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ZECHER LEHURBAN – COMMEMORATING THE BET HAMIKDASH

By: Rabbi Daniel D. Levy

1

 

           What is the source from which we derive
           the obligation to do special actions in
           memory of the Bet Hamikdash?

The Mishnah Berurah(Orach Haim560:1) states that during any happy occasion one should do an action zecher lehurban– to remember the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. The source for this is a pasukin Tehilim which reads: “Im lo a’aleh et Yerushalayim al rosh simhati.”This translatesto mean,“if I don’t remember Jerusalem” – specifically the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash– “at the time of my happiness.” The Shulhan Aruch cites (560:2) the beginning of the pasuk: “If I forget Yershalayim, my right hand will be forgotten.”

2

 

           What is the specific significance of
           breaking a glass cup under the
           huppah  (canopy) during a wedding?

Although there are a minority of people who use an earthenware cup under the huppah, the prevailing custom is to use glass. Tosafotin Berachot31a cites the story of Mar, the son of Ravina, as the source for this practice. (See Answer 6 below for more elaboration). Glass is transparent; one can see its essence, with nothing to hide. So, too, a Jew should be transparent and honest without allowing the yetzer harato inject impurity in him. (Moed Kol Hai, Siman10:96). As the breaking of the glass is done to commemorate the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, a complete cup at full value should be used for the ritual, not one that is broken or cheaply made, It is appropriate to recite the verse “Im eshkachech Yerushalayim…”right before breaking the glass, in order to remember the Bet Hamikdashat the time of this happy occasion.

3

 

           In  one’s home, where is the
           appropriate  place to put an Amah
           Al Amah Zecher lehurban?

An Amah Al Amahis approximately 18 inches by 18 inches of unpainted wall in the shape of a square. Zecher lehurban, the cement should remain without plaster and be in direct view of the front entrance of the house (Shulhan Aruch Orach Haim560:1) If, upon entering one’s home, there is no wall directly ahead, then it is advisable to leave the Amah Al Amah either to the side, near the entrance, or as the first possible spot in visible view upon entering (Pri Megadim, Or Letzion).

The Kaf Hachaim explains (560:7) that the Amah Al Amahshould remind a person of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdashand cause him to feel grief so that he mourns over its absence.

4

 

           Is it customary to put ashes on the
           head of the groom athis wedding?

As Hacham Ovadiah explains (Hazon Ovadiah, pg.432), the prevailing Sephardic custom is not to put ashes on the groom’s head at his wedding. Some commentators (Shulhan Gavoah 560:5) explain that the breaking of the glass under the huppahis enough of a reminder of the Bet Hamikdashat the joyous occasion. However, most Ashkenazic Jews follow the Ramah (ibid 560:2) and do practice the custom of putting ashes on the groom’s head.

 

5

 

           If one purchases a house that did not
           already have an Amah by Amah Zecher
           lehurban  is  he  obligated to make one?

The Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 560:1) states that one who purchases an already built house that does not have an Amah Al Amah, is already considered established and is not required to peel the paint from the walls. The Mishnah Berurah (ibid) qualifies that this is only the case if the house was purchased from a non-Jew. However, if the owner was Jewish and sold it without an Amah Al Amah, the person who purchased it would be obligated to make one. Practically speaking, regardless of who the house was purchased from, most halachic authorities require putting an Amah Al Amahin the house. If the house is being repainted, the Amal Al Amahshould be done at that time. If making an Amah Al Amahwill cause shalom bayit(marital harmony) problems, it is permissible to just paint that area a different color instead of not using plaster.

6

 

           How is one to apply to daily life the
           precept of the Shulhan Aruch (560:5)
           that states “One should not fill their
           mouth with laughter in this world”?

It is perfectly fine for one to crack a joke and have a sense of humor. In fact, prestigious Rabbis often began their classes with humor to draw the attention of their students. Still, it is forbidden for one to cross the line and become light headed as a result of filling his mouth with excessive laughter (even at a wedding). In fact the Gemara(Berachot31a) brings down the story of Mar, the son of Ravina, who took a glass cup worth 400 zuzand broke it to tone down the lightheaded atmosphere that began to develop at his son’s wedding. (According to Tosafot, this is actually where we derive the custom to break a glass cup at a wedding.)

7

 

           Are synagogues, hotels, and schools,
           obligated to leave an Amah Al Amah
           across the front entrance?

Most halachic authorities are of the opinion that synagogues, hotels, and schools, as well as most public buildings, are not obligated to have an Amah Al Amah.

 

8

 

           Why is the Shulhan Aruch’s suggestion
           to leave a vacant spot by the table
           and one less dish served at a meal
           (560:2) not practiced today?

In olden times, there was a set amount of dishes served at each meal. Therefore, it would be noticeable if something was missing zecher lehurban. Today, because people have different customs and serve food in accordance with their budget, it would not be noticeable if some food was missing; people would just assume this was what the host could afford. For that reason, some authorities are of the opinion that this law is not applicable today. The Kaf Hahayimstill recommends leaving a vacant place setting by the table zecher lehurban, but most people do not actually practice this.

 

9

 

           When visiting the Kotel (Western Wall),
           what procedures do we perform
           Zecher lehurban?

Those who go by this custom should rip their garment upon seeing the Kotel Hamaravi. The left side of the lapel of the suit jacket should be torn up until the heart (which Hacham Ovadiah and the Kaf Hahaimexplain is atefach). If one is wearing just a shirt, then the same would apply. It is not necessary to rip two layers of garments, such as a suit jacket and a shirt. The torn garment should not be sewn up afterwards.

 

10

 

            If one lives in Israel and frequently
            visits the Kotel, what guidelines
            should he follow regarding ripping a
            garment at the sight of it?

The Shulhan Aruch (561:5) states that one who frequently visits Yerushalayimwithin a 30-day period does not need to rip his garments upon seeing the Kotel. However, if visiting after thirty days has elapsed, one should rip his garments upon seeing the Western Wall. The Hidahin his Sefer Birkei Yosefwrites that, based on this, one who hasn’t seen the Kotel in more than 30 days should rip their garment, even if they live in Yerushalayim. However, he acknowledges that most people who lived in Yerushalayimdid not customarily rip their garment, even after not seeing the Kotel in more than 30 days. Hacham Ovadiah concludes that one who lives in the newer section of Yerushalayim and doesn’t see the Kotel regularly might in fact be obligated to rip his clothing. He proclaims that one who is stringent and does so will be blessed.