Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Rabbi Baruch EfratiCourtesy

Note: Sephardi and Ashkenazi rulings are pointed out when there is a difference between them.

The fast of the 9th of Av is meant to cause us to feel the pain of the Temple's destruction and to alert us to the pressing importance of building our land and nation, while strengthening our longing for rebuilding the Temple and our sorrow that it is still in ruins.

When we mourn the Temple, we include our personal pain, asking Hashem to take us out of darkness to light, as in the verse "a new light shines on Zion."

There are five things from which we abstain on the fast:

1. Food and drink; 2. Washing or bathing; 3.Using creams; 4. Intimate relations and physical affection; 5. wearing leather shoes.

1. Food and drink:

A healthy person who feels weak while fasting should continue to fast although he does not feel well. It is preferable to lie in bed and continue fasting, rather than to break the fast and attend prayers in the synagogue.

A sick person who is endangered, or might be endangered by fasting, must not fast.

An sick person who is not in danger, such as someone who has a very bad headache or has fever and is dizzy, or someone who is too weak to get out of bed, convalescent, or elderly and infirm, or someone with an eye infection - and who wants to eat or must eat in order to get well – is allowed to eat and drink and does not have to worry about eating in measured halakhic amounts (i.e. a shiur as on Yom Kippur).

Pregnant and nursing women begin the fast as usual, but if they feel weak, or have headaches or pain in the abdomen, they may eat and drink immediately, without measuring halakhic amounts.

If a nursing woman fears a lessening of breast milk (even without a headache or weakness and even if the infant can be given substitutes), it is better to take the lenient view and eat and drink.

(Source for the above: Halakhic decisions of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zts"l)

If a pregnant woman has been instructed by her physician to refrain from fasting for medical reasons, he should be listened to and she should not fast. Nowadays, all halakhic decisors (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) agree that a woman should not fast during the first thirty days after childbirth.

Laws concerning the Coronavirus pandemic:

A person in quarantine for corona who has not received a positive test result for the virus, fasts as usual if he feels well. If he has muscle pains, shortness of breath, fever or weakness – is not obligated to fast (and of course, must see a doctor immediately).

Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus should not fast in order to keep up his physical strength to combat the virus.

The Chief Rabbinate and Health Ministry's instructions on the subject should be obeyed.

Emergency responders and emergency personnel, doctors and nurses, fast as usual unless they feel that fasting has a negative effect on the level of their care for patients.

2. Using creams and lotions:

It is permitted to use deodorants and moisturizers, as well as anti-mosquito preparations at night, but makeup is forbidden.

3. Washing and bathing:

If one's face is very dirty, it may be washed. Freshening up is forbidden, even with one's small finger.

4. Physical relations:

A married couple acts as if the woman is ritually unclean (no physical contact at night).

Halakhic checks in preparation for immersion which is to take place at the end of the fast and the like – should be done before the fast with a slight washing at the fast's end prior to actual immersion, or alternatively, all preparations can be done after the fast.

5. Wearing leather shoes:

In principle, Crocs and "shoresh" sandals may be worn, even though they are meant to be comfortable (although there are halakhic decisors who forbid plastic shoes if they are comfortable) but leather shoes are entirely forbidden.

6. Sitting on the ground:

From halakhic midday it is the custom to be lenient and allow sitting on a chair. Before then, one can sit on a step, a low stool, or on the floor. Standing when on a bus is preferred, but if one feels weak, sitting is permitted.

7. Torah study:

Torah study is not allowed, because of the verse "G-d's laws gladden the heart", excepting topics that have to do with the day's mourning – and even they should not be studied in depth. There is no Daf Yomi. Books about issues of faith may be read because they are the fulfillment of "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" which is relevant on the fast.

8. Work:

One must not work on the fast, and whoever does so sees no blessing in his work. From midday on, one can be lenient and work if the work is of utmost importance.

9. Laws of the fast:

a. Evening prayers:

Ashkenazim remove the parochet (curtain) from the Holy Ark and pray in low voices. The Silent Prayer , Kaddish Titkabel. Only the minimum number of candles needed for reading are kindled. The congregation sits on the ground and reads the Megilla of Eicha (Lamentations) in a low voice with the traditional melody. Kinot (elegies), Veata Kadosh and Aleinu prayers follow.

