The lighting of the lamp is among the oldest Jewish customs, signifying the commencement of the sabbath. Because kindling fire was forbidden on the Sabbath, the light was designed to burn for a full night and day. Although the earliest sabbath lamps are known to have existed in medieval times, the oldest surviving lamps are from the seventeenth century.

These bronze relics, which consisted of a small bowl that lay at the center of six radiating arms, came to be known as 'Judenstern'-- German for Jewish Star, because their shape resembled the Star of David.