7 – The Laws of the Minor Fasts

1 – The Current Status of the Minor Fasts

When the prophets instituted the four fasts after the destruction of the FirstTemple, they modeled them after the fast of Yom Kippur, which is how the Rabbis usually enact decrees, modeling them after the Torah’s commandments.  Since Yom Kippur lasts an entire day, [the prophets] instituted the four fasts [as full-day fasts], and since there are five prohibitions on Yom Kippur – eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing [leather] shoes, and marital relations – they prohibited the same things on the fasts commemorating the churban.  This is how [the Jews] observed these fasts throughout the seventy-year Babylonian exile.

When the exiles returned from Babylonia to build the Second Temple, these fasts were canceled and transformed into joyous days, as it says, Thus says the Lord of Hosts, “The fast of the fourth [month] (Tammuz), the fast of the fifth (the ninth of Av), the fast of the seventh (the third of Tishrei), and the fast of the tenth (the tenth of Tevet) will be to the House of Judah for joy and for gladness, and for festive days; love truth and peace” (Zecharyah 8:19).

And when the SecondTemple was destroyed, the Jews went back to observing the very same fasts, keeping them throughout the difficult years following the second churban, during which Bar Kochva’s rebellion and the destruction of Beitar and Judea took place.  Thus, the status of these fasts depends on our national situation: at a time of evil decrees and persecution, we are obligated to fast, but when the Temple is standing these fasts become days of joy and gladness.

In the intermediate situation – when the Temple is destroyed, but we are not plagued with harsh decrees, as was the case during R. Yehudah HaNasi’s lifetime – the status of these fasts depends on the will of the Jewish people: “If they want to fast, they do so; if they do not want [to fast], they do not fast.”  This is the law regarding the tenth of Tevet, the seventeenth of Tammuz, and Tzom Gedalyah.  Regarding Tish’a B’Av, however, the matter does not depend on the nation’s will, and everyone is obligated to fast, even in the intermediate situation, because both Temples were destroyed on that day (Rosh HaShanah 18b).

In practice, the Jewish people are accustomed to observing all the fasts, even in the intermediate situation.  Therefore all Jews are obligated to fast on these days.  This is the halachah until the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt, speedily in our days, when the fast days will become joyous festivals.[1]


[1]. The following is the wording of the Gemara, Rosh HaShanah 18b:

Rav Pappa said, “This is what [the verse] is saying: When there is peace, [these days] will be for joy and for gladness; when the kingdom [issues evil] decrees [against the Jews], [they are] fast days; when there are no governmental decrees, but [also] no peace – if [the Jews] want to fast, they do so, [and] if they do not want [to fast], they do not fast.”  If so, Tish’a B’Av should be [treated] the same!  Says Rav Pappa, “Tish’a B’Av is different, because troubles abounded on that day, as the master said, ‘On Tish’a B’Av, both Temples were destroyed, Beitar was captured, and the city [of Jerusalem] was ploughed over.’ ”

According to Rashi, the definition of “a time of peace” – when the fasts are canceled – is when the nations of the world have no dominion over the Jews.  If so, it is possible that [Jews living] in the State of Israel are exempt from fasting.  However, most Rishonim – the Ramban, the Tur, and others – hold that “a time of peace” means when the Beit HaMikdash is built.  Therefore, even after the establishment of the State of Israel, our status is that of the intermediate situation, and we are obligated to fast, based on Jewish custom.  The Rishonim also disagree on when exactly one is obligated to fast according to the law.  The Ramban holds that it is when [the Gentiles enact] harsh decrees against the Jews; while Rashi, the Tur, and the Tashbetz claim that it is [specifically] when there is religious persecution (gezeirot shmad), meaning decrees that prevent us from fulfilling the Torah.  Their dispute stems from variant readings of the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 18b.  (I wrote [above] simply that the fasts returned to their obligatory status after the second destruction.  However, the Chatam Sofer, OC 157, writes that [the Jews] began fasting already before the churban, once the Sanhedrin went into exile, as is clear from Josephus.  This shows that despite the existence of the HolyTemple, the status of the decrees is what determines the obligation to fast.  Perhaps this supports Rashi’s opinion.)

2 – The Laws of the Minor Fasts

As we have already learned, since we no longer suffer from harsh decrees and religious persecution, and on the other hand, the HolyTemple is still in ruins, the status of the minor fasts currently depends on the will of the Jewish people.  Just as the very obligation to fast depends on Israel’s desire, so do the [other] laws of the fast.  And when the Jews accepted upon themselves to fast during the intermediary period, they did not agree to treat these fasts as strictly as the Yom Kippur fast.  This is the fundamental difference between the three minor fasts and Tish’a B’Av.  Because so many troubles befell us on the ninth of Av, we are obligated to fast on that day even during the intermediary period, and its laws remain as originally established: i.e., the fast lasts an entire day and we are enjoined – among other things – to afflict ourselves by not bathing, applying ointments, wearing shoes, and engaging in marital relations, just like on Yom Kippur.

However, the laws of the other fasts that were instituted as a result of the churban are more lenient.  We fast only during the day and we are only prohibited from eating and drinking, not bathing etc.

