This year Tisha’a B’Av falls on Shabbos. Since there is no display of mourning on Shabbos, we delay observing the day of mourning to Sunday. This week’s article will provide insight on the differences between a regular Tisha’a B’Av and one that is delayed. The main focus will be on those exempted from fasting. Sick people are not required to fast on fast days. Who is considered ill for the Tisha’a B’Av fast? Is a fast-induced headache enough of an illness to break the fast? Some medications need to be taken after a meal or with food – how can such medications be taken on a fast day? Pregnant, post-partum and breastfeeding women are also usually exempted from most fast days. How is the fasting obligation apply to them? We will also touch upon the topic of mental health. Can an unstable or recuperating individual take a shower on Tisha’a B’Av? If a healthy person felt faint and needed to drink, does he continue the fast once he’s feeling better again? Does he recite aneinu in Mincha? Is there any reason to eat smaller amounts, i.e. shiurim like on Yom Kippur? Which beverage should be used for Havdalah on Tisha’a B’Av – wine, grape juice, or coffee? Are there any restrictions on showering, laundry, or haircutting after nightfall? Are there any restrictions for one who needs to eat on Tisha’a B’Av, and will he merit seeing the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash? Of this and more, in the following article.
Exempted from Fasting
Who is exempted from fasting on a postponed fast day? In order to answer the question, we must first outline the several levels of discomfort involved in fasting, and clarify their halachic status. It is important to realize that there are various halachic approaches regarding fasts, with diverse opinionsamong contemporary poskim. In writing these guidelines I will try to convey the rulings of my rebbe, Rabbi Wiesel shlita, rav of East Brachfeld, Modiin Illit.
- A chole shyesh bo sakana – an ill person in mortal danger. Any person whose medical situation meets this criteria, or for whom fasting can cause his medical situation to deteriorate to this level falls in this category.
- A person who, while not sick, if he fasts — he will be. The most common application of this level is one who needs a certain amount of liquids, either due to dehydration, or one who, due to lack of liquids, will be in danger of a heart attack or blood clot. This scenario is common with Covid which causes the blood to thicken, resulting in blood clots. In addition, there are pregnant women for whom fasting can trigger early labor, or breastfeeding women who won’t have enough milk for their infants – i.e. endanger the fetus or infant.
- A healthy individual for whom fasting poses no immediate threat, but may become sick from the fast. During the cholera epidemics in the 19th century, doctors maintained that fasting caused the immune system to weaken and made people susceptible to the illness. During these epidemics people were obligated to eat and drink. However, in this case the Mishna Brura writes that if doctors deem it sufficient protection, eating or drinking should be done in shiurim just like on Yom Kippur. The same is true for a security guard who, if fasting will weaken him, he won’t be able to do his job properly, leaving himself and those he is supposed to be protecting vulnerable to attacks.
- An ill person who is in no danger at all from fasting. The definition of this person is one who lies in bed as a result of his illness or generally feeling sick. Examples for this category is headaches, stomachaches, toothaches, etc. where the pain is general, not local. Fevers, chills, high blood pressure, low iron, etc. are all included in this category (Mishna Brura 554:11, based on Shulchan Aruch 328:17).
- One who, while otherwise healthy, suffers in one part of his body for which eating is required to cure him. Here we find digestive problems, medication which needs to be taken with food – both to be effective and so it doesn’t cause harm.
- One who suffers a lot from the fast or is suffering from pain unrelated to the fast.
The fast on Yom Kippur is a Torah obligation, and breaking it is only possible where fasting will pose danger, either immediate or possibility in the future. An ill person for whom fasting will not pose any form of mortal danger must do so, even if it means remaining in bed for the entire day in an air-conditioned room without praying at all.
Additionally, one for whom eating shiurim is sufficient to alleviate any concerns of danger must do so. For example – people in danger of blood clots, or those who require regular fluid intake, may take a small sip of 30 ml of liquid every 9 minutes. At this rate he will reach 180 ml per hour, which, if taken over 12 hours, will reach over 2 liters – more than enough for a resting person in an air-conditioned space. This system requires a rabbi and doctor’s decision because various factors can render it impractical, and every case must be considered individually.
There are also situations in which an ill person for whom there is no mortal danger in fasting is permitted to eat in shiurim. As mentioned above, every case must be weighed individually by a rabbi and a doctor.
The Tisha’a B’Av fast differs from that of Yom Kippur in that the fast is not Torah proscribed, but rather rabbinically mandated. Therefore, wherever one is defined as ill he can eat right away, even if he is not in any danger. Chazal, explains the Shulchan Aruch (OC 554:6), didn’t institute a fast for those who are ill.
