Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Rabbi Baruch EfratiCourtesy

Why do we fast on the Tenth of Tevet?

This is the day upon which the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon began. It was the ninth year of the Judean King Zedekiah's reign. The Jews held out for 18 months, but in the end the city fell and the Temple was destroyed.

Israel's Chief Rabbinate proclaimed this fast day as also being Holocaust Memorial Day. (The Knesset did not accept the ruling and chose the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day, although it takes place in the month of Nisan, when one traditionally does not hold memorials.)

How can we start Shabbat while fasting and sad?

In the Shulkhan Arukh it says that "people of stature" customarily fasted every Friday and that this has double value – it is a way to do teshuva and also look forward to the Shabbat meal with heightened appetite. Sadness for our nation's pain is not the same as personal sadness and that is why it is alright for it to continue past the start of Shabbat. We beseech Hashem for deliverance on Shabbat when there is sorrow due to a national crisis, such as praying for rain during a drought.

Why not put the fast off for Sunday?

Because the Prophet Ezekiel used the term "on this very day" when alluding to the start of the siege, so we fast on that very day.

Selected Halakhot:

1. The fast begins with the morning star and ends when the stars come out (this is a halakhic time that can be found on the internet), meaning that we end the fast this year with Kiddush. It is preferable (healthwise) to use grape juice instead of strong wine for that reason.

2. Prayer on the fast day:

-''Anenu" is said in the morning service (In Ashkenazi shuls only the cantor says it) and in the afternoon service the cantor says it as a separate blessing, while someone praying alone adds it to the Shema Kolenu blessing).

-In the morning after the repetition of the silent prayer (Amidah) Ashkenazim say "Avinu Malkenu", both Ashkenazim and Sephardim say slichot, and both read the portion "Vayachel" from the Torah. "Vayachel" is also read at Mincha when Ashkenazim read the haftora of "Dirshu Hashem."

-Both morning and afternoon services include a memorial prayer for the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, as mandated by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

-Mincha, the afternoon service, is said earlier than usual, so as to leave enough time to finish before sunset. The Priestly Blessing is said at Mincha (this is a reminder to kohanim to bring a tallit to shul because on other days they do not bless the congregation in the afternoon service) Note: the halakhot of the Priestly Blessing on the fast apply only to Israel where the Priestly Blessing is said every day).

-Neither 'tachanun nor 'avinu malkeinu' are said at the afternoon service. Those who are accustomed to putting on tefilin in the afternoon on fast days instead of the morning should make an exception and don them in the morning this year.

4. If the afternoon service is said in the early part of the afternoon (the halakhic term is mincha gedola before plag hamincha) most halakhic authorities say there should be no Priestly Blessing. That is why it is preferable not to pray in the early afternoon on Friday even though it makes Shabbat preparations easier, and pray closer to Shabbat so as to hear the Priestly Blessing.

5. Those who do not have to fast: Boys under the age of 13 and girls under the age of 12, those who are ill, even if not dangerously or severely ill (headache, nausea and the like), a woman within the first month of giving birth, and a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy, a nursing mother, even if she stopped nursing and it is not yet two years since the birth. It is preferable for a woman who has stopped nursing to try to fast if she can, but there is a halakhic opinon (the Maharsham) allowing her to refrain from fasting..

6. Brushing one's teeth on the fast is allowed if not doing so causes suffering, and it is obligatory to shower for Shabbat. Bathing\showering with hot water is allowed.

7. A woman who finds it hard to fast may say Kiddush for herself when the stars come out (she must eat a food whose blessing is the one for grains, or drink enough juice ( a halakhic revi'it) for it to be considered the proscribed "Kiddush at the site of a meal." When her husband returns from shul, he is to recite Kiddush as well.

8. Candles are lit as usual, although the men are in shul from before candlelighting as they the afternoon service is held somewhat earlier than on ordinary Fridays.

9. One should light a memorial candle in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and place it near the Shabbat candles or light it the previous night.

10. A dvar Torah should not be said at the Friday evening service, so as not to lengthen the fast. It can be said the following morning.

11. It is a good idea to welcome the Shabbat earlier than usual, so that the evening service is finished about the time the stars are seen. Kiddush cannot be said at home before that.

12. Do not skip singing Shalom Aleichem and Eshet Chayil, unless there is someone elderly or sick, or someone suffering who must break their fast quickly. In that case, the hymns can be recited after eating the Challah.

May it be G-d's Will that we merit building the Temple thereby rendering this fast unnecessary.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied at Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem and serves as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.

*Translation by Rochel Sylvetsky