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Obligatory Fast in Judaism

MIT
7/6/2017
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In the pre-exilic period there is no record of specific fast days in the annual calendar except the Day of Atonement, although some Bible critics even conjecture that this, too, was originally an emergency rite and was fixed on the tenth of Tishri only at the end of the First Temple.

 

Judaism recognizes only one mandatory fast – the Day of Atonement. Its general attitude toward other fast days (public or private) is negative, based upon Isaiah 58:3–8.

 

According to them, Fast days fall into three main categories: (1) fasts decreed in the Bible or instituted to commemorate biblical events; (2) fasts decreed by the rabbis; (3) private fasts.

 

In this article, we will only mention the first category of fasting which is " fast decreed in the bible. Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting on which it is commanded "Ye shall afflict your souls" so that the individual may be cleansed from sins (Lev. 16:29–31; 23:27–32; Num. 29:7ff.); this is the only fast ordained in the Pentateuch.

 

Besides the Day of Atonement, which is the only fast-day prescribed by the Mosaic law (Lev. xvi. 29; see Atonement, Day of), there were established after the Captivity four regular fast-days in commemoration of the various sad events that had befallen the nation during that period (Zech. viii. 19; comp. vii. 3-5). These were the fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), of the fifth month (Ab), of the seventh month (Tishri), and of the tenth month (Ṭebet). According to some rabbis of the Talmud, these fasts were obligatory only when the nation was under oppression, but not when there was peace for Israel (R. H. 18b). In the Book of Esther an additional fast is recorded (ix. 31; comp. iv. 3, 16), which is commonly observed, in commemoration of the fast of Esther, on the thirteenth of Adar, although some used to fast three days—the first and second Mondays and the Thursday following Purim (Soferim xvii. 4, xxi. 2).

 

The Ninth of Av (Tishah be-Av), a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples (see Jer. 52:12–13 where, however, the date is given as the Tenth), and other calamitous occasions.

 

The 17th of Tammuz, in commemoration of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem in the First Temple period (Jer. 39:2 where the date is the 9th) and Titus breaching the walls of Jerusalem, and of other calamities which befell the Jewish people (Ta'an. 4:6, Ta'an. 28b, also Sh. Ar., OḤ, 549:2).

The Tenth of Tevet, in memory of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar , king of Babylon (II Kings 25:1–2, Jer. 52:4ff.; Ezek. 24:1–2).

The Third of Tishri, called Ẓom Gedalyah (the Fast of Gedaliah), in memory of the slaying of Gedaliah and his associates (Jer. 41:1–2; II Kings 25:25).

The Fast of Esther (Ta'anit Ester) on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim (Esth. 4:16).

 

On the Day of Atonement and on the Ninth of Av, fasting is observed by total abstention from food and drink from sunset until nightfall of the following day; on the other fast days, the fast lasts only from before dawn until nightfall of the same day. All fasts may be broken if danger to health is involved. Pregnant and nursing women are, under certain circumstances, exempt from observance (Sh. Ar., OḤ, 50:1 (Isserles) and 554:5).

 

If one of the above occurs on a Sabbath, the fasting is delayed until Sunday (Meg. 1:3 and Meg. 5a); only in the case of the Day of Atonement is the fast observed even on Sabbath. In the case of the Fast of Esther, observance is on the preceding Thursday (Sh. Ar., OḤ, 686:2).

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