Ask the rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Women's Prayer

Women and Individual/Private Fasts


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Cheshvan 4, 5774
On rare occassions, especially if I’m praying for something extremely important I may take a 24 hour fast upon myself. My male friend said it is forbidden for women to do so. He said I must ask his permission before taking a fast upon myself. I don’t want to argue or seem like I’m trying to be "over-righteous", and I surely don't want to upset him, but is there any basis for this? I was never under the impression that I wasn’t allowed to fast or that I needed permission to. Women fast on fast days, is it so unbelievable a woman may take a fast upon herself? Please help. Thank you so much for your help and this amazing website. I’ve learned so much!! You guys are a real blessing.
You raise a very important issue, which I hope to succeed in explaining in the scope of this brief framework. In general, individuals are allowed to accept extra private fasts (usually though, not 24 hours but just for the daylight) if they find that it brings to positive introspection and are spiritually helpful. Regarding humility, it is not only allowed but even commendable to conceal the fact that you are fasting from others, and one is even allowed not to tell the truth for such cases of modesty. On the other hand, in marriage there should be true openness and partnership, and as few secrets as possible. In addition, as a future mother and wife, who’s physical and mental health and happiness will affect your children and husband’s physical and mental health and happiness as well, you should also begin to take that into account. That’s why, in fact, the Torah does allow for a husband, after (!) marriage, to annul his wife’s oaths of self-affliction (including fasting) between her and God (!), because they can easily bring you to being tense, high-strung, angry, things which directly affect your surroundings and the general happy atmosphere which should abound in every home. In short, especially after marriage, one is no longer an “individual” and more than ever- before, the thrust of serving God should be through altruism and giving, thus being “Godly”, rather than stressing “religious-feeling” actions (especially if not from the Torah!) which our Perfect God obviously doesn’t need, and mainly serve the needs of the individual and nation. Fasting may be conducive to “feeling religious”, but if it weakens your zest, happiness and “givingness”, if it weakens your parenting and “spoucing”, your Godliness, than it’s counter-productive. It’s important to stress that the goal of Judaism isn’t “to be religious” but to be Godly- achievable through emulating the Godly midot (traits, like being altruistic, giving, producing life, etc.) as seen and described in the Torah, practicing the Godly directions for life (the mitzvot), and up keeping the Jewish traditions (e.g. happy family life). With Blessings that you should speedily build a Bayit Ne’eman B’Yisrael, a home of happiness, openness, intimacy and spirituality which are meant to totally compliment each other! Rav Ari Shvat
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