The Fast of 17 Tammuz (Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz)

July 24, 2016

Jews across the world will fast from sun-rise to night fall. This fast, Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, like most commemorative fast days of the Jewish calendar, marks the anniversary of a series of tragic incidents. On the seventeenth itself, five major events occurred, each with major implications for the Jewish nation.

I) WHY WE FAST:

A) Moses smashed the first set of the Ten Commandments

1) When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found the Jews dancing around the Golden Calf, he threw down the two tablets of law given to him by G-d, smashing them into pieces. (For more details, click here.)

B) Daily sacrifices were discontinued in the First Temple –

1. Due to the Babylonian siege on the city of Jerusalem, the priests were unable to obtain unblemished sheep to offer the daily sacrifice.

a) In the time of the Temple, two sheep without blemishes were offered every day as a sacrifice, one in the morning and one in the evening. As the siege progressed, food and animals became scarce. The priests attempted to continue the Temple Service for as long as possible. They would send a basket full of silver and gold over the wall and the soldiers would exchange it for sheep. On the seventeenth of Tammuz, no more sheep were found and the practice came to a halt.

C) Jerusalem’s city walls were breeched by the Romans

1) The breeching of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz led to the eventual destruction of the Second Temple.

2) Similarly, on the 9th of Tammuz, the walls were breeched, leading to the destruction of the First Temple. Initially, this was also a day of mourning, but the rabbis decreed that the Fast of the Seventeenth would commemorate both events, in order not to make life too difficult.

D) An idol was erected in the Temple

E) The Torah was burnt by Apustemus – During the violent times prior to the final destruction of the Second Temple, a Roman official was robbed by highwaymen. In response to this incident, Roman troops were sent to the villages nearest the location of the robbery and their entire populations were arrested — guilty of not pursuing the robbers. One soldier grabbed a Torah Scroll, tore it up and cast it into the fire. “From all sides the Jews gathered trembling, as if their entire land had been given to flames” (Josephus Flavius as translated in the Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov).

II) THE FAST

A) When: – The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends after nightfall. Some people will get up before dawn and have a early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

B) Do’s and Don’ts

1) During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited

2) Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), bathing, annointing and wearing leather are permitted.

3) Pregnant and Nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting (please consult your rabbi). Children under the age of bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls) are not required to fast.

4) One does not go swimming.

5) Special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

a) Slichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.

b) At the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.

c) The Aneinu prayer asking for special forgiveness is added to the morning and afternoon services by the cantor. An individual who is fasting includes Aneinu when saying Mincha.

6) If the Seventeenth of Tammuz falls out on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday, as it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat (with the exception of Yom Kippur).

C) Emotional Output – A fast day is a somber occasion. On this day, Jews mourn the tragic events which led to the destruction of the Holy Temples and, subsequently, our exile — which led to the many additional persecutions Jews have suffered throughout the ages. It is appropriate and necessary to remember this on the fast day, and, therefore, frivolous or playful activities should not be indulged in on this day.

III) The 17th of Tammuz begins the period known as the Three Weeks.