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The Laws of Fasts - The Prayers of the Fast Days

Rav David Brofsky
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In memory of Yissachar Dov Shmuel bar Yakov Yehuda Illoway

and Leah Ruth Illoway bat Natan Naso Jacobs






Last week, we discussed the status of the four fasts nowadays. We noted that according to the Talmud, interpreting the words of the prophet Zekharya, we may speak of three distinct time periods. During times of “gezeirat malchut,” these fasts are obligatory, and during a period of “shalom” they are transformed into days of celebration. When there is neither “shalom” nor “gezeirat malchut,” the decision whether or not to fast rests with the community. We offered different interpretations of “gezeirat malchut” and “shalom” and explained that apparently every year the Jewish People are challenged to evaluate their moral and spiritual position and act accordingly.


Incidentally, the gemara insists that Tisha Be-Av, because of the numerous tragedies that occurred on that day, is observed by all, begins the evening before, and entails the additional prohibitions.


In addition, we studied details of the fasts, including the halakha regarding one who wakes up early before the fast begins and the exemption of sick people from the fasts, in contrast to Yom Kippur.


This week, we will discuss the prayers of the fast days and their halakhot.    




The Talmud (Ta’anit 13b) teaches that on a public fast day, both the individual and the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) should insert a special prayer, Aneinu, into the Shemona Esrei. Regarding the location of this insertion, the gemara relates:


R. Yehuda directed R. Yitzchak his son, and expounded: An individual who accepts upon himself a fast should pray a “tefillat ta’anit” [Aneinu]. And where should he say it [in Shemoneh Esrei]? Between Go’el [the seventh blessing] and Rofei [the eighth blessing]. R. Yitzchak objected: Does an individual establish a blessing for himself? Rather, R. Yitzchak said: In Shome’a Tefillah [the fifteenth blessing]. And so did R. Sheshet say: In Shome’a Tefillah. And the halakha is: In Shome’a Tefillah, and the shaliach tzibbur says it between Go’el and Rofei.

The gemara concludes that while the shaliach tzibbur inserts an additional berakha between the seventh and eighth blessings, an individual should insert Aneinu into the fifteenth blessing, Shema Koleinu.


When is Aneinu Inserted? The Yerushalmi (Ta’anit 2:2) records that Aneinu should be recited during all three prayers of the fast day: Ma’ariv, Shacharit and Mincha.


R. Yanai ben R. Yishmael in the name of R. Shimon Lakish: Even an individual who decrees upon himself a fast must mention the nature of the occasion. And where should he mention it? R. Zeura in the name of R. Chuna: He says it like the night of Shabbat and its day…


Similarly, the Bavli (Shabbat 24a) also implies that one should insert Aneinu at each prayer.


Based upon these sources, most Rishonim (Teshuvot Ha-Geonim Sha’arei Teshuva 77; Rif, Ta’anit 4a; Ran and Ramban on Rif; Ritva, Shabbat 24a; Teshuvot Ha-Rashba 1:142, 387, etc.) rule this way, at least in theory.


R. Zerachya Ha-Levi (1125-1186), known as the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or after his commentary, Sefer Ha-Ma’or, disagrees. He rules that Aneinu should NOT be recited at night. He insists that “at a time during which one may eat one should not [insert Aneinu into] the evening prayer.” Indeed, the Rashba, in his discussion of this opinion, asks, “How can one insert Aneinu in the evening prayer while one’s belly is still full?!”


The Ran, however, explains that according to the Rif, the fast fundamentally, although not practically, begins at night. Once one no longer intends to eat, the fast begins. Therefore, as we discussed last week, if one awakens in the middle of the night, one would not be permitted to eat!


Seemingly, these Rishonim disagree as to the nature of Aneinu. While the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or views Aneinu as a tefilla recited as part of one’s fast, the Rif and Ran view Aneinu as, in the language of the gemara, “hazkarat me’en ha-meora,” an expression of the nature of the day, which technically begins at night.


