The menorah in the Mishkan (and later in the Beit Ha-mikdash) is described in Parashat Teruma (25:31-39) as having been made from pure gold, and as featuring certain decorative features – specifically, several combinations of “cups, balls and flowers” that adorned the menorah. The Gemara in Masekhet Menachot (28a) comments that these decorations were required only if the menorah was made from gold, as is optimally required. When the nation lacks the financial wherewithal to make a golden menorah (as occurred after the victory of the Hasmoneans during the Second Temple period – Rosh Hashanah 24b), the menorah could be produced from other materials, and such a menorah does not require the aforementioned decorative features.
Rav Meir Yona Barantzky, in his Har Ha-moriya commentary to the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira 3:20), raises the question of whether a golden menorah made without these decorations is valid for use. Although it is clear that they are required by Torah law, it is not clear whether a menorah made without them is invalid for the lighting in the Mikdash. Intuitively, we might assume that a golden menorah without these decorations should be no worse than a copper menorah made without these decorations, which certainly may be used.
Rav Barantzky draws our attention to an interesting discussion among the halakhic authorities surrounding the prohibition against constructing structures resembling the Temple and its furnishings. As the Gemara (there in Rosh Hashanah and other contexts) discusses, the Torah forbids making for oneself a replica of the Beit Ha-mikdash or of one of the furnishings of the Beit Ha-mikdash. In presenting this law, the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh Dei’a 141:8) writes that it is forbidden to construct a menorah resembling the menorah in the Mikdash even out of materials other than gold, and even if it does not have the “cups, balls and flowers.” As the Shakh explains, such menorahs are valid for use in the Temple, and they therefore may not be made outside the Temple. However, the relationship between these two rulings in the Shulchan Arukh is unclear. Meaning, when the Shulchan Arukh writes that one may not make a menorah from a material other than gold, and that one may not make a menorah without the decorations, is this one statement – that a menorah from other materials may not be made regardless of whether it has decorations? Or, are these two independent statements: one may not make a menorah even from materials other than gold, and one may not make a menorah even without the decorative “cups, balls and flowers”? According to the first reading, the assumption is that a gold menorah without the decorations is invalid for use in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and thus it is permissible to make outside the Mikdash a golden menorah without the decorations. According to the second reading, however, a menorah without decorations may be used in the Temple even if it is made from gold, despite its optimally requiring these decorations, and thus even a golden menorah may be made outside the Temple if the decorations are not included. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his commentary, writes that a golden menorah without the decorations may not be used in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and is thus permissible to be produced outside the Beit Ha-mikdash, though he cites others who disagree.
Rav Menachem Kasher, in Torah Sheleima (Shemot, chapter 25, note 197), notes the comments of the Ramban (to Shemot 25:39) which appear to reflect this view – that a golden menorah without these decorations is invalid for use. The Ramban cites a passage from Berayta Di-memlekhet Ha-Mishkan) stating that although the entire menorah needed to be made from a single block of gold (“miksha”), it was permissible to form the “cups, balls and flowers” separately and then attach them to the menorah. The passage cited by the Ramban appears, at first glance, to explain this halakha based on the fact that these decorations in any event are not indispensable to the menorah’s validity. However, the Ramban explained the passage differently, writing that these decorations are not required when the menorah is made from other materials, besides gold, and they are therefore treated as separate from the actual menorah, and may be made separately when they are required. The Ramban’s formulation clearly demonstrates his refusal to accept the validity of a gold menorah that does not have these decorative features.