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Fasting 101

Fasting 101

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The Jewish calendar contains several fast days, most of them commemorating various landmark events that revolve around the destruction of the Holy Temples. They are:

3 Tishrei—the Fast of Gedaliah

10 Tishrei—Yom Kippur

10 TevetAsarah B’Tevet

13 Adar—the Fast of Esther

17 TammuzShivah Asar B’Tammuz

9 AvTisha B’Av

The following rules apply to all fast days aside from Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, which have their own rules (see our Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av guides).

Why are we fasting? It's not our fault that the Temple was destroyed . . .Fasting is pretty simple. If you are a healthy man or woman over the age of bar or bat mitzvah, just abstain from food and drink from dawn until dark. Click here to find out when the fast starts and ends at your location.

A few technical details:

  • If you are pregnant or nursing and are in pain or feel weak, do not fast on this day. If you’re ill, consult with a rabbi. But even if you are exempt from fasting, skip the delicacies and sweets for a day.
  • You can wake up early before the fast begins and grab a bite—as long as you had this in mind before you went to sleep.
  • Try to make it to your synagogue for the day’s prayer services. We add some special fast-day prayers, and read from the Torah, during both the morning and afternoon prayers. There’s also a special fast-day haftorah following the afternoon Torah reading.
  • If the fast day falls on Shabbat, it is postponed until Sunday (or in the case of the Fast of Esther, moved up to Thursday).

Why are we fasting? It’s not our fault that the Temple was destroyed. The people at that time refused to listen to the prophets who warned them to better their ways. We are still suffering the consequences.

On this, the sages explain: “Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation.” If so, a fast day is not really a sad day, but an opportune day. It's a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that first destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times—may that be very soon.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Melissa Atlanta July 27, 2017

I have always thought that the fast began at sundown as the holiday started rather than beginning in the morning? Reply

Chabad.org Staff August 2, 2017
in response to Melissa:

All fasts except for 9 Av and Yom Kippur begin at dawn, 9 Av and Yom Kippur begin before sundown of the evening prior. Reply

Melissa August 3, 2017
in response to Chabad.org Staff:

Thank you! Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Chabad.org July 14, 2017

To Lisa You're paying attention to the Jewish calendar and asking questions to develop your knowledge and observance - that's a great Jew.

There are indeed six fast days as you see in the article. I'm not sure why you would have been taught only about Yom Kippur and the Fast of Esther, but possibly because those are connected to holidays, Yom Kippur being a holiday itself and the Fast of Esther being a prelude to Purim. The other four fasts all commemorate different aspects of the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, and are an important part of our connection to our heritage. We've been observing them for many, many centuries. Reply

Lisa Mirman New Orleans July 11, 2017

Fast days I'm 50 years old and went to a private Jewish school in grade school (1/2 day English studies/ 1/2 day Hebrew/Jewish studies - so way more in depth than going to Hebrew school once a week).

I was certain that I was taught that we only had 2 fast days: Yom Kippur and the Fast of Esther. This might be worded oddly but did traditions/observation of holidays change? Can anyone think of a reason I may have been taught differently?

Very curious to find the answer. (Honestly, the calendar on my phone lists every Jewish Holiday and a fast is listed for today that I had never heard of. Or it's possible that I'm just not a very good Jew to not even be aware of these other fasts).

Thank you in advance - hoping this is answered despite this being an old thread) Reply

Ezra Chicago IL July 11, 2017
in response to Lisa Mirman:



The fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, known as Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, is the start of a three-week mourning period for the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Holy Temples.

The fast actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date:

Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.
During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.
Apostomos burned the holy Torah.1
An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.2
The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av.)
The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple-chabad.org
This is an old fast. Reply

Anonymous Florida March 22, 2016

I had questioned my self and this was the question why do we fast if in the it doesn't explicitly tell us to fast and this was my answer g-d never forced us to fast because it seems like away of being punished well that is one reason but really we do it to show g-d we are sorry and hope that nothing like the destruction of the temple happens again and it is not written in the Torah because g-d dose not need to remind us to do a mitzvah we people are eligible to do a mitzvah without g-d telling us to. Reply

Farooq India July 12, 2015

Is there any fast in Jewish religion emulating the fast of Moses which he observed for 40 days before God appeared to him? Reply

Dan Ellenbogen Thornhill, Canada July 5, 2015

fasting, body, and brain We eat to provide sources of physical energy. That energy is produced by the body functions. The brain cotrols the action of the body. Now, by fasting the body slows down because it does not need to do the work of digestion.