Rashi (Shabbat 24a s.v. aravit) supports the position that Aneinu should be recited three times. However, he then brings the opinion of the Ge’onim, who record that they were not accustomed to saying Aneinu at night, nor in the morning, lest a person not finish his fast and therefore, retroactively, would have lied in his prayers. The Rashba (1:142) explains that the Geonic position does not argue with the Yerushalmi cited above, but rather reflects the weakness and inability to fast that has overcome some of the Jewish People.


The Ritva (Shabbat 24 s.v ve-im) and Tosafot (Ta’anit 11b s.v. lan) reject this concern. They explain that even if one felt weak later in the day and ate, that is considered to be an “ones,” and we do not consider his earlier prayer to be dishonest. These Rishonim report, however, that the custom in France was for only the shaliach tzibbur to insert Aneinu in the morning. They note that this practice does not seem to conform to either the Talmud or to the Ge’onim! They explain that “it is inconceivable that there isn’t at least one in the community who is fasting, so the shaliach tzibbur may recite it,” but an individual should not recite it until Mincha (Ritva). We will discuss shortly how many people must be fasting in order for the shaliach tzibbur to insert Aneinu.


The Shulchan Arukh (565:3) writes:


Some say that an individual should not insert Aneinu except during Mincha, lest he is afflicted by “bulmus” [a condition for which he must eat] and he turns out to have lied in his prayer. However, the shaliach tzibbur should say it during Shacharit when he prays out loud, as some members of the community must be fasting. And on the four fast days, even an individual recites it in all of his prayers, as even if he would be afflicted by a “bulmus” and would eat, it is still appropriate to say “answer us (Aneinu) on our fast day,” and the Rabbis established it as a day to fast.


The Rama adds:


It is customary in our communities only to say Aneinu at Mincha, except for the shaliach tzibbur, who inserts it during the morning repetition.


Nowadays, Ashkenazi Jews follow the practice cited by the Rema and do not recite Aneinu until Mincha. Most Sephardi communities do not recite Aneinu at night, in deference to the opinion of the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or (Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p. 536), but do insert it in the morning. Yemenite communities recite Aneinu even the night before.


Must the Congregants and the Shaliach Tzibbur be Fasting?


The Rashba (Teshuvot 1:81) rules that the shaliach tzibbur should not insert Aneinu in his repetition unless there are at least ten people in the congregation who are fasting. Other Rishonim seem to disagree, implying that the shaliach tzibbur may insert Aneinu even if only some of the congregation (Rosh, Shabbat 2:15), or even one member (Tosafot, Shabbat 24a), is fasting. The Meiri (Megilla 2a) mentions that as long as at least three people are fasting, it is considered to be a communal fast. 


The Shulchan Arukh (566:3) cites the view of the Rashba.  The commentaries on the Shulchan Arukh (Sha’arei Teshuva 4, Mishna Berura 15) cite Maharam ben Chaviv, author of the responsa Kol Gadol (14), who insists that the Rashba and Shulchan Arukh refer only to a fast day that the community accepted upon themselves. However, on the four fast days, which are “mi-divrei kabala,” the chazan may certainly insert Aneinu in his repetition even if there are not even six or seven people fasting. The Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun (15) notes that the Peri Megadim (M”Z 7) and Eliya Rabba disagree with this distinction and require that at least ten people who are fasting be present in order to insert Aneinu on the four fasts as well.


The Sha’arei Teshuva, after citing Maharam ben Chaviv, suggests that one should only insert Aneinu in the presence of at least six or seven people fasting, and then suggests that we may require a “noticeable majority,” i.e., seven, as we do for Birkat Ha-Mazon. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (566:6) rules that as long as there are three people fasting, enough to serve as the shaliach tzibbur and participate in the Torah reading, Aneinu may be inserted.


In practice, while preferably there should be ten men fasting in order to insert Aneinu into the repetition, some (Ishei Yisrael 44:5) insist that at least seven who are fasting be present, while others (Yechave Da’at 1:79, Piskei Teshuvot 676) permit the insertion when there are only six. R. Ovadya Yosef points out that even the Sha’arei Teshuva himself, in a different work (Sha’arei Efraim 8:108), ruled that one may insert Aneinu even if there are only six who are fasting!


