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Obscure Halacha

Shopping with the Shulchan

When selecting a menorah, what do you look for? A beautiful gold one? Your sibling’s or child’s hand-sculpted mud-brick menorah? Believe it or not, halacha discusses what kind of menorah is best to use and what kind of menorah you should definitely not use. Let’s take a look!

Chapter 139 in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch:

“אִם מַדְלִיק בְּנֵר שֶל חֶרֶס, כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִדְלִיק בּוֹ לַיְלָה אֶחָד, נַעֲשָׂה יָשָׁן, וְאֵין מַדְלִיקִין בּוֹ בַּלַּיְלָה הַשֵׁנִי, מִשּׁוּם דְּמָאִיס. וְעַל כֵּן תִּהְיֶה לוֹ מְנוֹרָה נָאָה שֶׁל מִינֵי מַתֶּכֶת. וּמִי שֶׁיָדוֹ מַשֶּׂגֶת, יִקְנֶה מְנוֹרָה שֶׁל כֶּסֶף לְהִדּוּר מִצְוָה.”

“If you light a menorah made of earthenware, after you light it one night it deteriorates and you should not light it again the following night, because it is repulsive. Therefore, you should possess a beautiful menorah made of metal. If you can afford it, you should buy a silver menorah, in order to adorn the mitzvah.”

Well, according to the above Shulchan Aruch, you should definitely not use a mud-brick menorah because it becomes “repulsive” after one use. Instead, you should get a metal menorah, preferably silver.

If this seems to you like very little to go off of when choosing a menorah, you’re not alone. The Kaf HaChayim, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, decided to grace us with some more detail to aid with our menorah shopping. He lists fifteen levels of menorah materials:

Kaf HaChayim on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 673:60:

“ט”ו מיני כלים ראוים להדלקה וכל הקודם קודם מהם משובח משום זה אלי ואנוהו, הא’ כלי זהב, ב’ כלי כסף, ג’ נחושת קלל דומה לזהב, ד’ נחושת אדום, ה’ של ברזל, ו’ בדיל, ז’ עופרת, ח’ כלי אבנים, ט’ כלי זכוכית, י’ כלי עצים, י”א כלי חרס מצופה באבר, י”ב כלי חרס בלתי מצופה וצריך שיהיה חדש, י”ג קליפות רימון, י”ד קליפות אגוז הנדיי, ט”ו קליפות האלון”

“There are fifteen vessels fit for lighting the menorah, and the first ones listed are of higher quality:

  1. Gold vessel
  2. Silver vessel
  3. Copper which has a gold color vessel
  4. Copper which has a red color vessel
  5. Iron vessel
  6. Tin vessel
  7. Lead vessel
  8. Glass vessel
  9. Wood which has been made into a vessel
  10. Bone which has been made into a vessel
  11. Earthenware coated with lead
  12. Earthenware that is not coated
  13. Pomegranate shell which has been made into a vessel
  14. Wall nut shell which has been made into a vessel
  15. Acorn shells which has been made into a vessel”

Now we know that there’s more to menorah shopping than the Shulchan Aruch let on. Silver is not the best material: gold is. The Shulchan Aruch simply suggested the more affordable option of the two. Beyond gold and silver, the Kaf HaChayim provides many different options to pick from. Who knew you could repurpose pomegranate shells from Rosh Hashanah into a menorah or that you could make one from gathered acorns? This Chanukah, take inspiration from the Shulchan Aruch and Kaf HaChayim to find your balance of beauty, price, and Hidor HaMitzvah (adorning the mitzvah). Who knows, you might find your favorite menorah yet!

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