On Tisha’a B’Av one who is considered ill (category 4) may eat (Mishna Brura 554:9).
One who is suffering from an ailment in one of his limbs (category 5) – if food is necessary to cure it, or if the fast will irritate the situation (even if he will not be in mortal danger), or one who takes medication that must be taken with food is permitted to eat as much as required.
Healthy people from category 2 are permitted to eat whatever they need in their specific situation, but the fast is not cancelled. Anything extra is forbidden. Therefore, someone who was out in the sun and got dehydrated needs to drink, but he then resumes the fast once his situation becomes stable. In addition, if he can make do with the Yom Kippur shiurim he should certainly do so.
On Yom Kippur, a doctor is necessary to determine one’s medical category, but for Tisha’a B’Av any knowledgable G-d fearing layman can assess his own medical situation accurately.
A healthy individual who suffers major discomfort as a result of the fast (category 6): when the fast is on the regular date, if he eats, he will not merit seeing Jerusalem rebuilt (Shulchan Aruch 554:25; Mishna Brura footnote 51), however if the fast is postponed (as it is this year) it is permitted, as will be explained below.
Pre- and Post-Partum, Lactating
Where a woman feels fine and everything is alright, she should fast on Yom Kippur as usual. Regarding other fasts, the Shulchan Aruch (554:5) and the Rama (550:1) rule that when the Nation took on those fasts, they did not include pre- or post-partum mothers. Therefore, women in these situations do not have to fast. The Rama however, writes that it is preferable to be scrupulous and fast. Nowadays, whereas women are weaker, some contemporary rabbis are lenient. Regarding Tisha’a B’Av, the Shulchan Aruch (554:5) and Rama (550:1) write that women are obligated to fast.
Nevertheless, there are many situations during pregnancy and breastfeeding that render women incapable of fasting due to other reasons, such as weakness, etc. as will be outlined below.
Postponed Fast Day
When Tisha’a B’Av is postponed, halacha is more lenient and permits anyone who suffers from the fast (category 6) to break his fast, as well as healthy pre- or post-partum woman.
Eating and Fasting
Anyone who needs to eat or drink only at a specific instance, for example, a healthy person who was in the sun and will faint or get dehydrated without drinking, or one who is afraid of catching a disease and must break his fast; or one who needs to take medication with water or food but is otherwise not categorized as ill must continue fasting after eating or drinking what is required and can recite aneinu at Mincha.
An ill person who needs to eat should not partake of wine, meat, or other pleasurable foods. He should eat only what is necessary (Mishna Brura 550:5). However, if he needs to eat something pleasurable to arouse his appetite in order to cure him, eating it is permitted, but in any case, wine or meat should be replaced with something else.
In addition, one must take part in the national mourning and fasting. Therefore, an ill person who can fast a little, for example until the morning, should certainly do so. Conversely, if he can only fast for the first two hours of the night – he should do that.
Canceling the Fast
A person with fever is considered sick. Even if the fever is a result of a specific ailment, he is considered sick. Fever is the temperature one would not leave his house with because of it (Rabbi Wiesel shlita).
People in rehab or recuperating from emotional maladies such as depression or anxiety should not fast on Tisha’a B’Av. They are even permitted to eat meat and drink wine during the Nine Days (Mishna Brura 551:10). Additionally, the Aruch Hashulchan writes (551:7) that they should not be scrupulous and refrain from washing, anointing, and wearing leather shoes on Tisha’a B’Av if these things can negatively impact someone’s mental health.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC IV 121) writes that a very weak person who, due to fasting, may faint, is prohibited from fasting on Yom Kippur. He continues that even if the doctor permits fasting provided a vitamin suppository is used, he is not obligated to do so in order to fast. And furthermore – on Yom Kippur it is forbidden to use the suppository because it is forbidden to take medication on Shabbos and holidays. However, if not fasting will cause distress, doing so is permitted.
The Kaf Hachayim (550:6) writes that feeble old people are considered ill in relation to fasting on Tisha’a B’Av.
A recuperating patient who is still weak is considered sick even if he no longer has to lie in bed.
Even when the weakness is due to the fast, if one is excessively weak (beyond the standard weakness from a fast) he is considered ill.
A person suffering from strong headaches, toothaches, or dizziness to the extent that he prefers to go to sleep and ignore his symptoms is considered ill. However if he can take painkillers and continue fasting, it is proper to do so and not break the fast.