Sephardim remove the parochet and some congregations read the Torah portion of Haazinu. The order of the service is Aneinu (respond to us), the Megilla of Eicha without blessings, kinot, Ata Kadosh, the special Kaddish. Lights are turned off and the number of years since the destruction of the Temple is announced, followed by Shir Hamaalot, Aleinu.

b. Morning prayers:

Hands may be washed up to the ends of the fingers (allowed after using the bathroom as well), wiped so that they stay damp and then used to go over one's eyes. The "sheasa li kol tzorchi – He fulfills all my needs" blessing is not said by most congregations. Tallit and tefillin are not worn (some Sephardic congregations do so), Tzitzit (fringed garments) are worn without the blessing (later in the day when the tallit is put on, the blessing said covers both tallit and fringes). When praying, the incense and daily sacrifice sections are omitted, but "The Thanksgiving Psalm (Mizmor Letodah) " is recited. Sephardim recite the sacrifices.

In the Silent Prayer one omits the Nachem (comfort us) prayer and the cantor says Aneinu between two of the Silent Prayer blessings when repeating them aloud. Sephardim also say Aneinu while saying the Silent Prayer to themselves.

Ashkenazim omit the Priestly Blessings and its substitute prayer. The Sephardim say the Priestly Blessings.

The Avinu Malkenu prayer and Tachanun are not said. After the cantor repeats the Silent Prayer (Sephardim add several kinot here), the Torah portion from Ve'etchanan, "When you give birth to sons" is read with three people called to the Torah and the third gets maftir. Half-kaddish is said, and the Haftarah, "Asof Asifem" up to "Neum Hashem" is read, with the blessings ending at "Magen David." The Torah is returned to the Ark and kinot are chanted.

c. At the end of kinot:

Ashkenazim say Ashrei, Ata Kadosh, omit Lamnatzeach, skip the verse "Veani Zot Briti", complete Kaddish without Titkabel, Aleinu, Mourner's Kaddish. The daily psalm is omitted, as is the Pitum Haktoret prayer.

Sephardim continue in everyday fashion after the Haftorah reading, but say Al Naharot Bavel (By the Rivers of Babylon) instead of Tefilla LeDavid, Kaddish with Titkabel, chant kinot after removing tefillin, followed by the Special Kaddish (Atid Leatchadta).

On this day we do not greet one another as usual, we walk as if reprimanded, and someone who says "shalom" by mistake is responded to with a sign.

d. Afternoon prayers:

Those who did not wear a tallit or put on tefillin in the morning don them and recite the blessings. Ashkenazim say the daily psalm and all the things they omitted in the morning prayers, followed by Ashrei, half Kaddish, the Torah reading of "Vayachel" with three people called to the Torah and "Dirshu Hashem " for the Haftarah as is the custom on public fast days. Half Kaddish is said before the Silent Prayer.

In the Silent Prayer, one says Nachem in the Boneh Yerushalayim blessing and Aneinu in the Shomea Tefilla blessing. When repeating the Silent Prayer, the cantor says Aneinu as a blessing on its own between the Goel and Raenu blessings and Nachem in the Boneh Yerushalayim blessing (the words are not changed, one must think of the desolate and humiliated city while reciting the phrase about the city of David and the Temple Mount.) If one forgets to say Nachem at the designated place, it can be said without the ending during Shema Tefilla after Aneinu or before Vetechezena, Ve'al Kulam or Elokai Netzor, but if one totally forgets to say it and has reached the end of the prayer, it is not repeated.

e. Priestly blessing: if the service is held after "plag hamincha (1.25 hours before sunset)" or during "Mincha Gedola (from half an hour after halakhic midday)", there is no priestly blessing.

f. The end of the fast this year, the 10th of Av, is Erev Shabbot and therefore there are less stringencies than on other years to enable preparation for Shabbat:

It is permitted to do laundry, bathe, cut one's hair once the fast is over instead of waiting till mid-day the following day as is the usual law. It is appropriate to refrain from intimacy until the next day.

Some Ashkenazi poskim (halakhic decisors) permit music, meat and wine right after the fast this year also, while some do not allow them until mid-day of the tenth of Av as is the case every year. Someone who wishes to can rely on the less stringent rabbis. Sephardim refrain from meat, wine and music until the next night.

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"And if we were destroyed and the world destroyed with us

By baseless hatred

We will return to be rebuilt and the world rebuilt with us

By boundless love" (HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, Orot Hakodesh)