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A ta'anit, or taanis (in Ashkenaz pronunciation), or taʿanith in Classical Hebrew is a fast in Judaism in which one abstains from all food and drink, including water. A Jewish fast may have one or more purposes, including:
- A tool for repentance
- An expression of mourning
- Supplication, such as the Fast of Esther or a Ta'anit Halom (fast over a disturbing dream).
Jewish fast days
Yom Kippur is a full fast, from sunset to darkness the following night. The other full fast is the Ninth of Av, Tisha B'Av. These fast days carry four additional restrictions - one may not wash his body, wear leather shoes, use colognes, oils or perfumes, or have sexual relations. Yom Kippur also has all the restrictions of Shabbat and Tisha B'Av has restrictions somewhat similar to a mourner sitting shiva.
All other fasts are minor fasts, observed from dawn to nightfall, without additional restrictions.
The fast of the Ninth of Av is one of four fasts that exist, in all or in part, in commemoration of events having to do with the destruction of the Temple. The other three are:
- Fast of Gedalia (Tzom Gedalia)
- Tenth of Tevet (Asara B'Tevet)
- Seventeenth of Tammuz (Shiva Asar B'Tammuz)
The fourth minor fast, observed on the day preceding Purim, is the Fast of Esther, Ta'anit Esther, in commemoration of Esther and the Jewish community of Shushan having fasted before she approached the king unbidden.
Additionally, Jewish custom requires firstborn males to observe the day preceding Passover as the Fast of the Firstborn, Ta'anit Bechorot. In modern times, however, this fast is rarely observed, as most firstborns opt to attend a siyum (festive meal celebrating the completion of a Tractate of the Talmud) instead. This is considered a legitimate form of "breaking" the fast, and therefore the firstborn may eat during the rest of the day.
Other customary Jewish fasts include:
Yom Kippur Katan (literally, the little Yom Kippur) - which is held on the 29th of Heshvan, Tevet, Shevat, Adar, (Adar Sheni in a leap year), Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz and Av. Special selichot are recited during the mincha service on those days. If the 29th of those months falls on a Friday or a Sabbath, it is observed on the Thursday prior.
BaHaB (a Hebrew acronym for Monday, Thursday, Monday) - which is held on the Monday and Thursday after the first Sabbath of Heshvan and Iyar and the Monday after the second Sabbath of Heshvan and Iyar. Just like 10th Tevet, the Fast of Ether and 17th Tammuz, selichot are recited after the shacharit amidah.
Fast of the Khmelnytsky massacres - which is held on 13th Sivan. As the name suggests, this fast commemorates the Khelmelnytsky Massacres.
Twentieth of Sivan which commermorates the massacres of the Jewish years Tach and Tat and the Khmelnytsky Massacres. Selichot are recited after the shacharit amidah.
Fasting is also practiced when a Jewish couple is about to get married. Although it is not recorded in the Talmud, an ancient tradition advises bride and groom to fast on the day of their wedding. (This applies both to those who are marrying for the first time and to those who are remarrying.) They fast from daybreak until after the chuppah, eating their first meal during their yichud seclusion at the end of the ceremony.
It is obligatory for a Jewish community to fast for 40 days within the year if someone in the community accidentally drops a Torah scroll or tefillin. This tradition has been widespread for many hundreds of years.
Taanit Tzadikim (literally, fast of the righteous ones) - these are fasts held on the Hebrew death anniversaries of great people. They are usually only observed by the Chevra Kadisha but others may fast on them too. The main ones are:
Fast of Pilegesh Bagiva - on 23rd Shevat
Fast of Moses - on 7th Adar
Fast of Nadab and Abihu - on 1st Nisan
Fast of Miriam - on 10th Nisan
Fast of Joshua - on 26th Nisan
Fast of Samuel - on 28th Iyar
Fast of Aaron - on 1st Av
Traditionally, special prayers called selichot are added in the morning prayer services on many of these days.
A break fast (two words) is a meal that takes places following a fast. After Yom Kippur, it is viewed as a festive meal. The tendency is to overeat after a fast, but this should be avoided. Since the digestive system slows down during fasting, heavy foods such as meat are liable to cause indigestion. Therefore, many Jews are religiously accustomed to eating dairy foods after a fast. Eating light, dairy foods in moderation is considered healthier.
- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed - Peninei Halacha - The Laws of the Four Fasts
- How to break your fast. Describes the best foods to eat for a break fast.
- Yom Kippur break fast recipes