Dear B’nai Shalom members, friends, and families:

Coming up soon on the 10th of Tevet is the Fast of Asarah B’Tevet, one of the lesser-known, less completely understood fast days on our Jewish calendar.

As with most of our fast days, the name of the fast: “Asarah B’Tevet,” is the date of the fast: the 10th day in the month of Tevet. (This is similar to the American holiday celebrating our independence: “The Fourth of July,” wherein the name of the holiday is the date).

Living in the northern hemisphere as we do in America, we are privileged to observe the fast for the shortest amount of time of all six of the public fast days on our Jewish calendar. Asarah B’Tevet begins at the latest time in the morning and ends at the earliest time in the evening.

While the duration of this fast day is the shortest of all the fast days, it should not imply to us that there is a lack of importance attached to this fast day. In fact, in many ways, Asarah B’Tevet is the beginning, and its underlying reason for existing, the basis for three other fast days.

Asarah B’Tevet marks the tragic besieging of the walls of Jerusalem by the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in approximately 589 BCE, not permitting food, water, or supplies INTO Jerusalem and preventing anyone from escaping from our Capital City.

The siege lasted about three years and was highly successful in sufficiently weakening the residents of Jerusalem, such that when the Babylonian army broke through the walls to begin the short-lived war, the battle only lasted three weeks, culminating in the lopsided victory of the Babylonians over the Jews, and ending with the heartbreaking destruction of the first Bayt HaMikdash.

Were it not for the siege of Jerusalem, there would be no breaching of its walls (resulting in the fast day of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz), and certainly no destruction of the Bayt HaMikdash (resulting in the fast day of Tisha B’av) and no assassination of Gedalyah ben Achikam, the puppet governor of Judea (resulting in the fast day of Tzom Gedalyah).

Asarah B’ Tevet stands as the “Grandpappy” of ALL these fast days since its events led to the occurrence of all the other above-mentioned tragic events.

As with the other three “half” fast days on our Jewish calendar, Asarah B’Tevet begins with dawn on the morning of the fast day and ends — as do ALL SIX fast days, with the onset of darkness, approximately 40 minutes after sundown.

There is one other interesting significance attached to the fast of Asarah B’Tevet. For Jews who do not accept the commemoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in its current placement on the Jewish calendar as the 27th of Nisan (for religious and halachic reasons), the fast day of Asarah B’Tevet is used as replacement date, commemorating the horrors of the Shoah (the Holocaust) on THIS date rather than the 27th of Nisan.

Because the fast only begins with dawn on the day of the fast and since Asarah B’Tevet has its starting point at the latest time of all fast days, it IS possible to have something to eat — even a full breakfast — prior to the start of the fast, just as long as one finishes one’s meal prior to the official start of the fast day.

This year, the fast will begin at 5:58 a.m. on Tuesday, December 14th and will end at 4:59 p.m.

Pregnant or nursing moms or individuals taking required medications should consult a rabbi concerning the extent to which they might be obligated to fast on Asarah B’Tevet.

I wish everyone well and certainly an easy and meaningful fast.

With Torah blessings always,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin