From “Guidelines to the Three Weeks” by Rabbi Elozor Barclay and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger
published by Targum Press
to purchase book on targum.com
Why is this day a public fast?
Five major tragedies occurred on this day:
- The first set of stone tablets were broken when Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf.
- The daily sacrifices ceased during the first holy Temple, since sheep were no longer available due to the siege.
- The walls of Jerusalem were breached prior to the destruction of the second holy Temple.
- A sefer Torah was burned by a wicked gentile named Apostumus, during the days of the second holy Temple.
- An idol was placed in the holy Temple.
What is the purpose of fasting?
The purpose of a public fast is to arouse one’s heart to repentance, and to recall one’s misdeeds and the similar misdeeds of our forefathers that caused such calamities. Each person is obligated to examine his ways on this day and undertake to repent from his errors. The fasting is not the actual goal, but only a means to the true goal of repentance. Regarding the sinful people of Nineveh, the verse says “And Hashem saw their actions”; our Sages comment that it does not say that Hashem saw their fasting but rather their actions. People who fast but waste the day with strolls and idle chatter have missed the main point. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient to repent without fasting, since the four public fasts have been decreed by the Prophets. (The four days are the seventeenth of Tammuz, Tisha b’Av, the fast of Gedaliah on the third of Tishrei, and the tenth of Teves.)
Is there any special mitzvah to perform on the fast?
There is a custom to give charity before mincha. This is advised by the verse that is read in the haftarah, “Keep justice and do charity” (Yeshayahu 51:1). Some have the custom to give at least the amount of money that would have been spent for meals on that day.
Do women need to fast?
Girls over bas mitzvah and women are obligated to fast if they are well. However, certain communities are lenient for this fast, particularly if she is weak or finds fasting difficult. A rav should be consulted.
Do pregnant or nursing women have to fast?
Strictly speaking they do not need to fast, since they do not usually have their full strength and fasting will be difficult for them. A woman who feels that she is strong enough is permitted to fast. If she feels weak during the fast she should certainly break the fast and eat. A woman who has given birth or miscarried (ח”ו) within thirty days should not fast even if she feels strong enough to do so.
What if a person is not feeling well?
A person who is ill is not permitted to fast, even if his illness is not serious. When the fast is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday one may be more lenient, and even a person who is only slightly ill does not need to fast. If he is not sure about his physical condition, he should consult a doctor.
Are a chosson and kallah required to fast?
A chosson and kallah must fast, even if the fast occurs during the first week of their marriage.
Should children be trained to fast?
No, children below bar/bas mitzvah do not need to fast even for a few hours. Nevertheless, if they understand that it is a day of mourning, they should be given only simple foods and certainly not treats.
If a person is not required to fast, should he delay eating for a few hours?
No, this is not necessary and he may eat immediately in the morning.
May such a person eat as much as he likes?
No. In order to participate in the public fast day, he should limit himself to a sufficient amount of simple foods.
Should anything be done in place of fasting by someone who is exempt?
It is correct to give money to charity instead. Pregnant and nursing women do not need to do this.
How should a person who is fasting take medicine if required?
A person may swallow bitter or tasteless medicines in tablet, capsule, or liquid form, but not if they are pleasant tasting. The medicine should be taken without water or with a bitter tasting liquid. (If the medicine will still be effective when mixed with water, this is a practical solution since such liquid is usually bitter tasting.) If these alternatives are not feasible, he may take the medicine with a small amount of water, if refraining from doing so will cause illness or great discomfort.
Is a person who is fasting permitted to taste food and spit it out?
This is usually forbidden. However, it is permitted to taste a small quantity of food that is being prepared for a seudas mitzvah after the fast. One should spit out the food and be careful not to swallow any. A b’racha should not be recited.
May the mouth be rinsed?
One may rinse the mouth with water or mouthwash only if a bad taste causes discomfort. Only a small amount of liquid should be used while leaning forward in order to ensure that it is not swallowed.
May the teeth be cleaned?
The teeth may be cleaned with a dry toothbrush. Toothpaste may be used only if the bad taste in the mouth causes discomfort (see previous question).
May one eat early in the morning before the fast begins?
The fast begins at halachic dawn and one may eat until this time. However, before going to sleep the previous evening, one must have in mind that he wishes to eat before dawn. A person who wakes up unexpectedly and did not intend to eat before dawn may not do so. However, if a person forgot to have it in mind or woke up unexpectedly, he may drink before dawn, even though it is still preferable to have it in mind from the previous evening.
How close to halachic dawn may one begin to eat?
If one wishes to eat more than a kebeitza of bread or cake, he must begin at least thirty minutes before halachic dawn. One may begin to eat other foods or drinks even within this period. Women are not restricted by this thirty-minute limit even for bread or cake.
What if a person recited a b’racha on food or drink and then realized that it is a fast day?
He should sayברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד and not eat or drink anything.
If a person accidentally ate or drank what should he do?
He must stop immediately and continue to fast for the rest of the day. He is not obligated to fast on another day, but if he wishes to gain atonement for his mistake he may do so. If this is difficult, he may give a reasonable sum of money to charity.
May such a person still say aneinu in shemoneh esrei ?
Yes, but if he ate a kezayis of food or drank a cheekful of drink he should alter the wording slightly and say ביום צום התענית הזה.
May a person who is exempt from fasting (e.g. ill, pregnant, a child etc.) say aneinu in shemoneh esrei ?
No, he should omit the paragraph completely.
What if a person forgot to say aneinu?
If he has already concluded the b’racha of shema koleinu, he should continue and say aneinu just before the verse yihyu leratzon at the end of shemoneh esrei. If he forgot there also, shemoneh esrei is not repeated.
Are there any changes to shemoneh esrei ?
At mincha, the following changes are made:
- A person who is fasting should say the paragraph aneinu in the b’racha of shema koleinu.
- Sim shalom is said instead of shalom rav, even if one is not fasting, nor davening with a minyan.
- A person who is fasting should say a special prayer before the end of shemoneh esrei. This beginsרבון כל העולמים גלוי וידוע לפניך.
May avinu malkeinu be said without a minyan or if one is not fasting?
Must selichos be recited with a minyan?
Although it is preferable to do so, it is not essential. An individual may recite selichos but should omit the thirteen attributes of mercy. Alternatively, the thirteen attributes may be chanted with the tune of the Torah reading, in which case one should continue until the end of the verse (Shemos 34:7).
Is bathing permitted?
The custom is to refrain from bathing one’s body with hot water. It is permitted to wash one’s face, hands, and feet with hot water, and to shower one’s body with cold water.