Pre- and Postpartum
Any pregnancy that involved bleeding, excessive vomiting, twins, gestational diabetes, low iron, or concerns of early labor permits one to eat Tisha’a B’Av even in a regular year. Additionally, a mother should not fast if there is concern of a compromised milk supply for a baby who mostly depends on it for nourishment, or where fasting will dwindle the milk supply for a baby who nurses only once a day.
A postpartum woman who felt strong enough to fast and began fasting, but then became weak and ate, even if she later feels strong enough to resume fasting should not do so (Mishna Brura 554:9).
The postponed Tisha’a B’Av this year, though, permits suspending the fast for these woman in case of discomfort linked to hunger, thirst, weakness, headache, dizziness, or acid stomach, even if symptoms are slight. Additionally, if there is a slight concern a nursing baby will suffer from a dwindled milk supply, his mother may eat and drink.
Bris on Postponed Tisha’a B’Av
An interesting leniency exists on a postponed Tisha’a B’Av: if there is a bris, whether or not it is on the eighth day — whereas on a regular Tisha’a B’Av the mitzva would not permit breaking the fast and the meal would be held after nightfall, this year the Shulchan Aruch (OC 559:9) writes that after Mincha the baby’s parents, Mohel, and Sendak can wash and eat because for them it is a holiday. All the other relatives are forbidden to eat until after nightfall.
The Purpose of the Fast Day
To conclude this topic it is important to quote the Rambam’s words noted in the Mishna Brura (549:1): “There are days when the entire Jewish people fast because of the calamities that occurred on them in order to arouse [their] hearts and initiate [them in] the paths of repentance. This will serve as a reminder of our wicked conduct and that of our ancestors, which resembles our present conduct and therefore brought these calamities upon them and upon us. By reminding ourselves of these matters, we will repent and improve [our conduct], as (Vayikra 26:40) states: ‘And they will confess their sin and the sin of their ancestors.’ Therefore, every person must take to heart on those days and search through his actions and repent for them, because the main thing is not the fast day, as it is written of the people of Ninve: ‘And G-d saw their deeds,’ to which Chazal explain: ‘Their sackcloth and fasting it does not say, but their actions, for fasting is nothing but preparation for repentance.’ Therefore, those people who take walks and do wasteful things on fast days hold on to the secondary and let go of the main thing. Nevertheless, repentance is not enough because fasting on these days is a mitzva which was instituted by the Prophets.”
Eating by Mistake
The Mishna Brura (549:3) writes that one who ate by mistake must continue the fast and does not have to fast again on another day to make up for it. Since he continues the fast, he can recite anneinu during Mincha. Shevet Halevi (VIII, 131) adds that one who had to eat for whatever reason and then continues the fast, can likewise recite aneinu in Mincha. However, an ill person or a child who do not fast does not recite aneinu. Despite not fasting, they are required to refrain from the other prohibitions – washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, etc., and refrain from partaking treats.
There is a dispute among the poskim whether an ill person eating on Tisha’a B’Av is obligated to recite Havdalah before eating or not. Children certainly do not recite Havdalah, as well as one who only needs to drink water. As for eating there is no decisive ruling. In Jerusalem the custom is to recite Havdalah before eating on Tisha’a B’Av that falls on Sunday. The parents of a baby having his bris on Tisha’a B’av are likewise obligated to recite Havdalah before eating. Grape juice is preferable to wine, and if coffee is an accepted chamar medina (a drink that is served to honorable guests in that country) [according to Rav Moshe Feinstein it is, and according to the Chazon Ish – it isn’t], coffee is the preferred beverage.
While preferably one should not intend to be included in the blessing of Havdalah recited by an ill person eating on Tisha’a B’Av, if he did, he should not repeat Havdalah after the fast’s conclusion.
Washing, Laundry, Meat and Wine
On a regular year when Tisha’a B’av is on the ninth of Av, some laws of mourning continue on the following day, the 10th of Av. Since because the majority of the Temple was burned on that day, mourning for half a day is required. This year, however, whereas the fast is on the 10th of Av and the following night is the 11th, there is no reason to continue mourning. Therefore, as soon as the fast ends laundry, washing, and haircutting is permitted.
According to the Rama, meat and wine should not be partaken on the night after Tisha’a B’Av because the night follows the day for this sign of mourning. For Havdalah or any other mitzva, wine can certainly be used. One who is accustomed to reciting Birkas Hamazon over a cup of wine can do so in the meal after the fast as well, because it is a mitzva.