Friday, November 03, 2006

Zecher Lachurban

Disclaimer: As in all halachik discussions, what appears below is not meant as ruling, but as discussion only. Please discuss any practical applications with an orthodox rabbi.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 560:1) and Rambam quote a passage from Ta'anit which states that as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, Jews do not finish the sid (whitewash, or white finish on the walls of a house) completely in their houses, rather, they leave an amah square (about 50 cm2 ) unfinished. The ideal placement is opposite the front door, so that it is visible to those who enter the house. However, if no place there is available, one may place this above the front door.

The Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.) codifies this minhag and further states that if one buys a house finished, one does not have to scrape away part of the wall finishing for this purpose.

The Taz holds that the reason for this minhag is that members of high society would buid a house completely out of this sid. This thicker, more durable sid should not be the sole building material for a Jewish home, so that we remember that we do not have perfect comfort and luxury without the Beit Hamikdash. However, one may build a house of plaster or concrete, and then cover it with sid. In order to make it clear that the house is not completely made of sid, we leave an amah square of space that shows the true building material of the house.

The Levush, on the other hand, holds that the amah squared must lack even plaster, and must be a space that leaves the house unfinished. The amah squared is not simply a way to show everyone that the house is not completely sid, rather, the amah is there to lend an aura of incompleteness to the home.

Based on this Levush, the Arugot Habosem says that, nowadays, since we paint and have other finishes in our home, we can finish the whitewashing completely, and leave a space of an amah square unpainted, or otherwise finished. He mentions, however, that this leads to a more strict ruling in the case when one buys a finished home. One who wishes to paint the house must leave an amah square unpainted, even if this was not done originally when the house was built.

Rav Moshe Feinstein has a teshuva (OC 3:86) in which it seems he agrees with the Arugot Habosem, and sees the amah as a heker, to make sure we constantly remember the Beit Hamikdash and the destruction. Rav Moshe joins many acharonim, including the Mishna Berurah, in defending (being melamed zechut on) the fact that most people do not keep this minhag anymore, particularly in the diaspora.

(By the way, an acharon (I forget who) suggests the possibility that this halacha does not apply to people who live in Jerusalem, as they are constantly confronted with the destruction, and need no extra reminder. I think this is a big chiddush, and have not seen anyone else agree.)

May we merit the rebuilding of the Temple speedily, and may our national home, Eretz Yisrael, and individual homes, be complete.

Again, the above is not meant as ruling, but as discussion only. Please discuss any practical applications with an orthodox rabbi.