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The Tenth of Tevet - A Compendium of Laws

After the destruction of the First Temple, the Prophets and the Sages of Israel legislated fasting on the Tenth of Tevet, for it was on that day that Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, and his legions placed Jerusalem under siege.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Tenth of Tevet
After the destruction of the Temple, the Prophets and Sages of Israel legislated fasting on the Tenth of Tevet, for it was on that day that Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, and his legions placed Jerusalem under siege. With this siege began the great affliction which finally ended in the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence.
With the construction of the Second Temple, this fast was nullified, but when the Second Temple too was razed, the fast was reinstated. And even though in the days of the Second Temple the siege began on a different day, the fasts were instituted principally to commemorate the destruction of the First Temple, which, in a number of respects, was more severe, and it is in its commemoration that we fast.
Because the day of fasting was established for the Tenth of Tevet, two addition distressing historical events which occurred at approximately the same time were added to the mourning: the death of Ezra the Scribe on the ninth of Tevet, and the translation of the Torah to Greek on the eighth of Tevet.

Eating and Drinking Before Daybreak ("Alote Hashachar")
Even though the minor fasts begin at daybreak, nevertheless, according to many authorities, if one went to sleep at night with the intention of no longer eating, he is considered to have committed himself to beginning the fast, and even if he wakes before daybreak it will be forbidden for him to eat or drink. Therefore, if one wishes to get up early in order to eat or drink, one must make this his clear intention before going to bed. If one had gone to sleep without such intention it is forbidden for him to eat upon waking before the onset of the fast, but, regarding drink, it is permissible to rely upon the lenient opinions, for it is an accepted practice for one who wakes before a fast to drink a bit, and we can view him as if he had in fact had this intention all along (see Mishna Berurah 564:6; Kaf Hachaim 10).

Rinsing Out One's Mouth With Water
Ideally (ab initio), it is forbidden to rinse out one's mouth with water during the course of a fast, for there exists the possibility that while rinsing one will swallow drops of water. But to wash out the mouth in order to eliminate bad breath and to avoid discomfort is permissible, for it is not his intention to fast but merely to clean out his mouth. Hence, it is permissible for whoever is discomforted when he does not rinse out his mouth on minor fasts, to do so, while doing one's best not to swallow any of the water. It is also permissible for one who is otherwise discomforted to brush one's teeth with toothpaste in order to clean one's mouth thoroughly and to eliminate bad breath.
On Tisha B'Av (the Ninth of Av), a major fast on which even bathing is forbidden, one should be more stringent. Therefore, unless it is extremely urgent, one should avoid rinsing out one's mouth on this day. Only one who suffers great discomfort when he does not wash out his mouth is permitted to do so and to brush his teeth without toothpaste.
On Yom Kippur though, because fasting it is biblically proscribed, it is forbidden to be lenient in this area.

One Who Accidentally Drank on the Fast
Question: Does one who accidentally drank during the fast have to continue to fast?
Answer: Yes, for these fast days were instituted in remembrance of the tragic events which occurred thereupon. Therefore, even if a person accidentally breaks the fast and will no longer be able to recite "Anenu" (a prayer which is combined with the sixteenth blessing of the afternoon service's "Amida" prayer), the prohibition against eating and drinking continues to be in effect. One who has performed one transgression is not permitted to perform additional transgressions (Shulchan Arukh 368:1). There is no need, though, to fast on a different day as recompense for the fast he broke, for the obligation to fast applies only to the particular day designated by the Sages.

The Ill Are Exempt
When the Prophets and Sages instituted these fasts, they instituted them for the healthy alone, not for the sick. On this point, Yom Kippur differs from other fasts. On Yom Kippur, even the sick are obligated to fast, for it is a Torah-based fast. Only in a case where one is so sick that fasting involves endangering one's life is one permitted not to fast, for the preservation of life takes precedence over all of the commandments in the Torah. Even at this, if it is possible to eat only a small amount of food at intervals - i.e., less than a "cotevet" (the volume of a large date) or a "mlo logmav," (a cheek-full) every nine minutes - one should do so. However, on those fasts which were instituted by the Sages the sick are exempt and they need not eat or drink in intervals; rather, they are permitted to eat and drink as usual, so long as they do not overindulge.

Who Is Considered "Ill"
Generally speaking, one whose pain or weakness instead of permitting him to go about life as usual causes him to take to his bed is considered sick. For example, one who is sick with the flu or angina, or who has a fever, is exempt from fasting.

