Fasting on Tisha b’Av
What is forbidden on Tisha b’Av?
The day of Tisha b’Av is unique in its restrictions, combining two sets of prohibitions. Firstly, it is a public fast with laws comparable to Yom Kippur. Secondly, it is a day of mourning with laws comparable to those of shiva. There are five prohibitions similar to Yom Kippur:
- Eating and drinking.
- Applying oils.
- Wearing shoes.
- Marital relations.
In addition, there are four prohibitions similar to shiva:
- Learning Torah.
- Greeting people.
- Sitting on a chair.
Why is Tisha b’Av a day of such severe mourning?
Five major tragedies happened to the Jewish nation on Tisha b’Av:
- It was decreed upon the generation of the wilderness that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel.
- The first holy Temple was destroyed.
- The second holy Temple was destroyed.
- The great city of Beitar was captured by the Romans, and tens of thousands of Jews were slain.
- The wicked Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area.
Following the episode of the spies, Hashem condemned this day to become destined for national disasters throughout history. When the Jewish nation wept in vain over the slanderous words of the spies, Hashem said, “You wept for no reason. I will establish this day as a time of weeping for all generations”.
This sentence has been fulfilled countless times over, with the bloodstained annals of history bearing witness to the execution of this bitter decree. The infamous expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place on Tisha b’Av 1492, and in more recent times World War I broke out on Tisha b’Av 1914. On this day, the Jewish nation mourns over its long exile and yearns for the building of the third holy Temple, speedily in our days.
Do women need to fast?
Girls over bas mitzvah and women are obligated to fast if they are well, even if they find fasting difficult. Although certain communities are lenient regarding other fast days, all are strict on Tisha b’Av.
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.
Is a pregnant woman required to fast?
- If she is strong and healthy, she should fast. It is recommended that she should drink large amounts of liquid in the days leading up to the fast, and rest as much as possible during the fast in order to preserve her strength. Wherever possible, conditions in the home should be arranged to ease fasting, e.g. using fans or air conditioning.
- If she is weak or is suffering from medical problems, she should not fast.
- If there is a fear that fasting may cause a miscarriage ח”ו, she should not fast.
- When the fast is postponed to the tenth of Av, a pregnant woman who has difficulty fasting is not required to fast all day.
Is a woman who has recently given birth required to fast?
- For the first seven days following the birth, she is forbidden to fast.
- Between seven and thirty days following the birth, she is not required to fast.
- After thirty days, she must fast unless there is a complication.
Between seven and thirty days, may she attempt to fast?
- According to some opinions, she should not attempt to fast the entire day, but should fast for a few hours.
- According to some opinions, the custom is to try to fast the entire day if she has completely recuperated from childbirth. If she feels weak during the fast, she should eat immediately.
Should such a woman begin to fast at night or only in the morning?
She should begin to fast at night like everyone else, and continue in the morning as long as she is able to.
What if a woman had a miscarriage ח”ו?
If the pregnancy lasted at least forty days, she should follow the same rules as for a regular birth.
Is a nursing mother required to fast?
- If fasting will not adversely affect her milk, she is required to fast.
- If she is feeling very weak or is suffering from medical problems, she should consult a doctor and a rav.
- When the fast is postponed to the tenth of Av, she is not required to fast all day if this is difficult.
What if fasting will adversely affect her milk?
- If the baby is completely dependent on her milk and her fasting will cause a shortage or deterioration to the milk, she is not required to fast. However, she should preferably eat or drink only small quantities.
- Even if the baby is able to drink a milk formula as a temporary substitute, some opinions do not require her to fast and she may eat or drink as in the previous case. According to other opinions she should fast, unless she fears that this will cause her milk to cease.
- If the baby’s principal diet is cereal or other foods, she must fast even if she is supplementing the diet by nursing.
What are the measurements of small quantities?
- The maximum quantity of food that may be eaten at one session is 30ml (one fluid ounce). This measurement is a volume and not a weight, and is the same for all types of food. It is recommended to eat substantially filling foods such as fish (e.g. tuna, sardines), which are more satisfying than lighter foods of the same volume.
- The liquid quantity is a cheekful. For an average person this is approximately 40ml (1.3 fluid ounces) and for a smaller person this could be 30ml (1 fluid ounce). This quantity is the same for all liquids and it is recommended to drink fruit juice, which is satisfying and healthy.
How often may such a person eat small quantities?
Only as often as is necessary.
How much time must one wait between sessions?
One must wait nine minutes between the end of one session and the beginning of the next. It is permitted to eat and drink at the same session.
What if a person is not well?
- If he is suffering from a headache, cold, or other minor ailment, he is required to fast, unless the fast is postponed to the tenth of Av.
- If he is ill, he is not permitted to fast, even if fasting will not endanger his life. A person who is not sure about his physical condition and his ability to fast should consult a doctor and a rav.
Should an ill person limit himself to eating or drinking if either one is sufficient?
Should an ill person limit himself to small quantities of food or drink?
No, he may eat or drink as much as necessary. If possible, he should fast at night and delay eating until the morning.
May an ill 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.
How should a person who is able to fast 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.
Is a person who is fasting permitted to taste food and spit it out?
No. It is forbidden to taste even the tiniest amount of food, even if he is certain that he will not swallow anything.
May the mouth be rinsed?
One may rinse the mouth only if a bad taste causes extreme discomfort. Only a small amount of liquid should be used while leaning forwards in order to minimize the chance of it being swallowed.
May the teeth be cleaned?
The teeth may be cleaned with a dry toothbrush.
If a person said a b’racha on food or drink and then realized that it is a fast day, what should he do?
He must say ברוך 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.
Should a sick man wear tefillin before eating?
According to most opinions, if he eats in the morning he should not wear tefillin, but if he eats after halachic noon he should first wear tefillin. If he davens mincha later in the day, he should wear tefillin again.