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The Fast of Esther might be the most misunderstood of all the annual public fast days. This is true both in terms of what it represents and why we fast. ) First of all, it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Talmud.2 It makes its first appearance in the eighth century, in Rav Achai Gaon’s Sheiltot.3 Contrary to popular belief, the Fast of Esther is not the anniversary of the fast that was originally decreed by Esther. Queen Esther’s original fast was a three-day event that coincided with the start of Pesach.4 That’s right – Esther (and the Jews of Shushan) had no Pesach Seder that year.5 As such, there were individuals in the past who would fast three days after Purim (though not consecutively) in order to better observe, in spirit at least, the original “Fast of Esther.”6 Today, however, this practice is no longer found.7

There are a number of opinions as to what the Fast of Esther truly represents. According to one opinion, we observe the fast simply in order to recall that Queen Esther fasted on behalf of the Jewish people. This is true even though we don’t fast on the same date that she did.8 Others are of the opinion that the fast commemorates Esther’s preparation for her meeting with King Achashverosh, at which time she was going to plead with him to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plot.9 There is much discussion as to whether the Fast of Esther has the status of a custom or the status of a rabbinic commandment.10


According to yet another approach, the fast is intended to remind us that when the Jewish people are under attack, we are to gather together in fasting and prayer to beseech G-d to save us from our enemies;11 the Fast of Esther takes place on the 13th of Adar – the day that Achashverosh permitted the Jews to take revenge upon their enemies. The entire nation fasted and prayed for success in the battle ahead. Indeed, we find that throughout history the Jewish people often fasted in war-time.

Nevertheless, there is neither historical nor textual evidence that the Jewish people fasted on the 13th of Adar and it is only speculation.12 The Megillat Ta’anit actually forbids one to fast on the 13th of Adar, as it is a festive day known as Yom Nikanor, the day on which the evil Greek general Nikanor was captured and killed by the Maccabees.13 This seems to support the theory that Ta’anit Esther is actually of more recent vintage, no earlier than the Gaonic period.

According to Kabbalah, the spiritual effects of Haman’s evil decree were never completely rescinded. As such, the purpose of the Fast of Esther is to eradicate any harmful effects of Haman’s decree that may remain in the world.14 So too, it is suggested that the Fast of Esther might be an opportunity to secure atonement for any excessive or inappropriate frivolity that one might engage in over Purim.15 Indeed, when explaining the meaning of the nightly prayer “V’haser Satan Milfaneinu U’machareinu,” Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev teaches that on the Fast of Esther, Hashem remarks how pleased He is that His people are fasting and doing teshuva, at which time the Satan “reminds” Hashem to consider what will be tomorrow, Purim day, when the Jews will be acting with excessive lightheadedness. So too, on Yom Kippur, Hashem remarks how pleased He is that His people do nothing but fast and sit in prayer the entire day, at which time Satan “reminds” Hashem that, the day before, the Jews were engaged in nothing but filling their bellies. There are many parallels between Purim and Yom Kippur. One of them is that with Purim, the fasting precedes the festivities, while with Yom Kippur, the festivities precede the fasting.16

Unlike the other communal fast days, the Fast of Esther has both a mournful and a festive flavor. It is mournful in that it recalls the near annihilation of the Jewish people at the hands of Haman. At the same time, it is joyful in that it expresses our confidence that Hashem will continue to save us from our enemies in the future as He did in the days of Purim. It is taught that prayers recited on the Fast of Esther are especially effective. Among the recommended prayers of the day is Tehillim Chapter 22, followed by an outpouring of private and personal requests. We are told that one who does so will have all the gates of mercy opened for him.17

The Fast of Esther is unique among the minor fast days in several other ways. For example, if any of the other fast days fall out on Shabbat, they are postponed to Sunday. If the Fast of Esther falls out on Shabbat, it is advanced to the preceding Thursday. This is because all the other fasts recall tragedies, and our Sages teach us that the commemoration of a tragedy is to be delayed, rather than advanced, when it cannot be observed on its true date. The theme of the Fast of Esther, however, is one of repentance, which poses no problem in being observed earlier.18 Some suggest that the Fast of Esther is part of the pirsumei nissa aspect of Purim.19

The Rema rules in accordance with the view that the fast is a custom rather than an outright obligation.20 As such, he rules that those who are pregnant, nursing, or otherwise ill are not required to fast. It goes without saying that those who are permitted to eat on a fast day should eat only the minimum and not indulge in delicacies.21 There exists a custom, of questionable authority, for women not to fast on the Fast of Esther.22 Some authorities rule that one who suspects that the fast will have a negative effect on one’s Purim celebrations need not fast.23

Torah classes should be limited on the Fast of Esther in order to allow for plenty of time to properly prepare for Purim.24 The machatzit hashekel donation, which commemorates the half-shekel donation that every Jew was required to make in the time of the Beit HaMikdash towards the costs of the daily sacrifices, should be given at Mincha on the Fast of Esther.25 Interestingly, Purim is one of the holidays that will continue to be observed in the messianic era.26 It is unclear whether this includes the Fast of Esther.27



  1. “When a man fasts and offers his heart and his will, he brings a perfect sacrifice, for it pleases the Holy One, blessed be He, that he should offer him his fat, his blood, and his body, and bring to Him the fire and the fragrance of his mouth. These diminish through fasting, and are like the fat, blood, and flesh of a sacrifice. The heat and odor of a fasting man’s breath stand for the fire of the altar and the fragrance of the sacrifice.” Zohar Chadash, Midrash Ruth, 79d–80a, Sefer Chassidim 171.
  2. Maggid Mishna; Rambam, Hilchot Ta’anit 5:5. But see Masechet Sofrim 21:1.
  3. Sheiltot, Vayakhel 67.
  4. Aruch Hashulchan, OC 686:2. The record holder for the longest fast is Adam, who fasted for 130 years. See Eruvin 18b.
  5. Megilla 16.
  6. Minhagei Eretz Yisrael (Gellis) 35:1; OC 286:3.
  7. Aruch Hashulchan, OC 286:6.
  8. Rambam, Hilchot Ta’anit 5:5.
  9. Beit Yosef 686.
  10. See my friend Rav David Brofsky on this issue at:
  11. Mishna Berura 686:2.
  12. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:2.
  13. 1 Maccabees 7:26-50; 2 Maccabees 15:36; Ran to Ta’anit 7a.
  14. Shevet Hakehati 1:203.
  15. Kav Hayashar, cited in Piskei Teshuvot 686:2.
  16. For more on the festive nature of Erev Yom Kippur, see: Rabbeinu Yona, Sha’arei Teshuva 4:8.
  17. Kav Hayashar 97.
  18. Levush 550:3; She’iltot Vayakhel 67.
  20. OC 686.
  21. Eishel Avraham (Botchatch).
  22. Piskei Teshuvot 550:1.
  23. Besamim Rosh 239.
  24. Magen Avraham 686:13, Mishna Berura 686:17.
  25. Rema, OC 694:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:5, Kaf Hachaim, OC 694:25. See also Mishna Berura 694:5.
  26. Rambam, Hilchot Megilla 2:18, Yerushalmi Megilla 1:5
  27. Discussed at:

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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: [email protected].