Question: Should ashes be placed on the forehead of the chasan at the chupah?
Short Answer: Yes, but some replace this remembrance to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash with the breaking of a glass under the chupah. There is a dispute when the ashes should be placed on the chasan’s head, and for how long they should remain there.
I. Zeicher LaChurban
The Gemara (Bava Basra 60b) extrapolates from the words “al rosh simchasi” in the pasuk of “Im eshkacheich Yerushalayim tishkach y’mini” that ashes should be placed on the head of a chasan, in the same area where he wears t’filin.
Notably, Midrash T’hilim (121:3) states the custom to place ashes on the head of both the chasan and the kallah.
Rav Gedalia Oberlander (Ohr Yisroel Journal 57) notes that while most Rishonim and Acharonim only note the custom to place ashes on the chasan’s head, as he wears t’filin, the Kol Bo (Ishus 75) writes that the ashes are placed on both the chasan and the kallah’s heads. [Rav Oberlander also cites an odd minhag brought in sefer Midrash Eliyahu to only place the ashes on the kallah’s head.]
Perhaps the Toras Chayim (Bava Basra 60b) provides a rationale for the Kol Bo: why we should place ashes on both the chasan’s and kallah’s heads. The Toras Chayim explains that the ashes are in place of the crowns that the chasan and kallah used to wear before the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
II. The Halachah
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 560:2) cites the minhag to place ashes on the chasan’s head. The Rama (ibid), however, notes that others have the minhag to break a glass during the chupah or to place a black cloth on the head of the chasan.
The Nit’ei Gavriel (Nisuin 15:7:12) cites the Shulchan Gavoah that the reason we do not place ashes nowadays is because we break a glass instead. Indeed, the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 560:6) also explains that we do not place ashes nowadays because we break a glass instead. Interestingly, the Beis Yosef (ibid) himself alludes to laxity in this custom and notes that some do not place ashes on the head of the chasan because they are not zealous in the mitzvah of t’filin and do not know the proper area for t’filin and thus the ashes.
The Mishnah B’rurah (Biur Halachah ibid), however, cites the Chayei Adam who queries why no one follows these customs nowadays. He does not suggest that breaking the glass serves as a replacement.
Moreover, the Yaavetz (cited in K’lulas Chasanim (p. 47)) used to say that “who knows how many marriages have problems because the chasan did not have ashes placed on his head!”
III. How To Place
The Taz (see Nit’ei Gavriel ibid) states that the pasuk of “Im eshkacheich Yerushalayim” should be recited when placed on the head of the chasan.
The Be’er Shimon (p. 308) notes that while the language of the Shulchan Aruch sounds like the ashes should be placed by someone else on the head of the chasan, the Rambam sounds like the chasan places the ashes on his head by himself. The Be’er Shimon explains that they disagree whether the chasan is compared to a leader (Shulchan Aruch) or a commoner (Rambam), as the Gemara (Taanis 15a) relates that on public fast days for rain, the leader had someone else place ashes on his head, while the commoners did it themselves.
The Acharonim dispute whether the ashes should be removed immediately after being placed on the head of the chasan [presumably, so as not to bother him] (Aruch HaShulchan, Even HaEzer 65:5) or whether they should be left there (Shulchan HaEzer, cited in Nit’ei Gavriel, ibid).
The K’lulas Chasanim (ibid) cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l as ruling that it is sufficient if the ashes are placed on the head of the chasan in a plastic cloth or cover.
IV. When To Place
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, as cited in Nefesh HaRav (Rav Schachter, p. 256), is quoted as ruling that the ashes should only be placed on the head of the chasan after the b’rachos are recited under the chupah, as he is not a chasan until this point. [See Nit’ei Gavriel (ibid) who cites Rav Soloveitchik in Mesorah Journal, as well]. Not surprisingly, the K’lulas Chasanim (ibid) brings this same minhag in the name of the Brisker Rav, the uncle of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.
Rav Oberlander (ibid) challenges this minhag of placing the ashes after the b’rachos are recited under the chupah, as most of the Rishonim and early Acharonim suggest that the ashes are placed before the chupah. [He does note that Rav Saadyah Gaon, however, sounds like they are placed after the chupah].
The sefer Yismach Lev (111) cites an oral ruling from Rav Chaim Kanievsky that appears to be a compromise: Put the ashes on the head of the chasan before the chupah, but leave them there until after the b’rachos.
Next Week’s Topic: Should the chupah take place outside and under the stars?