Another difference: pregnant and nursing women must fast on Tish’a B’Av; only the infirm are exempt.  On the three minor fasts, however, even pregnant and nursing women who are healthy are exempt from fasting, because when the Jews originally agreed to fast on these days, they decided to be lenient with these women, [ruling that] they need not fast (SA OC 550:1-2).[2]

Preferably, one should act strictly and refrain from bathing in hot water during the fast, but one may wash in lukewarm water for purposes of cleanliness.  It is also inappropriate to take a haircut, listen to joyous music, or shop for things that make one happy during the fast.[3]


[2]. During periods of harsh decrees, are we obligated – on a practical level – to treat all the fast days like Tish’a B’Av?  Seemingly, according to the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah, 18b (which we quoted above), during periods of harsh decrees, like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Cossack riots, and the Holocaust, the Jews were obligated to fast on the three [“minor”] fasts as they did on Tish’a B’Av.  However, we do not find that the Rishonim mention such an idea.  Even the Ramban writes, in Torat HaAdam (p. 243, Chavel edition), that [the Jews] already decided, put into practice, and accepted upon themselves to fast, adding, “All the more so in our generation, for due to our numerous sins, the Jews suffer hardships and there is no peace.  Therefore, everyone must fast.”  Nonetheless, he does not say that one needs to fast an entire day.  On the contrary, he concludes, “Go see what the people do.”  Apparently, he means to say that the custom is to treat them like minor fasts.  This is how the Shulchan Aruch codifies the halakha (OC 550:2).  Perhaps the reason is that after the harsh decrees that followed the second destruction ceased, the obligation to fast on the three [minor] fasts fell away and they became dependant on the nation’s will, and [the Jews] agreed to fast only during the day.  And since this is what they accepted, the original institution was totally nullified, [to the degree] that even if decrees once again arise they will fast only during the day.  The Gra writes similarly in his commentary [on the Shulchan Aruch, saying] that R. Yehudah HaNasi detached the three fasts from these stringencies, because he saw that the Jews of his time no longer suffered hardships; see there.

However, some [authorities] maintain that Jews must observe full-day fasts in every generation during periods of [anti-Jewish] decrees and religious persecution.  This seems to be the simple understanding of the Talmudic discourse as explained by the Ramban and the other poskim.  That is, whenever there are [harsh] decrees, the obligation to fast returns to its original status and the three fasts take on the laws of Tish’a B’Av.  The Tashbetz (2:271) concurs, but he writes that if the persecutions affect part of the Jewish people, only they need to fast an entire day.  It is possible, though, that even they are [exempt from this stringency, seeing that they are considered] “under duress” because of the persecutions.

The Shelah writes in Tractate Ta’anit (Ner Mitzvah 6) that it would have been appropriate to act strictly [and treat] all three fasts like Tish’a B’Av, but we do not impose an enactment upon the people unless they can bear it.  Therefore, [the rabbis] ruled strictly only with regard to Tish’a B’AvSefer HaPardes, attributed to Rashi, indicates that an individual who feels that he can tolerate it should fast an entire day on all the fasts.  He concludes that it is good to act strictly only in the area [of eating], while it is unnecessary to observe the other afflictive prohibitions; and if one wishes to act strictly, he should do so in private, to avoid arrogance.  The Magen Avraham and many other Acharonim mention this [ruling].  Apparently, they understood that since [evil] decrees existed in their times, it was appropriate to act strictly on the three fasts, but [the masses] did not conduct themselves in this manner.  Therefore, individuals who are capable of acting strictly should do so.  The reason [Sefer HaPardes] ruled leniently regarding the other restrictions is that their status is more lenient from the start.  After all, many poskim maintain that these restrictions are not forbidden by Torah law even on Yom Kippur.  The Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah (550:6) write that the only area in which one should not be strict is wearing shoes, because it would look ridiculous [to walk around without shoes when everyone else is wearing them], implying that it is good to act stringently in the areas of washing, anointing, and the like.  I believe that their reasoning is based on the fact that there were so many [harsh] decrees, as I wrote above, and the Sha’ar HaTziyun (9) concurs.  (See Rabbi Karp’s Hilchot Bein HaMetzarim 1:8, where he makes an inference from the words of the Gra.  In my humble opinion, however, he did not read the words of the Shelah and the Acharonim carefully enough, thinking that they ruled stringently even in the intermediary situation, when it appears that they were strict only because of the [harsh] decrees [that prevailed at the time].  See also Piskei Teshuvot 550 6-7, [and note] 22.)

Either way, in our times, after the establishment of the State of Israel (with God’s help), it seems that there is no reason whatsoever to act strictly.  We are obligated to fast, regardless of the nation’s will, only when there are [harsh] decrees, according to the Ramban, or religious persecutions, according to the Tashbetz and the Tur.  If there are no such troubles, however, everyone agrees that we do not have to fast [on the three minor fast days] as we do on Tish’a B’Av.  And even if we explain that the Shelah meant to say that the Jewish people would have accepted [the three fasts] as full fasts, if they were able to do so, even in the intermediary situation, which depends on Israel’s will, and therefore individuals should fast the entire day; nevertheless, there is no room whatsoever to be strict in the current State of Israel, where – thank God – we are not even subjugated to the nations of the world.  After all, Rashi holds that the fasts are completely nullified when we are free from the yoke of the nations.  Albeit, most Rishonim disagree with Rashi (see note 1, above), but it is impossible to transform a situation which Rashi considers joyous into one of completely obligatory fasting.  Therefore, there is no room to be strict and fast an entire day and observe the other afflictive prohibitions on the three fasts as is done on Tish’a B’Av.  This goes against what is written in Torat HaMo’adim (1:4) and Hilchot Chag BeChag (1:3).

