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Size matters: Rabbis battle for biggest-menorah bragging rights

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It’s a menorah arms race.

As Jews across Brooklyn prepare for the beginning of Hanukkah on Tuesday, two borough congregations are claiming to have erected the world’s largest menorahs, one at Grand Army Plaza, and one at the memorial park of the same name on the distant island of Manhattan. When it comes to the holy candelabra, size does matter, one rabbi said.

“There is an obligation on everyone to do the best they can,” said Shmuel Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization in Crown Heights, which is responsible for the Manhattan menorah. “The larger and grander the style, the more light it gives.”

Butman’s menorah stands 33.5-feet tall, including the center candle, and is certified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest menorah.

But Brooklyn’s colossal candleholder stands a whole six inches taller when its center bulb is added, the Chabad of Park Slope claims, and the group is so certain of its assertion that it runs the website www.worldslargestmenorah.com.

Now, given enough money, equipment, and expertise, any rabbi seeking to grab bragging rights could blow these menorahs out of the water, but he would bump up against the holy height limit of 20 cubits, the cubit being an ancient unit of measurement equivalent to the length of someone’s forearm, from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. There is obviously some variability built into converting cubits — the international Lubavitch movement’s website says that menorahs should stop at 37 feet tall, while the two Brooklyn rabbis in question understand the limit to be 32 feet — but with the height cap, the quest to build the world’s largest menorah boils down to how you define “largest.” Both the Brooklyn and Manhattan camps have stuck to the 32-foot limit, while counting the added height of the central candle towards the total.

Butman doesn’t dispute the Park Slope Chabad’s six-inch advantage, but insists the girth of his Manhattan light-stand is greater.

“This is wider and weighs more. There’s no comparison,” he said.

A rabbi with the Park Slope congregation did not dispute Butman’s claim.

“They’ve got the width and we got the height,” said Moshe Hecht.

The Festival of Lights runs for eight days and nights, commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. Giant menorahs are also going up outside Borough Hall and in Manhattan Beach to mark the occasion.

Jews in other parts of the world also claim to have built the world’s largest menorah, including a group in Washington, D.C., and one in Tel Aviv. In fact, last year the Tel Aviv menorah stood a whopping 92 feet, according to its creators, though we have so far not been able to find an explanation of who has forearms that long.

The face-off between Kings County rabbis is the latest in a decade of flashpoints in the menorah wars, which have also prominently featured the Congregation B’nai Avraham of Brookyn Heights. Back in 2005, the Heights congregation and Park Slope’s Chabad were claiming “Brooklyn’s largest public menorah” and “Brooklyn’s official menorah,” respectively.

Now the contest has moved onto the world stage and, despite the abundance of boasting on all sides, Hecht insists it is not a rivalry.

“Not only is there no competition, we support each other. We help bring more light to the world together,” he said.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 5:38 pm, July 9, 2018
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