Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Today is Ash Wednesday

a Christian day marking the beginning of Lent. I went out to get a shwarma from Burger Delight, and I saw a bunch of people with a mark made of ash on their foreheads. This site gives reasons for the ash, and why on the forehead, but it does not mention the Jewish reason.

Jews also put ash of their foreheads on a certain occasion, in modern times. Specifically, under the chuppa at a wedding, the groom gets ash put not on the forehead but higher up on the head pate - the place where typically the tefillin (phylacteries) is worn.

This is taken from the order of a Taanit, fast day. As we see in Bavli Taanit 15b,
ובשבע אחרונות מוציאין את התיבה לרחובה של עיר
ונותנין אפר על גבי התיבה
ובראש הנשיא
ובראש אב בית דין
וכל אחד ואחד נוטל ונותן בראשו
And in the latter seven fasts they take the teva to the main street of the city
And they put ash atop the teva
And on the head of the nasi (prince)
And on the head of the Av Bet Din
And each one takes and places it on his head.
Under the chuppa I think it is placed in remembrance of the destroyed Temple. (no pun intended :)

Why specifically in the place of the tefillin? As we read on the next page, Taanit 16a,

והיכא מנח להו?
אמר רבי יצחק במקום תפילין
שנאמר (ישעיהו סא) לשום לאבילי ציון לתת להם פאר תחת אפר
And where do you place it?
Rabbi Yitzchak says: in the place of tefillin
As it states in Yeshaya 61:3: To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them glory in place of ashes. Or, as the JPS translation likes to say:

ג לָשׂוּם לַאֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן, לָתֵת לָהֶם פְּאֵר תַּחַת אֵפֶר שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן תַּחַת אֵבֶל--מַעֲטֵה תְהִלָּה, תַּחַת רוּחַ כֵּהָה; וְקֹרָא לָהֶם אֵילֵי הַצֶּדֶק, מַטַּע ה לְהִתְפָּאֵר. 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called terebinths of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, wherein He might glory.
This can be taken hyper-literally (and thus midrashically) as פְּאֵר - "glory" in the same location as אֵפֶר - "ash." Note by the way that פְּאֵר and אֵפֶר are two permutations of the same letters, as was intended.

Now, elsewhere, we associate פְּאֵר with tefillin - the bracha we say in the morning of Oter Yisrael BiTifara - "Who crowns Israel with glory" is a reference to the tefillin shel rosh, the tefillin worn on the head. Thus, the ash goes in the same location as the tefillin.

Rav Schachter cited someone once in shiur that this is a proof (among a few others) that early Christians followed some Sadducee beliefs, in terms of rejecting the Oral Law. After all, they put the ash not where we put our tefillin, but lower, on the forehead, where the Sadducees put their tefillin.

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