[3]. The Shulchan Aruch (550:2) rules that one may bathe on the minor fasts.  The majority of poskim agree, and the halakha follows their opinion.  Tosafot (Ta’anit 13a, s.v. ve’chol) quotes the Ra’avyah as saying that one may even bathe in hot water, [adding that] Rav Yoel, his father, prohibits the use of hot water.  Several other Rishonim and Acharonim mention this stringency.  The author of Torat HaMo’adim (1:6) cites the sources.  Two possible explanations can be given for this stringency: 1) [The rabbis] introduced it at a time of harsh decrees.  If so, there is no room to adopt it nowadays, as explained in the previous note.  2) [It was enacted] in order to ensure that the three fasts are not more lenient than the Nine Days, on which we do not bathe due to our mourning over the churban.  This reason is mentioned in Bi’ur Halachah (551:2, s.v. meRosh Chodesh) and Sha’ar HaTziyun (550:8) in the name of Eliyah Rabbah, Ateret Zahav, and Pri Megadim.  One who wishes to be strict in this matter should observe all the customs of the Nine Days, [which include] not listening to joyous music, not taking haircuts, not reciting the SheHechiyanu blessing if possible (see below 8:7; KHC 551:209).  No one has a custom to refrain from doing laundry (perhaps because the anguish [generated from keeping] such a custom [is felt only after] an extended period of time, having no significance [if kept for just] one day).  It is appropriate to avoid majorly joyous events, like dances, even on the night of a fast.  Regarding weddings, however, there are varying opinions.  After all, since weddings involve [the fulfillment of] a mitzvah, they may be permitted on the night of a fast.  (See also Piskei Teshuvot 550:7; Mikra’ei Kodesh, [by R.] Harrari, 3:9-10, with notes.)  Nonetheless, on the night of the seventeenth of Tammuz, one should follow the more stringent opinion, because the Three Weeks [begin then] and it is not fortuitous [to hold such events] during that period (below, 8.1; Piskei Teshuvot 551:7).  Some authorities forbid one to wash even in cold water on the minor fasts.  In practice, however, it seems that even one who wants to act stringently [in general] may be lenient and wash in lukewarm water, for one may be lenient on this issue even during the Nine Days, as we will explain below, 8.19.  It is a mitzvah to bathe in hot water in honor of the Sabbath (SA 260:1); therefore, if [one of these] fasts falls out on a Friday, one should bathe in hot water.

3 – The Duration of the Minor Fasts

The minor fasts last from daybreak (alot hashachar) to the emergence of the stars (tzait ha-kochavim).  Alot hashachar is when the first light begins to appear in the east.  Tzait ha-kochavim is when three medium-sized stars are visible in the sky.  There are different opinions as to when exactly alot hashachar occurs – either when the first light begins to appear in the east (when the sun is 17.5 degrees below the horizon) or a short time later, when the eastern sky is illuminated (when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the horizon).

There are also two major opinions regarding tzait hakochavim.  It occurs either when experts and those with excellent eyesight can see three stars (when the sun is 4.8 degrees below the horizon) or when regular people can see three stars (when the sun is 6.2 degrees below the horizon).

There is a common mistake that people make regarding this issue.  They think that there is a set interval between alot hashachar and sunrise and between sunset and tzait hakochavim, which is not true.  Rather, these intervals depend on the time of year and the place.  Therefore, one should use a precise calendar.[4]

According to the letter of the law, we should follow the more lenient opinion, because these fasts are Rabbinic enactments.  However, it is best to act strictly.  Since we are already fasting all day long, it is preferable to add a few extra minutes in order to fulfill our obligation according to all opinions.

When the Tenth of Tevet falls out on a Friday, one must fast until after tzait hakochavim, even though Shabbat has already begun by then (SA 249:4).

One who flies from America to Israel will fast less time, because he is flying in the opposite direction of the sun.  Every hour in flight shortens the fast by more than half an hour.  If he flies from Israel to America, he will fast longer, because he is flying in the same direction as the sun.  Every hour of flying adds more than half an hour to his fast.  The rule is that the fast starts at alot hashachar and ends at tzait hakochavim, according to the place in which one finds himself at that time (Iggrot Moshe, OC 3:96).


[4]. Regarding alot hashachar, see Peninei Halachah, Prayer, chap. 11, notes 1 and 10.  Regarding tzait hakochavim, see ibid. 25:5, note 3.  [I will give some examples] in order to give the reader an idea [of the differences]:  According to the 16.1° measurement, the interval between alot hashachar and sunrise in Eretz Yisrael on Tzom Gedalyah is around 73 minutes, while it is around 86 minutes on the Seventeeth of Tammuz.  According to the 17.5° measurement, it’s around 80 minutes on Tzom Gedalyah, and around 94 minutes on the Seventeenth of Tammuz.  I wrote “around” because the solar-calendar day on which the Hebrew date falls changes from year to year and this change can make a difference of up to two minutes.  In Israel’s coastal plain, the sun rises later, because the mountains [in the east hide the sun longer].  Therefore, the interval [between alot hashachar and sunrise] increases by about five minutes.  The interval between sunset and tzait hakochavim also fluctuates according to the time of year, but the difference is smaller.  There is also a considerable difference between the mountains and the plains.  According to the earlier measurement (4.8°), the interval [between sunset and tzait] in Jerusalem on Tzom Gedalyah can be as short as 14 minutes.  And according to the later measurement (6.2°), the interval in the coastal plain on the Seventeeth of Tammuz can be as long as 29.5 minutes.  This is why one must use a precise calendar.  In the footnotes cited above from Peninei Halachah, Prayer, I explain the issue thoroughly.

4 – May One Eat and Drink if He Arises Before Daybreak?

Even though the fast starts at alot hashachar, the prohibition to eat sometimes begins the night before.  If one has in mind not to eat anymore until the beginning of the fast, it is considered as if he accepted the fast upon himself, and he may not eat.  Therefore, one who goes to sleep the night before a fast and wakes up before daybreak may not eat, for he has already taken his mind off of eating.  However, if he stipulates mentally before going to sleep that he will eat something if he wakes up before alot hashachar, he may eat, because he has not yet accepted the fast upon himself.

