Fast of Esther is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held on the day before the
jolly holiday of Purim. It
commemorates the fasting of our ancestors in response to the dramatic chain of
events that occurred during their exile in the Persian empire. These events are
recorded in the Book of Esther, and the salvation that came about at that time
is celebrated on the holiday of Purim. (Click here to find out what times the Fast of Esther
starts and ends in your location.)
year the Fast of Esther is held on March 9, 2017, and Purim is celebrated from
the evening of March 11 through March 12 (March 12-13 in Jerusalem). While the
fast is generally celebrated on the day before Purim, when Purim is on Sunday,
the fast is moved from Shabbat to the preceding Thursday.
The Fast of Esther, or Ta’anit Esther, is not one of the four public fasts that was ordained by the prophets. Consequently, we
are more lenient in its observance, particularly when it comes to pregnant
women, nursing mothers and others who are weak.
Click here for basic
What It Commemorates
is associated with some pivotal moments in the Purim
narrative. One such moment is when
Esther approached King Ahasuerus without permission in an effort to intercede
on behalf of the Jewish people. Before she went to the king, she fasted for three
days, and asked that all the Jews fast as well.
dramatic turnaround occurred on Adar 13 (the default date for the Fast of
Esther), the date that Haman had set aside for killing the Jews. Instead the
Jewish people soundly trounced their enemies. This triumph was accomplished
while the Jews were fasting, as they prayed to G‑d that they be successful.
here for more on why this fast is named for Esther.
As on other fast days, we make the following changes to the daily prayer
● During the morning prayers we recite selichot (penitential prayers),
which are printed in the back of the prayerbook. The
“long Avinu Malkeinu” is recited during the morning prayers (and the
afternoon prayers, if the fast is not on the day before Purim) .
● The Torah is read during the morning and
afternoon prayers. The reading—the same for both morning and afternoon—is Exodus
32:11–14 and 34:1–10, which
discusses the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident, how Moses successfully
interceded on the Israelites’ behalf and obtained forgiveness for their
sin. After the afternoon Torah reading, the special fast-day haftarah, Isaiah
55:6–56:8, is read.
● During the Amidah prayer of the
afternoon service (Minchah), those who are fasting add the
paragraph Aneinu in the Shema Koleinu blessing. (It is also
added in the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah in both the morning and afternoon
services as its own blessing between the blessings of Re’eh and Refa’einu.)
Additionally, the priestly blessing is added in the repetition of the Amidah in
the afternoon service.
● If the fast is on the day before Purim, we do
not say Tachanun (prayers of supplication) or Avinu Malkeinu at Minchah, since
the joy of the holiday is already upon us.
commemoration of the half-shekel contributed by each Jew to the Holy Temple—which
the Talmud says counteracted the 10,000 silver talents Haman gave
to King Ahasuerus to obtain the royal decree calling for the
extermination of the Jewish people—it is customary to give three coins in
“half” denominations (e.g., half-dollar coins) to charity on the afternoon of
the Fast of Esther before Minchah. The three half-dollars given for every
member of the family commemorate the three contributions the Jews gave for the
building of the Tabernacle and for its sacrifices.
many synagogues, plates are set out with silver half-dollars so that all can
purchase them to use in observance of this custom.
you didn’t manage to give machatzit
hashekel before Minchah, you can do so afterwards, or before the
Megillah reading on Purim night or morning.
here to learn more about machatzit hashekel.
Onward to Purim
that we’ve got the Fast of Esther settled, let’s focus on Purim, the joyous
holiday that comes next.
you’re looking for the basics, we suggest you start with What
can then check out the How-to Guide to learn more about the day’s four special
a big part of Purim is reading the Megillah (Book of Esther), you may want
print one out so you can follow along with the reader.
in case you’ve been invited to a Purim celebration, you can prep with our What
to Expect page.
and in case you were worried, we got you covered with Purim
recipes, and lots of Purim