Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her uncle Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

In commemoration of that fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim.

If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, (as happens this year) the fast is observed on the Thursday prior. Thus Ta'anit Esther will be observed this year on Thursday, February 25, 2010.

The fast begins at dawn* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions are exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi).

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.

2. At the afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of G-d's mercy. The Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days.

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying afternoon service.

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

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