All this is true with regard to eating, but the poskim debate the issue of drinking.  According to the Rama, one may drink even if he did not make an explicit stipulation before going to sleep, because many people take a drink of water when they wake up, and it is therefore as if he had intention to drink if he wakes up before daybreak.  The Shulchan Aruch (564:1), however, holds that there is no difference between eating and drinking, and only one who stipulates, before going to sleep, that he will drink some water when he rises before daybreak may drink.  In practice, one who wants to drink before the fast begins should make a mental stipulation to this effect, but be’di’avad, one who wakes up before alot hashachar and is thirsty may drink, even if he failed to stipulate (see MB 564:6, KHC 10).[5]


[5]. The relevant Talmudic discussion is found in Ta’anit 12a.  The reason for the prohibition is that one [who goes to sleep] takes his mind off of eating, and since these fasts were originally intended to begin at night, as we explained in the first halakha, one who takes his mind off of eating is as one who accepts the fast.  (See Ran 4:1, s.v. “yerushalmi,” who mentions this rationale with regard to saying Aneinu at night, even when one fasts only during the day.)  Making a stipulation helps, as the Yerushalmi indicates (Ta’anit 1:4).  See Torat HaMo’adim 1:5 for a summary of the topic.

With regard to drinking water, since the dispute is over a Rabbinic law, the halakha follows the more lenient opinion.  Moreover, it seems that the Rif agrees with the Rosh who rules leniently.  The Taz (2) also concurs.  Nonetheless, it is best to stipulate, as the Magen Avraham (564:2) and Mishnah Berurah (6) write.  Kaf HaChayim (10) cites several Acharonim who say that one who has a craving to drink may do so.

Tangentially, I would point out that regarding the prohibition of eating before Shacharit on a regular day, one is allowed to eat until alot hashachar, and one may start a meal a half-hour beforehand.  According to the custom of the kabbalists, however, one should not eat anything before praying in the morning, assuming one slept a substantial amount of time (KHC 7).  But even the kabbalists act leniently when it comes to drinking.

5 – Rinsing One’s Mouth

Ideally (le-chatchila), one should not wash one’s mouth on the minor fasts, because there is concern that one might swallow drops of water.  However, one who detects that his breath smells bad may wash out his mouth, because he has no intention to drink, only to clean his mouth.  Still, he should be very careful not to swallow any water.  One may use toothpaste in order to clean out his mouth thoroughly and remove a bad smell, if not doing so causes him distress.

Tish’a B’Av is a stricter fast, which entails a prohibition against washing oneself.  Therefore, one should act more stringently and, unless it is very necessary, not rinse his mouth.  Only someone who would be greatly distressed may wash out his mouth and brush his teeth, without toothpaste, even on Tish’a B’Av.  On Yom Kippur, however, when one must fast according to Torah law, one should not be lenient.[6]


[6]. True, the Shulchan Aruch (567:3) writes that one should not rinse one’s mouth on a fast day, but many Acharonim, including the Mishnah Berurah (567:11), state that it is permitted, if not doing so would cause distress.  And it is even permitted on Tish’a B’Av, if the suffering is great.  We are more sensitive today, and refraining from washing out one’s mouth causes most people distress.  Therefore, such people may wash their mouths.  Regarding toothpaste, see Berachot 14a: “One who is fasting may taste [food], without any issue.”  Most Rishonim understand that the Gemara is talking about tasting without swallowing, in order to know how the dish tastes [and whether it needs more salt or the like], but it is forbidden to swallow.  There is also debate as to which fast day is at issue.  According to the Rosh, the Gemara is talking about any communal fast (except Tish’a B’Av), and the Shulchan Aruch (567:1) agrees.  Tosafot hold that the Sages permitted tasting only on personal fast days, not on communal ones.  The Rama writes that the custom is to act strictly and not to taste anything on a fast day.  However, the Mishnah Berurah (567:6) writes that one may be more lenient if [the tasting] is for the sake of a seudat mitzva (a religious meal).  All the more so, one who suffers when he does not brush his teeth with toothpaste may act leniently.  Perhaps even the Rama would agree with this, because the person has no intention to taste [the toothpaste], only to clean out his mouth.  Tish’a B’Av is more stringent, because washing in general is forbidden on the day, included in which is washing one’s mouth.  Nonetheless, someone who is greatly distressed may wash [his mouth], but without toothpaste, because even the Rosh who rules leniently on the issue of tasting food on a fast day forbids it on Tish’a B’Av.  We rule even more strictly regarding Yom Kippur, because its prohibition is Torah-based, and one is forbidden by Torah law [to eat] even less than the proscribed amount [for which one receives punishment].  See further: Torat HaMo’adim 1:10-11, Mikra’ei Kodesh (Harari) 3:5, and Piskei Teshuvot 567:1.

6 – One Who Forgets it’s a Fast Day

One who accidentally eats or drinks on a fast day must continue fasting, because these days were instituted as fast days due to the troubles that occurred on them.  Even if one eats or drinks enough to be considered as one who broke his fast, thus forfeiting the ability to say Aneinu in Shemoneh Esrei (as we will explain in halakha 9, below), he is still forbidden to eat or drink.  After all, one who committed one sin is not allowed to commit a second (SA 568:1).  In such a scenario, the person does not have to fast a different day to make up for the fast he broke, because we are obligated to fast specifically on the days that our Sages established for fasting.  Indeed, some people have a custom to accept upon themselves another fast to atone for the one that they broke, but one is not obligated to do so (MB 568:8).  It is better to atone for this by giving more charity and learning more Torah.

