Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Fast of the Fifth of Tevet

Aside from Yom Kippur, which is mentioned in the Torah, all the other fasts on the Jewish calendar are Rabbinic in nature, and find their rabbinic source in a single Scriptural verse: “Thus said the Lord, Master of Legions. The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth will be to the House of Judah for joy and for gladness and for happy festivals. Only love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). The rabbis interpret the ordinal numbers in this verse as referencing the months of the rabbinic fasts. Thus, the “fast of the fourth” refers to the 17th of Tammuz, the fourth month (Judaism begins numbering the months from Nisan, the month of Passover; the “fast of the fifth” references Tisha B’av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem; the “fast of the seventh” corresponds to the Fast of Gedaliah, on the 3rd of Tishrei; finally, the “fast of the tenth” refers to Asara b’Tevet, the fast of the Tenth of Tevet.

However, there is a dissenting view regarding the identity of the “fast of the tenth.” The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 18b) records the view of Rabbi Shimon, who suggests that the fast in the tenth month refers to a fast that is no longer observed, the fast of the Fifth of Tevet.

Scripture records that the prophet Ezekiel, who was living in Babylonia, first learned of the destruction of the First Temple a few days short of five months later, on the fifth of Tevet.

It happened on the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth of the month: a fugitive came to me from Jerusalem, saying, ‘The City has been conquered.’" (Ezekiel 33:21).

While today the fast of the fifth of Tevet is no longer observed, it behooves us to recall a day when the leading Jew of the time received word of the worst event of that era, and probably the worst event that had befallen the Jewish people up until that time, the Temple’s destruction! The time and location when one receives terrible tidings should remain forever seared in one’s memory. For the prophet Ezekiel, that was the day of the destruction.

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