More than anything the Chanukah holiday symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. Light is the first element that was created in the world: "And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good ..." (Genesis 1:3-4). Light represents purity, spirituality and holiness and inspires tenderness, brightness and festiveness that penetrate the soul of man. Light reflects the positive and the good side of life in a tangible way and indicates an essence that has true significance.

One of the holiday’s customs involves kindling the Chanukah candles. The light from the candles symbolizes the spiritual redemption that the Jewish people were granted in the wake of the Maccabean victory in their war against the Greeks. The light we kindle also reminds us of the Greek kingdom’s aspiration to extinguish the light of the Torah of the Jewish people through its decrees against the Jewish religion.

We are commanded to kindle the Chanukah candles in the doorways of our homes so that passersby will see them. Like other the Chanukah customs, this one also has a symbolic meaning: each year the Chanukah candles we light in our doorway reminds all who see them of the story of the miracle, and they illuminate the darkness by expressing hope that the positive and good forces which the light emanating from the house spreads will overcome the threats and negative forces present in the darkness outside.

The lamps at the time of the Bible and in the period of the Mishnah and Talmud were different than those we are familiar with today. The Hebrew word “nar”, meaning lamp or candle, was used to indicate a vessel, usually made of clay, in which a combustible material and a wick were placed. Initially a small Pottery saucer was used as a receptacle for oil, typically olive oil, which served as a fuel, and the wick was usually made of linen; in time the rim of the small saucer was folded for the wick.

The shape of Pottery lamps evolved and changed over the years. From the Early Bronze Age through the Persian period (3,500-300 BCE) the “open lamp” was widespread in Israel. This is a plain Pottery lamp that is bowl-like with a pinched rim. It is wheel-made and undecorated.

From the Hellenistic period (third century BCE) – the time of the Maccabees – and afterwards, in the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, a different kind of lamp was produced in the country: the “closed lamp”. This lamp is generally made in a mold and it is composed of two separate elements – an upper part and a lower part – that were joined together after drying. The top of the lamp included two openings: one in which the oil was poured and the other where the wick was placed; the bottom part served as the base of the lamp and oil receptacle. The origin of the “closed lamp” was in Greece, and within a very short time its production became so common that it replaced the “open lamp” that was predominant until then in Israel. The “closed lamp” is characterized by a decoration that is incised, in relief or stamped on the top of the vessel. Every so often the lamps were painted or slipped.

In the Late Islamic period the bowl-like lamp ( “open lamp”) reappears, which at this time is now made on a potter’s wheel.

The oil lamp provided available, portable and controlled illumination for thousands of years until the invention of electricity. The many examples displayed below represent the development of the lamp throughout the ages in Israel.