The poskim debate the halakha of one who forgets that it is a fast day, makes a blessing over a cup of water, and then remembers the fast.  Some say that the prohibition of making a blessing in vain is of Biblical origin, while drinking on a fast day is only a Rabbinic injunction.  Therefore, it is preferable to take a small drink in order to save oneself from saying a blessing in vain.  Others maintain that since most Rishonim hold that a blessing in vain is a Rabbinic prohibition, it is better not to drink at all.  In addition, it is improper to fix one sin by committing another one.  It seems [to me] that this is the course of action one should take.[7]


[7]. The authors of Birkei Yosef (beginning of 568) and Yabi’a Omer (vol. 2, YD 5) write that one should drink a little, because the Shulchan Aruch rules (215:4) that making a blessing in vain is a Torah prohibition.  However, the majority of Rishonim hold that this prohibition is Rabbinic.  Besides which, these fasts days are mi-divrei kabbalah (instituted by the prophets), and some say that such mitzvot have the status of Torah law.  Furthermore, it is possible to say that these fasts have a Torah aspect to them by the fact that they are like vows.  Moreover, it is better to commit a sin passively than to do so actively.  This is how the authors of Da’at Torah (568:1) and Kaf HaChayim (568:16) rule.  Similarly, the Mishnah Berurah (515:5) rules that one who recites a blessing over muktzeh food on yom tov should not eat it.

7 – The Infirm are Exempt from Fasting

When the Prophets and Sages instituted these fasts, they did so for healthy people, not for the sick.  This is the difference between Yom Kippur and all other fasts.  On Yom Kippur, even the infirm are obligated to fast, because it is a Biblical command.  Only people whose lives may be in danger if they fast are exempt, for the preservation of human life overrides the Torah’s commandments.  On the other fasts, however, which were instituted by the Rabbis, anyone who is sick, even if his condition is not life-threatening, is exempt from fasting.

In general, people whose pain or weakness precludes them from continuing their regular routine of life, forcing them to lie down, are considered sick.  For example, those who have the flu, angina, or a high fever need not fast.

Almost everyone develops a headache and feels weak on a fast day, and most people find it easier spending the day in bed than continuing to function normally.  Sometimes, a person who is fasting even feels worse than a flu sufferer.  Nonetheless, such feelings are not considered a sickness, rather the natural effects of fasting, which will pass within a few hours after the fast is over.  Therefore, only one who needs to lie down because of an illness is exempt from fasting.  One who suffers from the fast itself, however, must continue to fast even if his weakness causes him to prefer to lie down in bed.  Only one who becomes so weak from the fast that he leaves the category of a suffering faster and enters that of the infirm may break his fast.

In addition, anyone who knows that fasting can cause him to fall ill need not fast.  For example, someone who suffers from an active ulcer or severe migraines is exempt from fasting, because it is liable to precipitate his illness.  Similarly, a weak person who knows that there is a good chance that he will become ill if he does not eat is exempt from fasting.  Diabetes sufferers who need to take insulin need not fast, and some of them are even exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur.  Those who have kidney stones are exempt from fasting, because they have to drink a lot of water.  A person with high blood pressure is not considered sick and should fast, unless his doctor instructs him otherwise.  Whenever in doubt, consult a God-fearing doctor.[8]

One who is exempt from fasting because of an illness may, le-chatchila, eat a full meal and drink as much as he needs starting from the morning, but it is appropriate not to indulge in delicacies.  Such a person need not eat a little at a time, as is the rule on Yom Kippur.  Since that fast is Torah mandated, and even the sick are obligated to fast, the Rabbis were strict with those who are dangerously ill and need to eat, demanding that they eat less that the proscribed measure, if possible, to avoid breaking the fast.  On the Rabbinic fasts, however, the infirm are not commanded to fast and they therefore need not eat a little at a time.[9]

It is also important to note that sick people who need to take medicine regularly, like a person who has started a regimen of antibiotics or one who suffers from a chronic disease, must continue taking their medicine even on a fast day.  If possible, one should swallow it without water.  Realize that almost no medicine, including antibiotics, does any harm to those who take it without water.  One who cannot swallow pills without water should add something bitter to the water, until it becomes undrinkable, and use it to swallow the pill.


[8]. Regarding the various illnesses, I enlisted the aid of Rabbi Professor Steinberg, author of The Halachic Encyclopedia of Medicine.  Some say that there is a difference between Tish’a B’Av and the other, minor fast days.  On Tish’a B’Av, only someone who is actually sick or liable to become sick because of the fast is exempt.  On the minor fasts, however, even someone who is in great pain, significantly more than other people, is exempt from fasting.  This is derived from the law of pregnant or nursing women.  After all, they are not considered sick and they are obligated to fast on Tish’a B’Av and exempt from the minor fasts.  Accordingly, the Aruch HaShulchan (550:1) writes that one who is weak should not be strict and fast on the minor fasts, only on Tish’a B’Av.  The Kaf HaChayim (550:6, 554:31) concurs.  However, many poskim do not make such a distinction, and we can explain [their reasoning as follows].  Chazal exempt only pregnant and nursing women from the minor fasts, because the fetus or baby needs [nourishment], but those who are not sick, just in pain, remain obligated.  Either way, it seems that in intermediate situations, one may act more leniently on the minor fasts than on Tish’a B’Av.
[9]. Less than the proscribed amount is as follows: drinking less than a cheek full and eating less than a dried date within nine minutes.  See below, chapter 10, note 2, where we cited stricter opinions, mainly regarding Tish’a B’Av, but most poskim follow the more lenient viewpoint.

8 – Pregnant and Nursing Women on Tish’a B’Av and the Minor Fast Days

Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Tish’a B’Av, because only the infirm are exempt from that fast, and pregnant and nursing women are considered healthy, unless they feel unusually weak.  These women, however, need not fast on the minor fast days, for the following reason.  According to the letter of the law, the Prophets ordained that we observe these fasts when Israel is faced with harsh decrees, but when no such decrees exist, it is up to the Jews to decide whether they want to fast or not.  And indeed, the Jews have accepted upon themselves to fast on these days until the Temple is rebuilt, speedily in our days.  However, from the very beginning, the custom has been that pregnant and nursing women do not fast on these days, because it is harder for them to fast.