Almost everybody suffers during the course of the fast from a headache and weakness, and for many people it is easier while fasting to lie down on the bed than to carry on as usual. Sometimes the discomfort of fasting is greater than what a person who has the flu feels when not fasting. This feeling, though, is not considered illness, but is seen as the natural bodily reaction to fasting which will disappear a number of hours after the fast. Hence, one who is bedridden as a result of his sickness is exempt from fasting while one who suffers from the fast itself is not exempt. Only one who is so weakened by the fast that he is no longer seen as discomforted by the fast but has in fact become truly sick is exempt.

Similarly, if one is fragile or very old and thus suffers because of the fast and fears that, if he fasts, he will be further weakened and become sick, he is exempt from fasting. Also, a person who recently recovered from sickness, yet still feels week
and fears that if he fasts his sickness will return, is exempt from the fast (Kaf Hachaim 550:6; 554:31).

Anybody who knows that he is likely to become sick as a result of the fast is exempt from the fast. For example, one who suffers from an active ulcer or a strong migraine is exempt from the fast. Likewise, one who suffers from diabetes and must take insulin is exempt. Sometimes diabetics are even exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur. Those who suffer from kidney stones and must therefore drink much water are also exempted from fasting. One who has high blood pressure is not considered sick and can fast unless he received specific medical instruction prohibiting this. At any rate, if there is any uncertainty, a rabbi or God-fearing Jewish doctor should be consulted.

Pregnant Women and Nursing Mothers
Pregnant woman and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting on the minor fasts (i.e., those which commence at daybreak). The reason for this is that, initially, the Prophets instituted fasting on these days only during times in which there were harsh decrees against Israel. Today we fast even when there are no such decrees, for the entire Jewish people has taken this stringency upon itself until the Holy Temple is rebuilt, may it be speedily in our days. However, from this custom's inception, pregnant women and nursing mothers did not fast because the fast was more difficult for them than for others.
Yet, among Ashkenazic Jewry, many of the women were stringent and would observe even minor fasts. Perhaps this was due to the difficult decrees which they suffered in their region. At any rate, the accepted practice today, even among Ashkenazic women, is to refrain from fasting on minor fasts, and even one who wishes to be stringent in this regard, if she experiences difficulty during the fast or she is nursing and the fast will lessen her amount of milk, distressing the baby, it is better not to fast.
Some say that the law which exempts a nursing mother from fasting on minor fasts applies to all women in the twenty-four months after birth. According to these opinions, the exemption is not dependent upon the baby's feeding; it is, rather, connected to the fact that the recovery from the trauma of the birth lasts twenty-four months (Maharasham and Yachvei Daat 1:35). In practice, according to most authorities, any woman who stops feeding must fast on minor fasts, and this is the accepted practice. If, though, a woman wants to be lenient, she has authorities that she can rely upon. What's more, if a woman feels weakness during the course of a fast, even though she does not feel quite sick, she is permitted to stop her fast.

There are some woman who have become accustomed, over the course of time, not to fast at all on minor fasts, for they have always been either pregnant or feeding. However, once they have reached a stage wherein they no longer give birth, they must resume the custom of fasting in accordance with the legislation of the rabbis.

Before Reaching Religious Adulthood (Bar-Mitzvah)
Boys who have not yet reached the age of thirteen, and girls who have not yet reached twelve are exempt from fasts instituted by the Sages, and there is no obligation to educate them to fast. Only on Yom Kippur, which is a Torah-based fast are we commanded to educate children and to accustom them to fast: first for a couple of hours, and then for the complete fast. Concerning other fasts, there is no commandment to educate the children, but it is customary to feed them simple foods in order to educate them to mourn with the rest of the community (Mishna Berurah 550:5). If the older, healthier children want to fast until noon, this is a praiseworthy practice, but they should not fast for the entire day (Rema MiPano 111, and see Kaf Hachaim 554:23).

Bride and Groom
If a minor festival falls on one of the seven consecutive festive days following a wedding, the bride and groom, even though they are commanded to be joyous during these days (and it is therefore forbidden for them to observe a personal individual fast), must keep the communal fast. This is because the importance of the many outweighs that of the individual, and the mourning of the many overrides the joy of the individual. Furthermore, the bride and groom have a special obligation to remember the destruction of the Temple, as it is written (Psalm 137:6): "If I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy" (Ritbah).
This law is also true regarding the father of a baby who stands to be ritually circumcised ("Avi HaBen"), the one who holds the infant boy on his knees in the course of the circumcision operation (the "Sandak"), and the one performing the circumcision (the "Mohel") - i.e., they must fast. The same holds true for one who must perform the ceremony of redeeming his firstborn son ("Pidyon HaBen") on one of the fast days.

Whoever mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem merits seeing her rebuilt. May this come to be speedily in our days, Amen.

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