The Fast of Esther

The fast begins at dawn on Wednesday, February 28 and lasts till sundown the same day.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple

The day before Purim is called Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther.

Despite the popular view, it does not commemorate the three-day fast described in the Megillah (Esther 4:16).

Three days cannot be telescoped into one day, and in any case our Fast of Esther is not mentioned in the Megillah or ordained in the Talmud.

The late tractate Sofrim (21:1) does state that the sages of the Land of Israel did fast for three days before Purim, but not on consecutive days because such a long period of fasting would constitute a danger to life.

According to the Bet Yosef (Orach Chayyim 686), the one-day fast was introduced by the medieval ge’onim to recall a pre-Purim fast of the entire Jewish people, ordained to pray for protection from anti-Semites like Haman.

The name Ta’anit Esther is said to have come about like this: those who were involved in the fight with Haman’s supporters had to eat and drink in order to keep up their strength; Esther, safe in the royal palace, did not fight and was able to fast, which she did for the sake of her fellow Jews.

So Purim benefited everyone, but the fast was Esther’s fast.

(For the laws and customs of the Fast of Esther, click here and here.)

God's name in the Megillah

The Divine Name never appears explicitly in the Book of Esther, but there are a number of hints of it.

There are acrostics where the Name is formed by the initial letters of several verses, e.g. 1:20, 5:4, 5:13 and 7:7.

The background idea is that God was constantly working behind the scenes. His Presence was implicit in events.

Why the Name is not spelled out explicitly may be, as some commentators suggest, that the Megillah was a popular historical tract which might not be treated with due seriousness and sanctity.

From the point of view of human history it suggests a daily experience. There are countless occasions when human beings cannot explain events without God, without bringing in the Omar Khayyam concept, “The moving finger writes”.

It should also be pointed out that there are times such as in the Torah portion of T’tzavveh when Moses’ name is not mentioned even though he is obviously at work behind the scenes.


Purim is no Yom tov

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