In Germany (Ashkenaz), many pregnant and nursing women had a custom to act strictly and fast on the minor fast days.  Perhaps they did so because of the harsh decrees that the Jews suffered there.  In any event, the prevalent custom today, even among Ashkenazi Jews, is that pregnant and nursing women do not observe the minor fast days.  And even if a particular woman wants to act stringently, it is preferable that she not fast if she has a hard time doing so.  From the moment a woman knows she’s pregnant, she is exempt from the fast.[10]

A nursing woman is exempt from the minor fasts as long as she nurses her child.  Even if the child receives additional nourishment, the mother need not fast as long as she has yet to stop nursing her baby.  Some poskim exempt all women from fasting for 24 months after giving birth, because [in their opinion] the exemption does not depend on nursing but on the hardships of childbirth, from which it takes 24 months to recover.  In practice, most poskim rule strictly and require every woman who has stopped nursing her child to fast even on the minor fast days.  This is the prevalent custom, but one who wants to adopt the more lenient opinion has upon whom to rely, for several great poskim rule leniently on this issue.[11]


[10]. In general, a woman is considered pregnant when her fetus is visible, which occurs after three months.  Here, however, the Acharonim write that a woman suffers more and is in greater danger of having a miscarriage specifically during the first few months.  Therefore, it would appear that a woman who knows for sure that she is pregnant, based on a test or the like, is exempt from fasting.  However, the author of Mishnah Berurah (550:3) and Sha’ar HaTziyun (ibid. 2) writes that one may [rely on this and] act leniently before the fortieth day of pregnancy only if she is in great pain (for then, she is considered sick).  In my humble opinion, though, [he said this] only because [in those days] women weren’t certain that they were pregnant [until later on], but if one knows for sure that she is pregnant, the danger of having a miscarriage already exists and it is clear that her aches are a result of her pregnancy.  Therefore, she need not fast, as is the law for all pregnant women.  The author of Mikra’ei Kodesh (Harari) writes likewise (1, note 10) in the name of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.

Rabbeinu Yerucham, Radvaz, and other poskim write that pregnant and nursing women are forbidden to fast on the minor fast days (see Torat HaMo’adim 2:2).  The Rama writes that such women have a custom to act stringently and fast.  The Acharonim (CA 133:6, AHS 550:1) explain that healthy women have the custom to act strictly, while those who experience a little distress need not follow this custom, but they are allowed to fast; and those who suffer greatly are forbidden to act stringently.  Nowadays, the prevalent ruling for Ashkenazi women is not to fast.  See Piskei Teshuvot 550:1, which cites authorities who are extremely lenient, saying that all women who are capable of giving birth are exempt from these fasts, so that they can have strength to give birth.  [Piskei Teshuvot concludes that] some say that [such women] should “redeem” the fast with charity.  Most poskim do not accept this opinion, but one may use it as an additional reason to rule leniently in questionable circumstances.

[11]. The following authorities rule leniently: Maharsham, Da’at Torah 550; Yechaveh Da’at 1:35.  See the previous note.  On a simple level, however, only one who is nursing is exempt; this is the viewpoint of most poskim.  Rav Eliyahu concurs in Hilchot Chagim 24:35.  For a summary of the various opinions, see Mikra’ei Kodesh (Harari) 1:4.

9 – Children, Bridegrooms, and Soldiers

Children who have yet to reach the age at which they are obligated in the mitzvot are exempt from the fasts that the Rabbis instituted.  And the Sages did not require us to train our children to fast for a few hours; they did so only in regard to Yom Kippur, which is Torah-based…  Nonetheless, many have a custom to train their children to fast a few hours, each one according to his or her strength.  But children should not fast all day long (Rama of Panow 111; see KHC 554:23).  When feeding children on a fast day, one should give them only simple foods, in order to teach them to mourn with the congregation (MB 550:5).

Brides and grooms are obligated to fast on the minor fast days.  Even though they have a mitzvah to rejoice for seven days after their wedding, and they are therefore forbidden to accept upon themselves a private fast, nonetheless, they must observe public fasts, because public mourning overrides private joy.  Moreover, brides and grooms have a special mitzvah to remember the churban (the destruction of the Temple), as it says (Tehillim 137:6), If I fail to raise Jerusalem above my highest joy (Ritva, BH 549:1.  Many authorities are lenient regarding Ta’anit Esther; see below, chap. 14, n. 12).

The main participants of a brit milah (circumcision) – namely, the father, the sandak, and the mohel – are also obligated to fast.  The same is true of a father who redeems his firstborn son (pidyon ha-ben) on a fast day; he may not eat.  Instead, the custom is to perform the brit or the pidyon towards the end of the fast and have the [festive] meal after the stars emerge.[12]

Soldiers who are engaged in a defensive operation that is liable to be compromised if they fast should eat and drink as usual so that they can carry out their mission properly.  However, soldiers who are [merely] training must fast.


