Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Fast Day "Asarah be'Tevet"


Even if the Jews outside Israel don't really like to hear it, I cannot imagine that Jews abroad are able to commemorate certain events in Jewish history as authentic as we do in Israel. And especially in Jerusalem. The latest example was Chanukkah.
What do Jews who have never been to Jerusalem know about the Site of the Kotel (Western Wall), the Temple Mount and our city ? When you are standing right here in front of the sites where everything took place, you suddenly get a very different feeling and approach to the holidays.

The same is happening tomorrow with the fast day of Asarah Be' Tevet. This Fast day is a rabbinic fast but has an immense historical meaning. This year, Asarah Be'Tevet is going to start this Friday morning. On this day, the siege over Jerusalem by the Babylonians began. One of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history. Three years later, on Tisha Be'Av, the First Temple was destroyed. The 10th Tevet stands for endless suffering and destruction.

Generally both Temple destructions are considered as a G - dly punishment. During the times of the First Temple, the Jews participated in idol worship, sexual perversions and even sacrificed their children in the Tofet (a place near the todays' Cinematheque). The Tofet was one of the most horrifying sites in Jerusalem at that time. Even if the Jews believed in G - d, they misunderstood the principle of the sacrifices and thought that G - d favours childrens' sacrifices.

Not only the Temple was destroyed. With it disappeared the Aron HaKodesh with the tablets, prophecy, the Shechina hid itself more, and even the Shemen HaMishcha was gone. Today we do not have any prophecy but rather a Bat Kol which Rashi describes as an echo of a Heavenly voice.

Today many of us might consider the Asarah Be' Tevet as a kind of minor fast. "What does this all have to do with me and the problems today" ?

Leading Rabbis appointed the 10th of Tevet as a Holocaust Memorial Day. Kaddish is said for all the Jews whose date of death or the location of the grave is unknown. Many Haredim consider the Asarah Be' Tevet as the real Holocaust Memorial Day and not the one stipulated by the Knesset. This is one of the reasons why especially Haredim do not stand still when we hear the sirens.

Every year anew, this behaviour is causing harsh criticism but once you know their real reason, you can understand it. Their memorial day is Asarah Be' Tevet. One chassidic friend of mine once made a good point about the whole situation. She told me that the religious and particularly the haredi population does not need sirens or big shows. "What do you do anyway when you listen to the sirens", she asked me. You look around and get exited. We, on the other hand, sit down and say Tehillim".
What she said was actually very true and I agree that silent mourning is the better way.

It says in Talmud Taanit 30b that whoever mourn for Jerusalem will witness its rebuilding. Hence, the Ge'ulah.

The 10th Tevet is a day of Teshuva and should lead our hearts to the realization to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Everybody should realize that the universe was only created for him (Talmud Sanhedrin 37a) and thus, each of us is responsible for his actions. Every Jew has a special purpose in life and among the Jewish people, and he has to fulfill this task. With his actions, he not only influences his generation but also the future generations until the coming of Meschiach.

Zom Kal - Have an easy Fast !!!


  1. I don't want to give details because I'm unsured about that, but according to some Rabbis and Jewish sources, this fast may have another hidden reason. In fact, the reason why this fast was instituted is unclear.There are sources that say that this day is the yahrzeit of Shimon Kefa who is universaly known has been one of the top follower of yoshke (Yimach Shemo). According to those sources, he was sent by the Rabbis of that time after the death of yoshke to inflitrate (pretending being a believer in Yoshke) the nazarene sect in order to add in yoshke's teachings some more heretical beliefs and ideas that will allow Jews to distinguish between true Jews and Christians, because of the fact that the first followers of yoshke were Jews, and that differences between both systems were not so clear for some, many Jews followed christianity. Shimon Kefa's new ideas gave rise to the form of Christianity we know today. Many Jews didn't understand Shimon Kefa and considered him a traitor to Judaism. So when he died on the 10th of Teves, the Rabbis instituted the fast to rememorate the memory of that Jewish hero who sacrificed his yiddishkeit to save the Jewish people from rampent Christian influence.

    I don't believe to much in that theory, and Rashi opposed those who believed in it and issued strong warnings against those who go and tell that story that is only "a nonsense legend". But I rememver that other Rabbis opposed Rashi and gave credibility to that version of the story.

  2. B"H

    This is very true and I have heard about this claim. There exists another reason for 10th Tevet and I am going to write about it tomorrow. Basically it has something to do with not all Jews returning from Babylon in the days of Ezra.

  3. There are also some Jewish sources that claim that same Shimon Kefa was the author of the prayer "Nishmas Kol Chay." I have been told that if you take the first letter (I don't remember from which stance of the prayer) you can read "Shimon Peter" (Peter being the greek rendition of "Kefa"), like in Lecha Dodi (tou can read the name of the author in taking the Reshei Tevos of each stance).

    But like the story I mention concerning one of the reasons of the fast, other Rabbis disagree.

    Anyway, thank you for your fascinating articles!