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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[edit]

The most well-known and well-observed fast is the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the only fast day mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:26-32).

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:

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) - This is an Ashkenazi custom to fast on the first Monday, Thursday and then the following Monday of the Jewish months of Cheshvan and Iyar—shortly following the Sukkot and Passover holidays.[1]

Fast of the Khmelnytsky massacres held on 20 Sivan. As the name suggests, this fast commemorates the Khelmelnytsky Massacres.[2]

Fast of Samuel: Held on 28th Iyar. Not widely observed.[3]

Fast of Moses on Seventh of Adar. [4]

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.

Traditionally, special prayers called selichot are added in the morning prayer services on many of these days.

Break fast[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


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