The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


In synagogues a perpetual light is maintained in a lamp which consists generally of a glass vessel containing a wick burning in olive-oil; this is held in an ornamental metal receptacle suspended from the ceiling in front of the "Holy Ark," or "Aron ha-Ḳodesh," just as the candlestick ("menorah") in the Tabernacle and Temple had its place before the Ark of the Covenant (see Jew. Encyc. ii. 109, illustrations).

The institution of the perpetual light descended from the Temple (comp. Ex. xxvii. 20; Lev. xxiv. 2) to the Synagogue as the "lesser Temple" ("miḳdash me'aṭ"; Meg. 29a). The perpetual light in the Temple, which is mentioned by classical writers (pseudo-Hecatæus, in Josephus, "Contra Ap." i. 22; Diodorus Siculus, xxxiv. 1), is usually referred to in the Talmud as the "western light" ("ner ha-ma'arabi"), it being the lamp upon the central shaft of the candlestick. The general tradition is that this lamp was never allowed to go out, while the other six lamps burned only during the night (Tamid vi. 1; Men. 86b, 98b; comp. "Yad," Bet ha-Beḥirah, iii. 1-11, and Temidin, iii. 10-18); according to Josephus, "Ant." iii. 8, § 3, three lights burned day and night in the Temple; and, again, Tamid iii. 9 would imply a tradition of two lights burning perpetually. The lighting of the perpetual lamp and the placing of the scrolls of the Law in the Ark are the principal ceremonies in the dedication of a synagogue.

Perpetual Lamp.(From the synagogue at Ramsgate, England.)

The Rabbis interpret the perpetual lamp as the symbol of God's presence in Israel (Shab. 22b); or as representing the spiritual light which went forth from the sanctuary (Ex. R. xxxvi. 1); or as the symbol of God's Law, which Israel is to keep alive in the world (Ex. R. xxxvi. 2; Lev. R. xxxi. 4). According to Biblical conception, the light is a figure of happiness and prosperity, even of life itself (I Kings xi. 36; Ps. xviii. 29 [A. V. 28]; Prov. xx. 27, xxiv. 20; Job xviii. 6).

  • Iken, Tractatus Talmudis de Cultu Quotidiano Templi, 1736, pp. 73-76, 107 et seq.;
  • Krüger, in Theologische Quartalschrift, 1851, pp. 248 et seq.
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