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Question: Is there any significance to the fact that the fast of the Tenth of Tevet (Asara B’Tevet) almost immediately follows Chanukah and that it is the shortest of all the fast days? Does this allow us to be more lenient in its observance? I hope you will address this in your column, which I eagerly read every week.

M. Goldman
Miami Beach, Fla.



Answer: You are correct that we sometimes see connections between observances occurring in close proximity on our calendar.

This is the case with the biblical festivals that we find in Parshat Pinchas (Numbers ch. 28-29), which the Torah lists sequentially according to the months of the year, Pesach being the first festival and Sukkot the last one.

The fast days were established by the prophets, as stated in the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 18b), based on Jeremiah (ch. 52) and Ezekiel (ch. 24 and 33). These fasts were instituted as a remembrance of the First Temple and the Second Temple, when tragic events seemed to repeat themselves on parallel dates – the First Temple, is commonly believed to have been destroyed in the Hebrew year 3339 (421 B.C.E.), and the Second Temple in 3829 (69 C.E.), both on the 9th of Av.

According to most views, Chanukah occurred in the year 3597 (164 B.C.E.). Thus, there is no connection between the events of Chanukah and Asara B’Tevet, as they occurred at different times.

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 549:1) states as follows: “We are required to fast on Tisha B’Av, Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the third of Tishrei [Tzom Gedalia], and Asara B’Tevet because of the calamities that occurred on these days.”

He equates all four of these fasts in relation to the obligation not to ingest any food. As for the other deprivations, these only apply on Tisha B’Av; moreover, only on Tisha B’Av does the fast commence on the evening before, whereas the other fasts start at sunrise. In this regard, Tisha B’Av is similar to Yom Kippur.

As to the duration of time that the fast lasts, this depends on the latitudinal location. If one is in the southern hemisphere – for example, in Argentina or Australia, Asara B’Tevet is the second longest fast day after Tisha B’Av. Thus, duration has no bearing on any leniencies or stringencies concerning the fasts.

Note that we have not yet mentioned Ta’anit Esther, the fast on the 13th day of Adar. This fast is mentioned by the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 686:2), who states that we fast on the 13th of Adar; if Purim, the 14th day of Adar, falls on a Sunday, we fast on the preceding Thursday.

This halacha is only hinted at in the Gemara (Megilla 2a): “Says R. Shmuel b. Yitzhak, the 13th of Adar is a time for all to congregate.”

The Rosh (ad loc.) explains that Rashi specifies: “A time to congregate to defend themselves.” (We do not find this in our Rashi ad loc.; perhaps there was another text that the Rosh had.) We thus infer that this day was a fast day, though not of the same status as the four aforementioned Scriptural fasts.

Rema (ad loc.) also notes that this fast is not a chova, a requirement. Thus, we may consider mitigating factors such as pregnancy, a nursing mother, or one who is a suffering from a non-life-threatening illness, or even one who suffers from a “mechosh einayim – a migraine.” In any of these situations, if the suffering is intense, those involved are not required to fast, and they may observe the fast at another time.

Concerning the other three fasts besides Tisha B’Av, Rema (Orach Chayyim 550:1) only allows leniency for a pregnant woman or a nursing mother, but not for an individual who is not severely ill or one with merely a headache.

The Beit Yosef, in his commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayyim ad loc.), cites Abudarham, who states that Asara B’Tevet is different from other fasts and is likened to Yom Kippur in that if it were to occur on a Sabbath, it would not be deferred to another day, as it states (Ezekiel 24:1-2), “… etzem hayom hazeh … – on this very day…” This is similar to Yom Kippur, which we do not postpone and which supersedes the Sabbath.

The Beit Yosef did not know Abudarham’s source stating that the fast would not be postponed if it occurred on a Sabbath, but we read in Likutei Maharich (p. 114-115) that he found in Eliyahu Rabbah (O.C. 550) that such is the case, based on Teshuvat HaGeonim.

It is possible that when our Sages found it necessary to set up our perpetual calendar, they took into account the words of Ezekiel and ensured that the tenth day of Tevet never occurs on a Sabbath.

In Otzar Erchei HaYahadut (p. 367), Rav Yosef Grossman gives us a brief synopsis of events starting on the 10th of Tevet that brought about our galut: “They instituted it [as a fast] because the tragedies that befell Jerusalem began on that day. After the Jewish people had lived in their land for 850 years and the Temple had been standing for 410 years, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, marched into the land and began a three-year siege on the city [of Jerusalem], and this brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of our First Temple and our resultant dispersal into Galut Bavel.”

On a more positive note, Rav Grossman concludes with the words of the prophet (Zechariah 8:19), “Thus says the L-rd of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month, the 17th of Tammuz], the fast of the fifth [month, the 9th day of Av], the fast of the seventh [month, the Fast of Gedalia on the third of Tishrei], and the fast of the tenth [month, the 10th of Tevet] shall [in the future] be for the House of Judah [the Jewish People] times of gladness, rejoicing, and happy festivals….” May it be so speedily in our days.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.