The designs of Hanukkah lamps often incorporate architectural forms. In 1985 the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited leading architects to submit designs of Hanukkah lamps for an exhibition entitled Nerot Mitzvah: Contemporary Ideas for Light in Jewish Ritual. The hanukkiah pictured below was designed by Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center just down the road from the Skirball. An original is on view in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America.
The obelisk on the far left represents Egypt—historically the period of slavery culminating in the Exodus story.
Second is a column of Roman style, representing the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
The third branch is a castle-like tower representing England, from which there was an expulsion of Jews in 1290. Specifically it may be the Tower of York where there was a massacre of Jews in 1190.
The fourth “structure” is a Gothic-style pointed window or entryway representing France, from which Jews were expelled in 1306.
The next one is of Moorish style. This calls to mind Spain where Jews suffered through the Inquisition and the subsequent expulsion of Jews in 1492.
The sixth branch recalls modernist architecture. See Meier’s use of grid patterns. These design elements began in Vienna, Austria, where there was an expulsion of Jews in 1670.
On the seventh candleholder, the spiral is reminiscent of the work of Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin, who designed a monument that featured a spiral design. Models were made, but the monument was never constructed. History-wise, Russia witnessed a major escalation of pogroms (attacks against the Jewish villages) in 1881.
The eighth branch represents the modernist architecture movement that originated at the Bauhaus in Germany. This period coincided with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and the ensuing Holocaust.
We see the shammash rising above the others as a positive vision for the future.
One more special thing about this hanukkiah is its material. Whereas the other hanukkiot on display at the Skirball are generally silver or brass, Meier chose to fabricate this lamp from tin. This choice was in memory of the Jews of the shetls who used tin to fashion their simple Hanukkah lamps.
Meier’s architectonic Hanukkah lamp is our favorite object in the museum. Come learn about the many lamps on view during The Lights of Hanukkah Family Tour. And if you’d like to see the Meier lamp on view in your own home, a limited edition of exquisite pewter reproductions is available for purchase at Audrey’s Museum Store online.