By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Is a Jewish household allowed to have a metal table? That’s a ridiculous question, right? What could possibly be the problem? But the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 24a–b) states that one should not make a courtyard corresponding to the Temple courtyard, nor a table corresponding to the Shulchan, nor a candelabra corresponding to the Menorah. Since the Shulchan was fashioned out of gold, a type of metal, one is only forbidden to make a metal table. The Chasam Sofer was alarmed by the ramifications of this halachah. Apparently, even in his times it was the custom to prepare matzos on a metal table. Could it really be that it is forbidden to fashion metal tables?
Certainly not. The Shut Lehoros Nassan points out that a mishnah in the sixth perek in Shekalim states that there were 13 tables in the Beis HaMikdash. Some of the tables were made of gold, others of silver, and even others of marble. Certainly one could replace the marble tables with wood ones if the need arose. If one followed the halachah to its logical conclusion, one would not be allowed to fashion a table out of any material, since such a table could, at least b’dieved, be used in the Beis HaMikdash. This is an impossibility. Therefore, the Lehoros Nassan concludes (based on Tosefos in Yoma 54b), only a shulchan fashioned in the same dimensions and design as the ones used in the Beis HaMikdash is forbidden. No need to discard any of your tables.
However, in terms of the Menorah, the halachah is not as clear. The quintessential question on Chanukah is: The Chashmonaim found enough oil to burn for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted seven extra days. Therefore, Chanukah should be celebrated for seven days, not eight. A number of years ago, a new sefer was published, Neis LaShoshanim, which has 250 answers to this question. (Before this sefer, 100 answers was considered extreme! Nowadays, you can find a sefer with 500 answers to this question.)
Some of the answers offered may seem beyond the pale. However, the second answer presented in this sefer can be used in conjunction with those weaker answers. This second answer is brought in the name of the Ohel Moshe (R’ Moshe Vorhand, Rav of Makva, Hungary), as follows: It is true that a miracle only occurred on seven of the eight days that the Menorah was lit with the single jar of oil. However, if we only celebrated Chanukah by lighting candles for seven days, then our menorah would have only seven branches, and it would be somewhat similar to the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, which also had seven branches. But it is forbidden to make a menorah that replicates the one in the Beis HaMikdash, and therefore our Sages instituted that Chanukah be celebrated for the full eight days, so our menorah can have eight branches.
Upon researching the original source for this answer, I found that it was slightly different: The Ohel Moshe wrote that in order to make sure no one would make a seven-branch menorah, our Sages relied on the otherwise unconvincing reasons for making Chanukah eight days. So his answer was not meant as a standalone answer; rather, it was intended to bolster the weaker answers.
A while back, my family made a birthday party for my mother-in-law. It was not a surprise party, but we did manage to pleasantly surprise her by buying her a new leichter (candelabra). The leichter had five branches, to be used in conjunction with the two silver candlesticks she received when she got married. We figured that the candlesticks had sentimental value, and she probably would want to remember all the special occurrences associated with them (like the time her cleaning lady decided to polish them using steel wool). However, we miscalculated. In truth, she reasoned it would be easier to shine and polish one piece of silver, rather than three.
The local silver store where the leichter was purchased was more than happy to accommodate us, and told us we could switch the leichter for a seven-branch model. Apparently alarm bells went off somewhere. Consequently, my father-in-law asked his rebbe, Rav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, if there is a problem in owning a seven-branch candelabra. The verdict: Rav Feinstein answered that there is indeed a problem.
What is the source for his ruling? The aforementioned Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 24a–b that states that one should not make a candelabra corresponding to the Menorah. The Gemara continues that one may make a candelabra consisting of five, six, or eight branches. The Gemara further states that one may not make a seven-branch candelabra, even if it is made not of gold but of another metal. The reasoning is that if the gold Menorah had for some reason been unavailable in the Beis HaMikdash, it would be permitted to use a menorah constructed of any metal. There was an attempt in the Gemara to prove that even a wooden menorah may be used in the Beis HaMikdash in extenuating circumstances, from the fact that the Chashmonaim lit a wooden menorah. However, the Sages argued that the menorah the Chashmonaim used was metal or at least partly metal. (See the various commentaries on Rosh Hashanah.)
The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 141:8) rules, in accordance with the Sages, that one may manufacture a seven-branch menorah of wood or clay. However, he prohibits the fabrication of a seven-branch menorah made of any metal, regardless of its height. The Shach (ibid. 35) explains that the Shulchan Aruch follows the aforementioned reasoning—that the production of any menorah that is suitable for use in a pinch in the Beis HaMikdash is forbidden. The Bechor Shor (on R.H. quoted in Pischei Teshuvah—ibid. 14) notes that a circular candelabra with six candles surrounding a middle one can also be used in the Beis HaMikdash. He says that the poskim never mention that the arrangement of the branches of the Temple Menorah in a straight line is vital to its validity. Consequently, he rules that the manufacture of a Shabbos leichter with six candles arranged in a circular fashion surrounding a middle one would potentially violate the Biblical injunction of replicating Temple vessels, according to the Shulchan Aruch.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Y.D. 3:33) notes that the cups of our leichters are usually not big enough to hold the amount of oil required for use in the Beis HaMikdash. This would potentially permit their fabrication, even with seven lights. Nevertheless, he writes that he cannot rule leniently in this matter.
To further complicate matters, the Bechor Shor himself holds that a seven-branch menorah may not be manufactured even if it would not be valid in the Beis HaMikdash (e.g., if it is capable of holding only candles and not oil.) The Pischei Teshuvah writes that since the manufacture of a seven-branch menorah is fraught with the danger of violating a Biblical prohibition, one should conduct himself stringently in this matter.
The Mekor Mayim Chaim writes that although the production of a seven-branch menorah is prohibited, one is allowed to keep one in his possession. He rules that the aforementioned injunction applies only to the manufacturer, not to the owner. The Birchei Yosef, on the other hand, notes that when he was younger someone made a seven-branch menorah for his shul in Yerushalayim. All the local rabbanim forbade its continued presence in the shul, so another branch was added to it. The Birchei Yosef writes that this is the accepted halachah—that one should not even own a seven-branch menorah. As I noted earlier, this seems to be the ruling of R’ Dovid Feinstein. I also spoke to two local rabbanim, who likewise recommended against the ownership of a seven-branch leichter.
As an interesting postscript, there was an organization in Eretz Yisrael that was actively involved in the manufacture of utensils of the Beis HaMikdash. They spent roughly $2 million to make a golden menorah as close as they possibly could to the original (176 pounds of gold!). So I asked the director of Machon HaMikdash how they were permitted to manufacture a seven-branch menorah, in direct violation of the Gemara and poskim. He explained that the prohibition only applies to the manufacture of a replica for private use. However, when Mashiach comes, their menorah will be put to use immediately in the Beis HaMikdash until a perfect specimen can be made. (He referenced the aforementioned Gemara in Rosh Hashanah that states that the Chashmonaim used a tin menorah temporarily, later made a silver one, and eventually made a golden one.) He said that since their menorah is for the Beis HaMikdash and not for private use, its manufacture was permitted. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.