Incidentally, this question raises fundamental questions regarding who determines the nature of the day (the community, or the calendar), as well as the extent to which the chazan’s repetition must reflect the congregation or the nature of the day.


Regarding the shaliach tzibbur on a fast day, the Tur (566) writes:


R. Natan wrote that a shaliach tzibbur who is not fasting should not pray [recite the repetition] since as he is not fasting, he cannot say Aneinu. I do not know why, since he does not say “on this day of ‘my fast,’ but rather, “on this fast day,” and the fast is for others. Certainly, when possible, the shaliach tzibbur should be one who is fasting. However, when not possible, it seems to me that he may say the repetition.


R. Natan’s opinion can be found in the Seder R. Amram Ha-Shalem (2, p. 79b), as well as in the Geonic collection of response, Sha’arei Teshuvot 50, in the name of R. Hai Ga’on, as well as in other Geonic sources.


Despite the Tur’s objections, R. Yosef Karo, in his Beit Yosef and then in the Shulchan Arukh (566:5), rules in accordance with R. Natan and the Ge’onim.


While some Acharonim opine that even in extenuating circumstances one who is not fasting cannot serve as the shaliach tzibbur (Taz 7), the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (10) disagrees and rules that in such a situation one should act according to the Tur; the shaliach tzibbur should recite the repetition normally.


The Magen Avraham (7) writes that when necessary, even one who is not fasting may serve as the shaliach tzibbur so that the community should not miss the devarim she-bi-kedusha. However, he should say, “be-yom tzom ha-ta’anit ha-zeh” (“on this fast day”) instead of “be-yom tzom ta’aniteinu” (“on OUR fast day”), and he should not recite a separate blessing but rather inset Aneinu into Shema Koleinu, the fifteenth blessing, as an individual does. The Mishna Berura (18) and other Acharonim (see Ishei Yisrael 44:8) concur.


One Who Accidentally Broke the Fast


May an individual who accidentally broke his fast recite Aneinu? It seems evident from the above discussion that one who does not fast, or even breaks his fast, should not recite Aneinu (see Bi’ur Halakha 565:1). What is considered “breaking one’s fast?”


Generally, we define “achila” as eating a “kezayit” (a quantity the size of an olive) of food within a specific quantity of time, known as kedei achilat peras (the time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread). Similarly, we define “shetiya “ as drinking a “revi’it” (a Talmudic unit of liquid capacity, ¼ log) within a stipulated amount of time. The Posekim  disagree as to whether the liquid must be drunken within the same as kedei achilat peras, or within a shorter time of kedei shetiyat revi’it (the time it takes to drink a revi’it). See Shulchan Arukh O”C 612:10, and Mishna Berura 612:31 and 210:1.


On Yom Kippur,” however, “achila” and “shetiya” are defined as eating a quantity equivalent to a “ka-kotevet” (a large date) or drinking a “melo lugmav” (cheek full); at that point, one is no longer “afflicting” oneself, as is required on Yom Kippur.


Which of these measurements apply to other fasts?


            Regarding a private fast day that an individual accepts upon himself, the Shulchan Arukh (567:1) rules that one who consumed a kezayit (olive-size portion) of food has broken his fast and must fast again. The Magen Avraham, cited by the Mishna Berura (5), explains that this refers to one who ate within the typical halakhic time-frame of kedei achilat peras. Similarly, the Magen Avraham asserts that one who drinks “melo lugmav,” a cheek-full, has broken the fast.


            The Acharonim debate whether the Shulchan Arukh refers only to a private fast, which the individual accepted upon himself through a vow, or if his ruling includes the prescribed communal fasts as well (see Piskei Teshuvot 568:1 and Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p. 536). Seemingly, once one has consumed a kezayit, a smaller quantity than a ka-kotevet, one should omit Aneinu, even though he must complete the fast.


