Zecher L’churban

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The sages introduced a number of practices which are intended to remind us of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash. These practices and customs are often referred to as “Zecher L’churban” and are intended to instill in us a mood of mourning over the current Exile in which we find ourselves in. We are always to be reminded that Jewish life remains incomplete until the arrival of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Among these things is the requirement to leave a commemorative space in one’s home which continually recalls the destruction of Jerusalem.[1] This is accomplished by leaving an area of one amah square[2] unpainted at the entrance to one’s home. While it is ideal to have this unpainted portion on the outside of one’s front door it may be placed in the inside of one’s home as well.[3]

Click here to read moreUnfortunately, many individuals have not been careful with this mitzva and it has largely fallen into disuse.[4] Although there may be some justification for this phenomenon, efforts should be made by everyone to revive this mitzva.[5] The decline in observing this mitzva throughout the exile may have been due somewhat to the non-Jewish landlords who certainly opposed their Jewish tenants scraping paint off their walls for ritual purposes.[6] A Jew who purchases a home which was both owned and painted by a non-Jew will not truly be required to set aside the Zecher L’churban space until he chooses to repaint the house.[7] Those who are careful to ensure that a portion of their walls remain unpainted as a Zecher L’churban are to be praised.[8]

Although it is ideal for the Zecher L’churban to consist of an unpainted box on one’s wall as mentioned above, there are a number of different customs which have evolved as well. Some have the custom to simply write “Zecher L’churban” or “Jerusalem” along an amah square of their wall, while others choose to hang a picture of the Kotel or Beit Hamikdash in that place.[9] Yet others paint the area black.[10] Some families have the custom to cover their Zecher L’churban memorial during the month of Adar which is the month in which we are to increase in joy.[11] A Zecher L’churban marking should also be placed in wedding halls and other places in which celebrations are held.[12]

There are a number of other customs which are intended to remind us of the destruction of Jerusalem as well. Many authorities rule that we are never to set an elaborate table. [13] As such, some people intentionally leave a place setting vacant at their table. Others are careful to never display all of their fancy tableware and ornaments when hosting guests.[14] This custom does not apply to the Seder night however, where one is encouraged to indulge in extravagance. Some authorities say that this does not apply on Shabbat either.[15]

At the conclusion of each weekday meal we recite the Psalm which recalls the destruction of Jerusalem prior to reciting the Birkat Hamazon.[16] While it is certainly meritorious to abide by these mealtime customs, many however, have fallen into disuse.[17]

The more widely observed of the Zecher L’churban customs are found prior to the wedding ceremony. Before the groom is led to his chuppa, it is customary to put some ashes on his forehead at the place where the Tefillin are worn.[18] Some authorities however contend that the breaking of the glass under the chuppa[19] takes the place of this custom.[20]

Women have their own role with regards to the Zecher L’churban customs. They are advised never to wear all their jewelry at once, always leaving at least one piece behind in order to curb any potential feelings of opulence.[21] There have been authorities in the past who attempted to institute a permanent ban on all music in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem.[22] Even meat and wine had been considered by some authorities as inappropriate to be consumed while the Temple lies in ruins.[23] Some people have the custom not to hire more than a one or two piece band to play at a wedding which will be held in Jerusalem.[24]


[1] There is a minority view that leaving a bare piece on one’s wall by the entrance applies only outside of the land of Israel. There also exists an opinion that in Jerusalem this is not needed at all. See Piskei Teshuvot 560:1 for more on this.
[2] 48cm-58cm. square
[3] Piskei Teshuvot 560:2
[4] Sha’arei Teshuva 560:1
[5] Shuva Yisrael 1:71
[6] Minhag Yisrael Torah 560:1
[7] Arugat Habosem 179, Pri Megadim E.A. 560:4
[8] Kaf Hachaim 560:11
[9] These customs do not actually meet the halachic requirements. See Pri Megadim M.Z. 560:1
[10] Aruch Hashulchan 560:5, Igrot Moshe 3:86
[11] Piskei Teshuvot 560:2
[12] Piskei Teshuvot 560:6
[13] O.C. 560:2, Aruch Hashulchan 560:6
[14] O.C. 560:2
[15] Pitchei Olam Umetamei Hashulchan 560:2
[16] Mishna Berura 1:11
[17] Kaf Hachaim 560:18
[18] Bava Batra 60b, O.C. 560:2, E.H. 65:3 There is an authority that attributes the neglect of this custom to a turbulent marriage. Pitchei Olam Umetamei Hashulchan 560:2
[19] Rema;O.C. 560:2
[20] Aruch Hashulchan 560:6
[21] O.C. 560:2, Aruch Hashulchan 560:6, Mishna Berura 560:8
[22] Gittin 7a, O.C. 560:3, Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:166, Yechave Da’at 1:45, Az Nidberu 8:58, Tzitz Eliezer 15:33, Seridei Aish 2:12
[23] Bava Batra 60b
[24] Piskei Teshuvot 560:13

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

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