefachim (4.5-6 feet) that the original menorah measured, it is still prohibited to replicate.

There are, however, some poskim who follow the third approach, that a menorah which would not have been considered kosher even b'dieved is still prohibited. In their opinion, it is forbidden to make any menorah, no matter what its shape or form, if it has seven branches. Even a menorah which is made to hold candles and not oil would be prohibited according to this strict interpretation of the halachah (8). A menorah which is round or square would also be prohibited (9). There is a debate among latter-day poskim as to whether the halachah should follow the [Shach's interpretation of the] Shulchan Aruch's lenient ruling or the stricter ruling of other poskim (10).

The poskim are also undecided about whether the prohibition applies only to the manufacture of such a menorah, or also to keeping it in one's possession. The poskim are also in doubt concerning the status of an eight-branched menorah of which one branch broke off (11).

Since this prohibition is of Biblical origin, we must, wherever possible, be stringent when in doubt. Therefore:

  • Any menorah with six, eight, or nine branches may be made and kept in one's possession.
  • It is prohibited to make a seven-branched menorah out of any metal whatsoever.
  • A seven-branched menorah made out of wood or porcelain is permitted (12).
  • A round, triangular or square menorah with seven branches is also included in this prohibition.

Many poskim permit a seven-branched electric menorah (13), while others forbid it (14). Ideally, it is best to refrain from making one. If one happens to have such a menorah, many poskim allow one to retain it (15).


FOOTNOTES

1 Rosh ha-Shanah 24a.

2 Tosfos, Avodah Zarah 43b.

3 Yisro 20:20.

4 The view of the Chacham Tzvi 60. See also Meiri (Rosh ha-Shanah 24a) who says that any deviation from the menorah in the Mishkan is permitted.

5 Ma'harik (75), in explanation of the view of Tosfos.

6 Bechor Shor (Rosh ha-Shanah, ibid.)

7 Y.D. 141:8.

8 Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 141:14-15, rejecting the view of Mishnas Chachamim who permitted a seven-branched candle menorah.

9 Bechor Shor says that even according to the view of the Shulchan Aruch, a round menorah would be prohibited, since we do not find that the order in which the candles are placed invalidates a kosher menorah.

10 Pischei Teshuvah, Birkei Yosef and Sho'el u'Meishiv 3:71 rule strictly. Many other poskim, quoted in Darkei Teshuvah 141:56, Yabia Omer 1:12 and Yechaveh Da'as 3:61 rule leniently. Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:31, without quoting the various views, rules that only a kosher menorah is prohibited to replicate. He is undecided about an oil menorah which cannot hold the required minimum of half a lug.

11 See Darkei Teshuvah 141:52-53, who remains in doubt concerning these questions and quotes several views. See Birkei Yosef, however, who relates an episode where a seven-branched candelabrum was made and the Rabbis of Yerushalayim ruled that it must be removed.

12 Shach Y.D. 141.

13 Yesodei Yeshurun 1 pg. 47; Mishpatei Uziel Y.D. 18.

14 Shearim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 168:4 quoting Chavalim ba-Ne'imim 3:54; Yaskil Avdi 7:16.

15 See Yabia Omer and Yechaveh Da'as, ibid.


Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra


 






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