[12]. According to the Gra (end of 686), the main participants of a brit and a bridegroom on the day of his wedding do not have to observe the minor fasts.  Most poskim, however, hold that they must fast.  When the fast is postponed, however, the main celebrants may eat after Minchah time [which is half an hour after midday], even if it is Tish’a B’Av.  So says the Shulchan Aruch (559:9).  And even though some authorities rule strictly on the matter, as the Kaf HaChayim (559:74) explains, the majority rules leniently.  The Mishnah Berurah and the author of Torat HaMo’adim (2:5-6) concur.  However, the Aruch HaShulchan (559:9) writes: “Nevertheless, we have not seen or heard of anyone who does this, especially concerning us who eat most of our [festive] meals at night.  [This is true] of all fasts, not only of Tish’a B’Av.  And even if a fast is postponed, we do not partake of a festive meal until nighttime, whether it is for a brit milah or a pidyon ha-ben.  This is the common practice, and one should not act differently.”  See Piskei Teshuvot 549:2.  Since Ta’anit Esther is a more lenient fast, the Sha’ar HaTziyun (686:16) writes that one may rely on the Gra and act leniently.

10 – The Aneinu Prayer

The Rabbis prescribed that we add a special blessing for the fast, called Aneinu, in our prayers.  The cantor inserts it in between the blessings of Go’el Yisrael and Refa’einu when he repeats the Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharit and Minchah.  He says it only if there are at least six people in the congregation fasting, and he has to be one of them (SA 566:5).[13]

Individuals, however, do not say Aneinu as a separate blessing in their silent prayers.  Rather, they insert it in the middle of the blessing of Shomei’a Tefillah (Ta’anit 13b).  There are various customs as to when we say Aneinu.  Some say that one should recite Aneinu in all three prayers of the day.  And even though we do not fast at night, one should say it in Ma’ariv because the day as a whole is called a fast day.  Yemenite Jews and some Sefardic Jews follow this custom.  Most Sefardim say Aneinu only when the fast is in effect.  Therefore, on the minor fasts they say it in Shacharit and Minchah, and on Tish’a B’Av, they say it also in Ma’ariv (based on Razah, KHC 565:17).  Ashkenazi Jews are accustomed to saying Aneinu in Minchah alone, because they are concerned that perhaps someone will say it in Shacharit, become weak during the day, and break his fast.  Then, his statement “on this day of our fast” will turn out to be a lie.  Therefore, they say Aneinu only in Minchah, because one who has fasted this long will probably complete the fast (based on the Geonim and Rashi; Rama 565:3).  Everyone should continue his family custom.

One who eats less than an olive-sized portion of food or drinks less than a cheek full of liquid is considered to still be fasting and should say Aneinu.  But if one eats or drinks more than that, he has broken his fast and may not recite Aneinu.[14] (Nonetheless, he must continue fasting, as we mentioned above in sec. 6).


[13]. The Shulchan Aruch (566:3) writes that the cantor says Aneinu only if there are ten people fasting.  However, many Acharonim explain that this is true only if a particular community establishes a day of fasting, but regarding the four fasts that the Prophets instituted, six fasters are sufficient.  See MB 566:14, Torat HaMo’adim 3:12, and Piskei Teshuvot 566:4.  When there are less than six people fasting, the cantor should say Aneinu in the blessing of Shomei’a Tefillah, as an individual does.

If the cantor forgets to say Aneinu and has not yet said God’s name at the end of the blessing of Refa’einu, he should go back and recite Aneinu [in its proper place].  If, however, he has already said God’s name, he should say Aneinu in the blessing of Shomei’a Tefillah, as an individual does.  And if he forgets to insert it even there, he should say it, without its conclusion [“Blessed are You, O Lord, Who answers in time of trouble”], after “Blessed are You…Who blesses His nation Israel with peace,” before he says, “May the expression of my mouth …” (MB 119:19).  An individual who forgets to say Aneinu in Shomei’a Tefillah should insert it in the supplications that follow the Shemoneh Esrei.  See Piskei Teshuvot 565:2.

[14]. There are varying opinions on this issue, and the [Chafetz Chayim] writes in his Mishnah Berurah (568:3), citing Nahar Shalom, that one should say Aneinu.  In his Bi’ur Halachah (565:1), however, he cites Ma’amar Mordechai as saying that one who eats on a fast day should not say Aneinu at all.  The author of Shevet HaLevi (5:60) reconciles this contradiction by saying that one who is exempt from fasting should not say Aneinu, while one who eats accidentally should say it, because the fast is [still] relevant to him.  In my humble opinion, however, one can clearly infer from the Ashkenazi custom not to say Aneinu in Shacharit because one may not fast [the entire day] that one who has already eaten should not say it.  Many Sefardim adopt this custom, as Torat HaMo’adim (1:16) writes.  Even one who [merely] intends on eating, but has not yet done so, should not say Aneinu (SA 562:1; see MB ibid. 6).

It is also unclear how much one needs to eat in order to be considered no longer fasting.  Regarding Yom Kippur, Chazal say that eating food the size of a dried date in the time it takes to eat a p’ras (half a loaf), or drinking a cheek full of liquid, nullifies the pangs of fasting.  However, the Shulchan Aruch (568:1) writes that one who eats an olive-sized portion of food in the time it takes to eat a p’ras has broken his fast, for an olive-size is the standard measure for all [mitzvot or sins related] to eating.  See Piskei Teshuvot 568:1, who explains that the Acharonim debate the matter.  And since there is doubt regarding this issue, it is better to be passive and not say Aneinu if one ate an olive-size of food.

11 – The Torah Reading for Fast Days

In Shacharit and Minchah of public fast days, we read the Torah section that describes how God forgave the Jews for the sin of the golden calf (Tractate Sofrim 17:7, SA 566:1).  This symbolizes that just as God forgave us for the sin of the calf and gave us a new set of tablets, so will He forgive all of our sins and rebuild the HolyTemple, speedily in our days.

Most poskim hold that we read the haftarah of “Dirshu HaShem” (Yeshayah 55) at Minchah, and all Ashkenazim follow this practice (Rama 566:1).  However, most Sefardim do not read a haftarah.  Nonetheless, a Sefardic Jew who is called up third to the Torah in a place where they read the haftarah should read it with its blessings (Yaskil Avdi 6:9; see Torat HaMo’adim 4:2).

