Monday, October 23, 2017

Two Mondays and a Thursday

The Jewish calendar includes two week-long, Torah-ordained holidays: Passover and Sukkot (the latter of which ended a little over a week ago).* These holidays fill our spiritual needs with beautiful prayers and customs meant to help us connect with the Divine. The holidays are also replete with worldly pleasures such as festive meals that are often like banquets and  feasts, and days full of abundant socializing.

These week-long celebrations are also connected to a custom known as BeHaB. BeHaB is not a word but rather an acronym representing “Bet” (Monday, the second day of the week) - “Hey” (Thursday, the fifth day of the week) - “Bet” (again, Monday, the second day of the week). It refers to an ancient Ashkenazi tradition of fasting (voluntarily) on the first Monday-Thursday-Monday of the months of Iyar and Cheshvan, the months that immediately follow Passover and Sukkot, respectively. Additionally, Selichot (special penitential prayers) are added to the morning service. The fast, however, is not observed on a day that a simcha, a happy occasion such as a brit milah (circumcision), is celebrated.

BeHaB is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, but it is a custom that has been observed by Ashkenazi Jews for centuries. While the actual origin of this tradition is obscure, there are several common suggestions as to its purpose. Many believe that the BeHaB fasting and prayers are meant to starkly contrast with the recent days of holiday revelry when one might have conducted themselves more freely than they should have. Fasting leads to penitence. Similarly, some have correlated BeHaB to the fact that only Passover and Sukkot have chol hamoed, the interim days of the holiday during which one may perform some, but not all, of the creative labors generally prohibited on a festival days. The fasts of BeHaB are meant to atone for the frequent, unintended chol hamoed transgressions. These are just two of the ideas connected to the fasts.

*Chanukah, which is 8 days long, is rabbinically ordained.

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