Keri’at Ha-Torah (Torah Reading)


Masechet Sofrim (17:5) records that on fast days other than Tisha Be-Av, we read “Parashat Va-Yechal” (Shemot 32:11-14 and 34:1-10). The mishna also records that while some read the haftara of “Dirshu” (Yishayahu 55) and others do not, it is customary to read it.


The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 13:18) rules that “Parashat Va-Yechal” is read at both Shacharit and Mincha, but he makes no mention of a haftara. The Abudraham also makes no mention of a haftara, and the Beit Yosef (565) records that the custom in Sephardic lands is not to recite a haftara at Shacharit or Mincha. He also writes that the Kol Bo (62) and the Rokeach (211) record that the haftara is recited at Mincha. The Beit Yosef concludes that “each river should flow in its own direction.”


            As expected, the Shulchan Arukh makes no mention of reading a haftara on a ta’anit tzibbur, while the Rema relates that the haftara of “Dirshu” is read at Mincha. R. Ovadiah Hadayah (Yerushalayim, 1890–1969), in his Yaskil Avdi (6:9), rules that a Sefaradi praying Mincha in an Ashkenazi minyan who is called up to read the haftara may recite the haftara with its blessings, as the matter is one of different customs and not halakha (see also Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p. 546).


            Does it matter whether the members of the tzibbur are actually fasting? As we saw above regarding Aneinu, the special Torah reading and haftara should preferably be recited in the presence of ten men who are fasting, and be-diavad, even six or seven may suffice.


            May an individual who is not fasting receive an aliya? The Maharik (Shoresh 9) rules that one who is not fasting should not be called up to the Torah. The Shulchan Arukh (566:6) concurs, as does the Taz (7), who rules that even if one who is not fasting was called to the Torah, he should not recite the blessings.


R. Akiva Eiger (Teshuvot 24) explains that the keri’at ha-Torah of a ta’anit is part of the fast, and therefore one who is not fasting should not read or receive an aliya. (Interestingly, he questions whether the keri’at ha-Torah of Mincha on Yom Kippur stems from the kedushat ha-yom, the sanctity of the day, in which case one who was not fasting would be able to receive and aliya, or from its status as a fast day, in which case he would not. Incidentally, whether or not the reading on Mincha of Yom Kippur is chanted to the Yom Tov or daily tune might depend upon this question.) 


            Therefore, a Kohen or Levi who are not fasting and are the only Kohanim and Levi’im in the room should leave the room before the first aliya so that another person may be called up.


Others, however, disagree. Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762–1839), known as the Chatam Sofer, relates how on Tisha Be-Av of 1811 he was sick and unable to fast. He wrote himself a teshuva (!) regarding whether he could be called up for the Mincha reading of Parashat Va-Yechal. He argues that not only is the Maharik’s ruling without precedent, in the case of Tisha Be-Av it is the day itself that obligates keri’at ha-Torah; “The day obligates” (yoma ka garim). Thus, even someone who was not fasting could be called up to the Torah. He notes that the Bach (end of 566) concurs. Some Acharonim question whether the Chatam Sofer’s ruling and rationale would apply to the other three fasts as well. In any case, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (566:11) agrees that even one who is not fasting may be called to the Torah.


What if someone who is not fasting is called up to the Torah? The Mishna Berura (21), who follows the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh, cites a debate regarding whether one who is not fasting but is called up to the Torah may recite the blessings. He concludes that if the one called up would be severely embarrassed to reveal that he was not fasting, and this may even leave to the desecration of God’s name, he may rely upon the lenient opinions and recite the berakhot.


            The Magen Avraham points out that if the fast falls out on a Monday or Thursday, even one who is not fasting may read from the Torah, despite the fact that Parashat Va-Yechal, and not the weekly parasha, is read.


            Finally, it is customary for the congregation to recite out loud three of the verses from the reading: “Shuv me-charon apecha,” “Hashem Hashem” (the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy), and “ve-salachta.” The ba’al koreh (Torah reader) should wait until after the congregation has finished their recitation before he reads these verses.


