New York, the city with the largest Jewish population in the world, is being challenged as the site of the world's biggest menorah by an upstart - the small Dutch town of Niijkerk, near Amsterdam.

According to Guinness World Records, the largest Hanukkah (Chanukah) menorah, standing at 32ft (9.7m) high and weighing 4,000 pounds (1,800kg), has been erected in Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

But US-based Jewish Press said that Amsterdam's Chabad Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs lit the candles of the first night of Hanukkah on a 36ft menorah with a six-ton base (5,443kg) which was made with donations by Christian Zionists.

Klass Zijlstr, a Protestant metal contractor, designed and built the menorah in the shape of a Star of David in his metal workshop as a sign of Christian Zionist solidarity with the Jewish people.

Menorah in New York
Hanukkah 2013: 32ft Menorah in New York

Why the Menorah?

An eight-day celebration, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE during the Maccabean revolt against oppressive Greek rulers.

Led by the fearsomely titled Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer") the Jewish rebellion that followed was a succesful guerilla war, eventually liberating the desecrated temple.

According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously burned for eight days - the time needed to prepare a fresh supply. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays and is celebrated by lighting a nine-branch candelabrum, commonly called a menorah.

According to Jewish tradition, the reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the "lighting of the house within" but rather for the "illumination of the house without" so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle (ie, the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). This ideal has been expanded by the Hasidic Chabad sect to setting up mega-menorahs in central locations, for example London's Trafalgar Square.

Hanukkah began at sunset on November 27 and ends in the evening of December 5.

Hanukkah 2013: Menorah at the White House, Washington DC
Hanukkah 2013: Menorah at the White House, Washington DC Getty