Contemporary Issues In Halakha: To Fast Or Not To Fast, Sources Part 1

תשעה באב ושלוש התעניות

לצום או לא לצום?
?To Fast or not to Fast
ר’ שלמה זכרוב
Part I

1) Zekhariah 7:1-3; 8:18-19

(א) וַֽיְהִי֙ בִּשְׁנַ֣ת אַרְבַּ֔ע לְדָרְיָ֖וֶשׁ הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ הָיָ֨ה דְבַר־יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־זְכַרְיָ֗ה בְּאַרְבָּעָ֛ה לַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַתְּשִׁעִ֖י בְּכִסְלֵֽו׃ (ב) וַיִּשְׁלַח֙ בֵּֽית־אֵ֔ל שַׂר־אֶ֕צֶר וְרֶ֥גֶם מֶ֖לֶךְ וַֽאֲנָשָׁ֑יו לְחַלּ֖וֹת אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ג) לֵאמֹ֗ר אֶל־הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ לְבֵית־יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת וְאֶל־הַנְּבִיאִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר הַֽאֶבְכֶּה֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַחֲמִשִׁ֔י הִנָּזֵ֕ר כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתִי זֶ֖ה כַּמֶּ֥ה שָׁנִֽים׃ (פ)
(1) In the fourth year of King Darius, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Kislev, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah— (2) when Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech and his men sent to entreat the favor of the LORD, (3) [and] to address this inquiry to the priests of the House of the LORD and to the prophets: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?”
(יח) וַיְהִ֛י דְּבַר־יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר׃ (יט) כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֗וֹת צ֣וֹם הָרְבִיעִ֡י וְצ֣וֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי֩ וְצ֨וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י וְצ֣וֹם הָעֲשִׂירִ֗י יִהְיֶ֤ה לְבֵית־יְהוּדָה֙ לְשָׂשׂ֣וֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּֽלְמֹעֲדִ֖ים טוֹבִ֑ים וְהָאֱמֶ֥ת וְהַשָּׁל֖וֹם אֱהָֽבוּ׃ (פ)
(18) And the word of the LORD of Hosts came to me, saying, (19) Thus said the LORD of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.

•Background: Zekhariah was a prophet who lived at the end of the 6th century before the common era. The fourth year of the King of Darius is the year 518 BCE, two years after work commenced on the building of the second temple. According to the book of Ezra, the Temple was finished in the 6th year of Darius (516BCE).

Aside from Rosh Hashanah, there are other “new years” in the Jewish calendar, notably Nissan, which is the first month for the purpose of counting the reigns of kings. This is the system employed in the book of Zekhariah.


Can you identify the fasts/months that are referenced?

How do you understand Zekhariah’s response to the question being asked?

What says the Talmud regarding Zekhariah’s prophecy?

2) Tractate Rosh Hashanah 18a-18b

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף יח עמוד א-ב

משנה. על ששה חדשים השלוחין יוצאין: על ניסן מפני הפסח, על אב מפני התענית, על אלול מפני ראש השנה, על תשרי מפני תקנת המועדות, על כסליו מפני חנוכה, ועל אדר מפני הפורים. וכשהיה בית המקדש קיים – יוצאין אף על אייר מפני פסח קטן.

גמרא. וליפקו נמי אתמוז וטבת, דאמר רב חנא בר ביזנא אמר רב שמעון חסידא: מאי דכתיב )זכריה ח) “כה אמר ה’ צבאות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה.” קרי להו צום, וקרי להו ששון ושמחה, בזמן שיש שלום – יהיו לששון ולשמחה, אין שלום – צום. אמר רב פפא: הכי קאמר: בזמן שיש שלום – יהיו לששון ולשמחה, יש שמד – צום, אין שמד ואין שלום, רצו – מתענין, רצו – אין מתענין. אי הכי, תשעה באב נמי! – אמר רב פפא: שאני תשעה באב, הואיל והוכפלו בו צרות. דאמר מר: בתשעה באב חרב הבית בראשונה ובשניה, ונלכדה ביתר, ונחרשה העיר.

MISHNA: Messengers were sent out for the following six months: for Nissan, on account of the Passover; for Av, on account of the fast; for Elul, on account of the New Year; for Tishri, on account of appointing the order of the (remaining) festivals; for Kislev, on account of the Hanukah; for Adar, on account of Purim; also for Iyar, when the Temple was in existence, on account of the minor (or second) Passover.

GEMARA: Why were they not, also sent out for Tamuz and Tevet (in which months there
are also fasts)? Did not R. Hana bar Bizna say in the name of R. Simeon the pious: What is the meaning of the passage [Zecharia. 8:19]: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; the fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall become in the house of Judah joy and gladness,” etc., that they are called fasts, and also days of joy and gladness? Are we not to understand that only in the time of shalom they shall be for joy and gladness, but in the time when there was not shalom they shall be fasts? Said R. Papa: It means this: When there is shalom, these days should be for joy and gladness; in the time of persecution they shall be fasts; in times when there are neither persecution nor shalom people may fast or not, as they see fit. If that is so, why then (should messengers have been sent out) on account of the fast of Av? Said R. Papa: The fast (ninth day) of Av is different, since many misfortunes occurred on that day, as the master said: “On the ninth of Av, the first and second Temples were destroyed, Beitar was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground.”

Background: The Mishna (משנה, “repetition”, from the verb shana שנה, or “to study and review”) is a major work of Rabbinic Judaism, and the first major redaction into written form of Jewish oral traditions, called the Oral Torah. It was debated in the land of Israel between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim and redacted about 220 CE by Judah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions would be forgotten. Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries were redacted as the Gemara (from Aramaic גמרא gamar; literally, “[to] study” or “learning by tradition”). The rabbis of the Gemara are referred to as Amoraim The mishna combined with the gemara constitutes the Talmud.

There are two versions of the Gemara. One version was compiled by scholars of Israel, which was published between about 350400 CE. The other version by scholars of Babylonia which was published about 500 CE. By convention, a reference to the “Gemara” or “Talmud,” without further qualification, refers to the Babylonian version as opposed to the Palestinian/Yerushalmi. The Talmud is subdivided into numerous tractates.


The messengers were sent out to announce when the new month was declared in Jerusalem. Are there any months/holidays that you’d expect to see written in the mishna which are absent?

How does Rav Papa understand Zekhariah’s prophecy?

How do you understand the concept of “Shalom”? Do you think that we are living in a period of “shalom” today? Would it matter?