Birkat Kohanim on a Ta’anit Tzibbur


The Talmud (Ta’anit 26b) teaches that just as a Kohen may not perform his service in the Beit Ha-Mikdash while intoxicated, he should similarly not “raise his hands” to bless the people after drinking alcohol. The Rabbis feared that the Kohanim, after eating their midday meal, may be intoxicated, and they therefore legislated that birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, should not be recited at Mincha.


The mishna (Ta’anit 26a) cites a debate whether birkat Kohanim is recited at Mincha of a fast day, since there is no fear of intoxication in such a case. The Talmud rules in accordance with R. Yossi, who insists that on a day in which Mincha AND Ne’ilah are recited, on Yom Kippur, public fast days (instituted during times of drought), and during the ma’amadot (the prayers of the communities whose representatives are serving in the Temple), birkat Kohanim is performed at Ne’ilah, and NOT during Mincha, lest one come to confuse Mincha on these days with Mincha on an ordinary weekday.


However, the gemara concludes: “And nowadays why do the Kohanim ‘raise their hands’ at Mincha on a fast day? Since it is close to sunset, that they ‘raise their hands’- it is similar to Ne’ilah.”


In other words, when Mincha is recited during the time of Ne’ilah, i.e. close to nightfall, birkat kohanim may be said, as it would not be confused with an ordinary Mincha.


Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh (129:1) rules that “during a fast day when Ne’ilah is not recited, since Mincha is recited close to sunset, it is similar to the Ne’ilah prayer and will not be confused with Mincha of other days, and therefore they ‘raise their hands.’” This is relevant today specifically in Eretz Yisrael, where birkat Kohanim is recited on a daily basis.


The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 20) suggests that once the Rabbis established that birkat Kohanim may be recited at the Mincha of a fast day, they did not distinguish between whether Mincha is recited earlier or later in the day. In the Chazon Ish’s beit midrash, birkat Kohanim was recited during Mincha of a fast day even when recited early (see Moadim U-Zemanim 7:248)! Common custom is in accordance with other gedolei Yerushalayim (R. Tikotchinski in his Luach Eretz Yisrael, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as cited in Halikhot Shlomo ch. 10 nt. 21, etc.), who rule that birkat Kohanim on a fast day should only be recited close to sunset.


Behavior on a Fast Day


            As we discussed in the first lecture of this series, the fast days are intended to promote introspection and repentance. Indeed, R. Yisrael Meir Ha-Kohen (1839–1933), known as the Chafetz Chayyim after his anonymous work concerning the laws of lashon ha-ra, warns that we should keep the essence of the day in its proper perspective.


He writes:


Therefore, a person must be attentive during these days, and examine one’s ways and repent for them, because the essence [of the day] is NOT the fast, as it says regarding the people of Nineveh, “And God saw their actions, that they turned from their evil way” (Yona 3:10). Our Rabbis taught, “It does not say ‘their sackcloth’ and ‘their fasts,’ but rather ‘their actions.’” The fast is merely a preparation for repentance, and therefore those people who fast but go about their ways and waste their time have grasped the minor part of the day and left the essence. However, repentance itself is not enough, as there is a commandment from the words of the prophets to fast.


Indeed, as we learned above, in theory the fasts should be observed from the night before, with all of the stringencies associated with the fast of Tisha Be-Av! Although it is customary not to observe those stringencies, their theoretical applicability should teach us something about how the day should be observed.


The Rambam (Hilkhot Ta’aniyot 1:14) captures this in his halakhic description of proper behavior during the day.


One who is fasting, whether in response to a calamity, or to a bad dream, or one who is fasting with the community for their crisis, should not engage in “idunim’” (entertainment or delicacies). He should neither act in a light-hearted manner nor be happy and in good spirit. Rather, one should be in an apprehensive and mournful mood…


While technically a fast merely requires that one abstain from eating and drinking, ideally one should limit one’s physical pleasures and attempt to focus upon the essence of the day: repentance.


            Next week, we will begin our study of bein ha-metzarim, known as “The Three Weeks,” and the fast of Tisha Be-Av.


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