We learned in the previous lesson, based on the Talmud, that the four fasts were originally decreed as mandatory by the Prophets after the destruction of the First Temple, and commuted to voluntary after the Second Temple was rebuilt. Later in history, the fasts were reaffirmed as mandatory once again by the consensus of Jewry. However, built in to the reaffirmation was the proviso that several leniencies would apply to three of the four fasts. Only Tisha b’Av remained with all of the stringencies of a full fast day, because of the multiple and severe tragedies that occurred on that date.
The following are the leniencies for Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, Tzom Gedalia and Asara b’Teves:
- The fasts begin in the morning, not at night;
- Only eating and drinking are prohibited, not the other “afflictions” of Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av (i.e. bathing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, marital relations). [Note: “The custom is to refrain from bathing one’s body with hot water. It is permitted to wash one’s face, hands and feet with hot water, and to shower one’s body with cold – Ed. i.e. lukewarm – water.” (Quoted from Guidelines: Over Four Hundred of the Most Commonly Asked Questions about the Three Weeks, p.23)]
- Serious exceptions to the fasts are granted, as needed, to pregnant and nursing mothers and people who are ill (although not dangerously so, Heb. ‘choleh she’ein bo sakana’). Ed. A person should always consult a halachic authority whenever there are questions about fasting, especially on these “minor” fasts.
The following leniencies apply equally to all four of the fasts – including Tisha b’Av:
- Minors should not be encouraged to fast at all. [“Children below bar/bas mitzvah do not need to fast even for a few hours. Nevertheless, if they understand that it is a day of mourning, they should be given only simple foods and certainly not treats.” (Ibid.p.19)]
- None of the four fasts are observed when their dates coincide with Shabbos. Instead, the fast is postponed until Sunday (NOT earlier on Thursday, like the Fast of Esther is!)
- The way our calendar is set up, only the Tenth of Teves can occur on Friday. When it does, the fast is observed as usual; however, certain prayers normally recited at Mincha are omitted, namely ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ and ‘Tachanun’. ‘Aneinu’ is still recited during both the silent Shemoneh Esrei and the Repetition, and the Torah and Haftarah are still read.
Now do we understand better the differences between the fast days?