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The Knesset Menorah (Hebrew: מנורת הכנסת Menorat HaKnesset) is a bronze monument about five meters high that is located at the edge of Gan Havradim (Rose Garden) in front of the Knesset. Built by Benno Elkan (1877-1960), a Jewish sculptor who escaped from his native Germany to Britain and worked at the project for over nine years, it was presented as a gift to the State of Israel by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1956. Built in the shape of the Menorah which appears on the Arch of Titus, it includes relief depictions of 29 important events from the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history, placed above a programmatic Hebrew quotation from Zechariah 4:6. It is considered a visual "textbook".
In 1950, a year and a half after Israel's Declaration of Independence, Edwin Samuel, son of the first British High Commissioner to Palestine, Herbert Samuel, approached the Jewish artist Benno Elkan and discussed with him the idea of offering as a gift to the young Israeli state a monumental bronze sculpture in the form of a menorah, based on a project Elkan had been working on for a few years. The purpose of the gift was "to express the admiration of the British Parliament and the continued warm friendship with the new State of Israel, its government, its people, and above all - its Knesset." Elkan had been living in London since 1933 when he had left Germany following the Nazi rise to power. He was a well known artist in England, and had experience in working in bronze, having created ten large relief-decorated menorahs, among them two standing in the Westminster Abbey in London. Elkan had started working at the concept of the new Menorah in 1947, and in 1949 had began creating the bronze reliefs. All in all he spent almost ten years of his life creating the Knesset Menorah, much of it in research, because he wanted to create a unique work which would tell the millennia-old history of the nation of Israel.
The choice of the Menorah-symbol as a gift is based on the emblem of the State of Israel, chosen by the first Knesset. The outline of the Knesset Menorah and that appearing on Israel's state emblem are both based on the Menorah from the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Arch bears a relief depicting Roman soldiers from the Jewish revolt of 66-74 CE, presented in triumph to the people of Rome while bearing the treasures of the Second Temple after its destruction in 70 CE, including the Temple Menorah. The Arch is dated to 81 AD, and so the depiction of the Temple Menorah is considered by some to be accurate, assuming that the artist who created the relief must have seen the Menorah with his own eyes.
Structure and Content
The Menorah contains 29 reliefs of events, idioms, characters and concepts, which Elkan saw as the most important and significant in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history. Due to the symmetrical shape of the lamp - a central spine with three branches on each side - Elkan decided not to put the reliefs in strict chronological order, but rather opposing each other in the order of the branches. In this way each relief contrasts or complements the relief opposite it. The central spine contains the events which Elkan saw as most central to the history of the Jewish people. The base of the inner pair of branches is covered with a curly geometric decoration; the base of the middle branches is decorated with flowers and symbols of the tribes of Israel, and across the outer branches on either side of the menorah appears a verse taken from the Book of Zechariah: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). These words are taken from a passage in Zacharia which mentions the Menorah and olives, hinting at the Knesset's choice of the State emblem.
1 And the angel that spoke with me returned, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. 2 And he said unto me: 'What seest thou?' And I said: 'I have seen, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes, yea, seven, to the lamps, which are upon the top thereof; 3 and two olive-trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.' 4 And I answered and spoke to the angel that spoke with me, saying: 'What are these, my lord?' 5 Then the angel that spoke with me answered and said unto me: 'Knowest thou not what these are?' And I said: 'No, my lord.' 6 Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying: 'This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. 7 Who art thou, O great mountain before Zerubbabel? thou shalt become a plain; and he shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace, unto it.'
Elkan chose to quote this verse because of its clear association to the state emblem, but it is conceivable that he chose it as well because of its moral, indicating that the power of the people of Israel and God is not physical strength, but rather spiritual strength. This is a significant statement for a work which depicts scenes of war and bloody battles on one hand, and on the other hand figures, events or concepts that express a culture and spirituality of peace.
The Central Spine
The central branch displays the events, characters and idioms which Elkan saw as most central to the history of Israel.
The War with Amalek at Rephidim
8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 And Moses said unto Joshua: 'Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.' 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
The relief shows Moses standing with both hands raised high (without his staff), supported by Aaron and Hur. The unique aspect of this battle was in the strange was is was conducted: not through the physical strength of one army overcoming another, but in Moses' ability to raise his arms. Here also, the Amalekites are perceived as an especially bitter enemy, such that God promises to wipe them out once and for all The war against Amalek is considered a seminal event in the history of Israel because of the perception of Amalek as the ultimate enemy. In every generation, a new character, associated with Amalek arises, and thus the promise of God to "wipe out the memory of Amalek" is seen as relevant to all generations. There is also a powerful theological message which appears in the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah (3:8): "Does it make sense to say that Moses' hands could make or break the war? This is to teach you - so long as the Israelites looked up, turning their hearts to their Father in heaven, they overcame , if not - they fell."
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments appear on the Menorah in their traditional form of two rectangular tablets with rounded tops. Written on the tablets are the Ten Commandments as given at Mount Sinai encapsulating the basic tennets of Jewish faith and values. Each commandment is represented on the tablets by their first two words alone. Flames rise in the background of the tablets, symbolizing the burning bush or Mount Sinai aflame at the Giving of the Torah.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Knesset Menorah.|
- Gan HaVradim, the government quarter's Wohl Rose Garden in Jerusalem.
- The German-language Wikipedia article with separate pictures of each relief.
- "Arthur, Viscount Lee of Fareham". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
- Prof. Dr. Hannelore Künzl (1999). "Die Menora in Jerusalem von Benno Elkan, Aufbau und Reliefs.". Die Menora. Ein Gang durch die Geschichte Israels. © Erev-Rav, Verein für biblische und politische Bildung, Knesebeck. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
- "Knesset-Menora". Wikipedia in German. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
- Naftali Arbel, Michael Ben Hanan: High Lights of Jewish History as Told By the Knesset Menorah., Israel Biblos Publishing House, 1972.
- Kenneth Romney Towndrow: Project for a Great Menorah I., The Sculptor Benno Elkan. in: The Menorah Journal Volume XXXVII, Spring 1949, No 2.