These readings are read only in a place where at least six people are fasting…  One should only call a person who is fasting up to the Torah on a fast day.  If, however, someone who is not fasting was [accidentally] called up to the Torah, and he is embarrassed to say that he failed to fast, he may go up to the Torah.[15]

Ashkenazim recite the Avinu Malkeinu prayer after the Shemoneh Esrei of both Shacharit and Minchah, while Sefardim do not.


[15]. The Mishnah Berurah (566:21) cites a dispute as to whether a person who is not fasting can go up to the Torah if called, and he concludes that if the person is a Torah scholar and is worried about disgracing God’s name, he may go up.  The author of Torat HaMo’adim (4:5-6) writes that such a person should not go up to the Torah.  The Chatam Sofer (OC 157), however, maintains that one who is not fasting may [le-chatchila] receive an aliya on mandatory fast days, and the Aruch HaShulchan (566:11) concurs.  Therefore, it seems that anyone who is embarrassed may rely on these authorities and go up to the Torah.  See Piskei Teshuvot (566:4, 7).

12 – Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing) During Mincha

Throughout the year, the kohanim (“priests”) do not lift their hands [to bless the people] during Mincha services, because people [usually] eat a meal before Mincha and we are concerned that the kohanim might bless the people when they are drunk, which is forbidden.  On fast days that have a Ne’ilah service, like Yom Kippur and the fasts [that the Rabbis instituted] for droughts, the kohanim bless the people [during Ne’ilah], because there is no reason to fear that they will be drunk, seeing that it is a fast day.  During Mincha of those days, however, the kohanim do not bless the people for fear that they may mistakenly think that they are supposed to do so on regular days, as well.  Regarding ordinary fast days, on which we do not pray Ne’ilah, [the law depends on when the congregants pray Mincha].  If they pray at the same time that Ne’ilah is usually said [i.e., shortly before sunset], the kohanim bless the people (cf. Ta’anit 26b; SA, OC 129:1).  But if the congregation prays Mincha earlier, Birkat Kohanim is omitted, since it is not the time designated for Ne’ilah.  In such a case, the cantor, as well, omits “Elokeinu v’Elokai Avoteinu,” which is customarily said when no kohanim are present.

Therefore, it is fitting to call Mincha on fast days for a time that enables people to merit [participating] in the mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim.  Ideally, one should pray Mincha within half an hour of sunset, which is the best time to pray Ne’ilah.  Nevertheless, as long as the congregation prays after plag mincha, the kohanim may lift their hands [and bless the people].  If they pray earlier than that, however, Birkat Kohanim is omitted.[16]

A kohen who is not fasting should not ascend the platform [to bless the people].  And if there are no other kohanim, some authorities say that he [still] may not go up (KHC 129:5, Torat HaMo’adim 3:4), while others maintain that he should.  [The latter opinion] goes as far as to say that he should go up even if there is one other kohen (Lu’ach Eretz Yisrael; Halichot Shlomo, Tefilla 10:13).  If there are less than six people fasting, no kohen should go up to bless the congregation during Mincha, even if he is fasting (see Piskei Teshuvot 129:2).


[16]. According to the author of Ginat Veradim, a kohen who is not fasting may nonetheless ascend to the platform [to bless the people] during Mincha of a fast day.  All other poskim disagree.  According to the Chazon Ish (OC 20), kohanim may lift their hands even when praying an early Mincha, for there is no concern that they will be drunk.  However, most poskim hold that Birkat Kohanim is recited only when praying Mincha at Ne’ilah time, which is close to sunset.  The following authorities hold this viewpoint: Rav Poalim (OC 5), KHC (129:7), Luach Eretz Yisrael (by the gaon R. Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky), Piskei Teshuvot (129:1).  Also see Torat HaMo’adim 3:2-4.  The basis for this opinion is the fact that the kohanim do not bless the people during Mincha of Yom Kippur, for [Chazal were afraid that] they might mistakenly do so on a regular day.  The reason they were concerned is that we pray Mincha on Yom K|ippur the same time we pray Mincha on a regular day.  Furthermore, [Mincha time] is close to midday, which is when people eat lunch and are liable to drink [wine], as opposed to Ne’ilah, which is said at the end of the day.  Therefore, on a day that has no Ne’ilah service, the kohanim bless the people during Mincha only if it is said at the time of Ne’ilah.  Nonetheless, everyone agrees that if the kohanim ascend the platform during a Mincha service that is being held before plag ha-mincha, they need not descend.  Many authorities rule this way with regard to Mincha of Yom Kippur.  Plag ha-mincha is 1.25 hours before the end of the day, calculating each hour as one-twelfth of the day.  There is a dispute whether the day ends at sunset or when the stars emerge (tzait ha-kochavim); see Peninei Halakha, Prayer, chap. 24, note 9.  Regarding our issue, we calculate plag from sunset, as explained there, chap. 20, note 3.

If the cantor’s repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei continues until after sunset, the kohanim are permitted, be-di’avad, to lift their hands [and bless the people] up until tzait ha-kochavim, for there is a combination of uncertainties here: 1) According to Ra’avyah, Sefer Yerayim, and Or Zaru’a, kohanim are allowed to bless the people at night.  2) Twilight is possibly still daytime.  3) Rabbeinu Tam holds that the period after sunset is definitely daytime, and [the following poskim agree with him]: Shulchan Aruch HaRav (623:8); Piskei Teshuvot (623:13), quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Elyashiv.  The authors of Yechaveh Da’at (6:40) and Or Le-Tziyon (vol. 2, 8:13) concur, adding that [this period lasts] 13.5 minutes after sunset.