Consequently, by reducing the bodily functions of digestion, by not eating, the brain is available to focus more readily on mental and spiritual functions that effect the soul. One becomes more acutely aware of one's inner status. Thus one is more able to attain a higher//deeper awareness of connection to HaShem: to that which is our Source of life.

In the state of fasting we thus can meditate and perform acts of teshuva (return) with a mind that is not distracted. Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2015

Citation? What is your source for these fast days? As far as I recall, in the Torah it never explicitly says to fast, so where do you get the idea of it?

Please try to avoid extrapolation in your response. Reply

Chabad.org Staff via mychabad.org January 1, 2015

To Anonymous Tefillin are worn on all fast days except Yom Kippur and the morning of Tisha B'Av.
Today on the fast of 10 Tevet you do put on Tefillin.

Tefillin are not worn on major holidays such as Saturdays (Shabbat)
Rosh HaShanah Yom Kippur Sukkot Passover and Shavuot. They are worn on minor holidays such as Chanukah and Purim. Reply

Anonymous Boston January 1, 2015

do you don Tefillin during a fast day or Yom Tov
Reply

Alistaire Moore Bethesda, MD December 28, 2014

How can we work to rebuild the holy Temple? Reply

Anonymous nyc July 26, 2011

Re: Temple Though the Tabernacle was mobile, once the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem it became the only spot where the Holy Temple could be built from that point on.

This law was derived from the following verses (Deuteronomy 12:5-6):

Only at the place where the Lord, your God, shall choose to cause His Name to dwell, may you seek Him at his dwelling...There, you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices.

The preceding verses described how the pagans had sacrificed "upon the high mountains, upon the hills, under every lofty tree." In contrast, the service of God had to be centralized in one place alone, "the place which the Lord, your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell." Reply

Anonymous nyc July 25, 2011

Re: Temple Once the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem it became the only spot where the Holy Temple could be built from that point on.

That law was derived from the following verses (Deuteronomy 12:5-6):

Only at the place where the Lord, your God, shall choose to cause His Name to dwell, may you seek Him at his dwelling...There, you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices.

The preceding verses described how the pagans had sacrificed "upon the high mountains, upon the hills, under every lofty tree." In contrast, the service of God had to be centralized in one place alone, "the place which the Lord, your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell." Nevertheless, until an abode for the Shechinah was constructed, there was no prohibition against sacrificing anywhere in Eretz Yisrael. Reply

Anonymous Prescott, AR/US July 21, 2011

Temple What is the real hold up on the building of another temple? And...MUST...it be on the temple mount of Jerusalem...since the Tabernacle moved about? I mean, if THIS generation is held responsible as the generation of the destruction...then why isn't more done to complete the task? Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY July 18, 2011

Pills on Fast Day The night pill is not a problem. You take it before the fast starts on the day before, and after the fast ends. It is the morning pill that is the problem.

Speak to your doctor and to your local Orthodox rabbi about this problem. Some pills can be doubled up if missed (that is, take two pills that night after the fast ends). However, medicine for certain life-threatening conditions cannot be missed, period. Your local Orthodox rabbi will ask what the medicine is and what condition you are taking the medicine for. Reply

Michael Glenview February 25, 2011

Here is where it says that To noam, (Talmud Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1) Reply

noam brooklyn, ny December 18, 2010

who said that? where did our sages say that" Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation." which gemara? Reply

Harvey Bernstein New York, NY December 17, 2010

taanis Esther Why dont we fast on Taanis esther on a Friday?? In 2011, Purim is on Sunday. Since we dont fast on Shabbat; the day before is a friday, and we fast on Thursday. Why???''' Reply

Yisroel Cotlar for chabad.org cary, nc September 15, 2010

Shabbos Yom Kippur is the only time we fast on Shabbat. It is the only fast day that is Biblically commanded. On the other days, the fast gets pushed off, generally until Sunday. Reply

Anonymous NY September 12, 2010

Fast Day I need to take pills every morning and night. How do i take my pill if I am fasting? Reply

Stella H Howell Wokingham, United Kingdom September 9, 2010

Shabbat Fast I thought it might be good to fast on Shabbat and live on the words of God on that day. Any comment? Reply

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