Trending: Temple Mount ashes for the ‘huppa’

“Someone who awakens love for this holy place in another’s heart definitely is worthy of receiving reward, and he is bringing the event that we are hoping for closer."

‘Karaites have a custom not to break a glass under the huppa; instead, we place ashes on the head of the groom and bride’: At Neria and Nilit Haroeh’s wedding (photo credit: NERIA AND NILIT HAROEH)
‘Karaites have a custom not to break a glass under the huppa; instead, we place ashes on the head of the groom and bride’: At Neria and Nilit Haroeh’s wedding
(photo credit: NERIA AND NILIT HAROEH)
Sunday marks the day of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which began on Tisha Be’av, the ninth of Av.
However, the tragic events are remembered also throughout the year in daily life: in prayer; in the Grace after Meals; when building a new home; and under the huppa (canopy) during the wedding ceremony.
According to a custom that originated with the Yemenite Jewish community, a pinch of ash is placed on the groom’s head during the huppa, when the destruction of the Temple is recalled.
The source of this custom is rooted in the Book of Psalms: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Psalms 137:5-6). Even at the happiest moment in their lives, when a couple unites in marriage and embarks upon building a shared life together, they recall that Jerusalem has yet to be fully rebuilt and so their joy is not complete.
The widespread custom of breaking a glass under the huppa expresses a similar sentiment.
During the last few months, a new trend has been gaining momentum.
Grooms have been visiting the Emek Tzurim National Park, site of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, requesting ashes that were removed from the Temple Mount.
“It is no coincidence that much of the earth from the Temple Mount is colored gray, since it includes ash from the massive fire that raged there during the destruction of the Second Temple,” explains archeologist Zachi Dvira, who launched the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which sifts earth illegally removed from the Temple Mount by the Wakf Muslim religious trust in the late 1990s.
According to Dvira, “This phenomenon is found in other archeological excavations in ancient Jerusalem. All the layers that accumulated after the destruction of the Second Temple [70 CE] are of a gray texture, and when one reaches the layer of earth that has a natural texture, like terra rossa, it is a sign that it predates the destruction of Jerusalem from the First Temple period [586 BCE]. In the case of the Temple Mount, ever since Herod’s expansion at the beginning of the Common Era, the site has remained a ‘closed box’ that hasn’t had additional earth added from the outside. The ashes found in the upper layers of earth on the Temple Mount are apparently the ashes from the destruction of the Second Temple.”
Ohad Tal, a resident of Nehusha, says, “When I got married, I put the ash on my head. It was really important to me! When I worked in the Western Wall Tunnels, I met many types of people, and one of the things that I discovered there was that the subject of the Temple Mount is a painful one for so many. I knew that on my wedding day, when I would say ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem,’ I would want to be very connected to this idea, and this was my way to do so, with the very ashes from the destroyed Temple on my head.”
Yishai Rosenbaum, a secular Jew from the community of Oranit, also used ashes from the Temple Mount, and shares that “one of the things that was really important to me on my wedding day was the custom to place ashes on one’s head. Throughout the huppa, the immortal verse repeated in my head, ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.’ “I traveled to the Temple Mount to put ash on my head and show that despite the destruction, there is happiness, there is revival, and there are good things.”
According to Rosenbaum, “There are people who object to saying ‘mazal tov’ immediately after the glass is broken under the huppa, because that moment is meant to commemorate the ongoing pain felt over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Yet I say that one should definitely say ‘mazal tov’ immediately after, because precisely on this occasion you are remembering the destruction [of the Temple] and hoping for it to be rebuilt, on the holiest day of your life.”
It turns out that this custom has found a place among the Karaite community.
“I worked in the sifting project in Emek Tzurim, and when I got married, I decided to take ashes from there,” says Neria Haroeh, a resident of Moshav Matzliah, which was founded in 1950 by Karaites.
“We have an ancient custom to use ashes during the wedding ceremony.
Among the Karaites, there is a very strong element of mourning the destruction of the Temple. For example, we not only fast on 9 Av, but also on 7 Av and 10 Av, because those are the days on which the destruction began and ended.
“We have a custom not to break a glass under the huppa; instead, we place ashes on the head of the groom and bride. What symbolizes the destruction more than the ashes from the actual destruction of the Temple? For me, this was the strongest way to connect to the destruction of the Temple. Although we are building a home within the nation of Israel, we know that the situation is not ideal and not complete.”
Harel Avrahami, director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project on behalf of the Ir David Foundation (Elad), which operates and funds the project under the management of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, says, “During the past year, over 50 grooms have come to the Emek Tzurim National Park for this purpose.”
More than 200,000 people have participated in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, sifting and washing off the remnants of a gray dust, as they search for archeological finds from the earth originating on the Temple Mount. However, only a few are aware of the importance of this dust. The sifting process includes an initial dry sifting carried out by the site staff and long-term volunteers.
Afterward, the material from the dry sifting is put into pails and brought into the sifting tent where it is soaked in water. Visitors to the site are the ones who carry out the most important stage of identifying finds, which is wet sifting, where the remaining dust that is stuck to the stones and finds is washed off.
Arrowheads, coins, jewelry and seals are among the finds that have been discovered over the years.
Like the practice of remembering Jerusalem through the use of ashes during the wedding ceremony, there is another custom practiced in connection with funerals. Once the body of the deceased has been purified as a preparation for burial, it is customary for the children to place a little ash on the closed eyes of the deceased, while reciting the verses “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19) and “Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (ibid. 46:4). Dvira shares that he himself chose to do this with ashes from the Temple Mount when his mother died.
Dvira and Dr. Gabriel Barkay, who co-founded the sifting project, have received numerous requests over the years from various entrepreneurs to sell this unique earth from the Temple Mount, and they have always responded with a resolute no.
“We do not see ourselves as the owners of this earth. This is the property of the nation of Israel and, in fact, also of the entire world, and we allow anyone who would like to visit the sifting site and take samples of the ashes to do so,” they say.
One of the most famous works of Jewish philosophy, the Kuzari, written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in 1140, concludes with the following words: “Someone who awakens love for this holy place in another’s heart definitely is worthy of receiving reward, and he is bringing the event that we are hoping for closer, as it is written: ‘Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones and embrace the dust thereof’ (Psalms 102:14). This means that Jerusalem can be rebuilt only when Israel yearns for it to such an extent that they cherish her stones and yearn for her dust.”