Asara B’Tevet – The Fast of the 10th of Tevet

The minor fast day of Asara B’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, is observed tomorrow.  Minor fasts are those observed from sunrise to dark, rather than from sunset to dark the next day.  For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Asara B’Tevet is the shortest fast of the year.  If you wake up before sunrise, you can eat a little breakfast or at least drink some water or coffee (since halakha discourages eating meals before morning prayers), and the fast ends a mere 11 or so hours later.

This year the fast is even about 1/2 hour shorter than normal, because it is observed on a Friday.  It is in fact the only fast day on the Jewish calendar that is observed on a Friday.  All other fast days, when they fall on a Friday, are observed on Thursday instead.  Because we don’t fast on Shabbat (Yes, Yom Kippur is a glaring exception), Asara B’Tevet ends at sunset rather than at full darkness as other fast days.

Asara B’Tevet is one of the three yearly fast days commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  On the 10th of Tevet, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar began his siege against the city, as described in 2 Kings 25:

“And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around. The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.”  (2 Kings 25.1–3 JPS)

Judaism is sometimes summarized as a series of celebrations commemorating the following circumstance:  “They tried to kill us.  We survived.  Let’s eat.”  Periodically, however, it is worth stepping back from satiating our bodies to contemplate how the dark moments of our history affect our souls.  The absence of the Temple in Judaism has become a symbol of living in an incomplete and unredeemed world, a world in which we are waiting for a messianic figure to usher the world into a new age of peace and security, in which God’s presence will make itself known and thereby transform every human heart with love.  May it be so.

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